Monday, April 02, 2012

Fun facts about the Lod Mosaic

IN CASE YOU WERE WONDERING: The Lod mosaic master wore size 43 shoes (Nir Hasson, Haaretz).
Whoever laid this mosaic worked neither quickly nor cheaply. Nagar believes the mosaic master was world-famous, and from the zoological repertoire, came from North Africa. Commissioned for this job, he would have arrived with a small entourage of assistants.

After his patron - probably a wealthy merchant - picked the designs from a catalogue, the master would begin planning. The space was leveled and then overlaid with stones and pieces of limestone for strength, followed by two layers of plaster. The master would then sketch the design with pigment powder and his assistants, artists in their own right, would begin the Sisyphean work of laying the tiny stones.

The floor is made of some two million such tesserae, measuring about 0.8 cm each. All were naturally colored and interspersed with pieces of glass especially made for the mosaic, and some were gilded. "That means the hall was not used by crowds - you don't use stones like that where a lot of people were walking," Nagar says.

Nagar says the work took about three and a half years, and at least three people worked on it, each with a distinctive style.

Something else distinctive about the artists has emerged: One wore a size 43 shoe, another was shorter and wore a 36, and women and children also worked on it. Nagar and his staff discovered this when the original plaster backing, revealed during the mosaic's removal, was found to contain footprints.

The antiquities authority and Padua University in Italy are now studying the footprints with laser scans and examining the plaster's make-up to learn more about the artists, such as their height and weight.
For those, like me, who are not immediately familiar with Israeli shoe sizes, Joseph Lauer helpfully posted the following on his e-mail list:
The 43 is about a 9.5-10 size men's shoe (and a 12.5-13 women's shoe) in the USA.
The 36 is about a 5.5-6 size women's shoe in the USA (and not even on the charts for men's shoes).
Much as I like giants, I am relieved to hear that the Lod Mosaic master was not one of them.

Background on the Lod Mosaic is here and here and links.