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Fragment of a Mosaic

Antiquities, Sotheby Parke-Bernet, New York, 7 December 1973, lot 107.
James and Marilynn Alsdorf Collection, Chicago, acquired at the above sale.

Mosaics adorned public spaces across the empire, but the majority are found in private villas. The extremely time-consuming and, therefore, expensive aspect of installing this art form meant that great attention was paid to creating attractive designs, appropriate both to the owner and to the setting. Along with mythological subjects and scenes from everyday life, the depiction of abstract elements important in Roman society was popular, for example, fertility, abundance, power, and security.

This vibrant fragment depicts a winged female figure clad in a peplos, her face turned back over her shoulder, her gaze fixed on a now lost subject. She perhaps represents one of the Four Seasons, a popular subject matter in Roman mosaics across the empire. The choice to depict the  Four Seasons was a direct allusion to good fortune, plentiful harvests, and prosperity, and to the cyclical nature of time, and was particularly relevant in this agricultural society that depended on the cultivation of wheat, barley, wine and olive oil. The personification of the Four Seasons - Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter - belonged to a rich iconographical tradition, stemming from as early as the fourth century BC. By the Late Roman Period, they were most frequently imagined as isolated busts of young women, each distinguishable by different attributes, usually different elements of agricultural produce.


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