MARVELOUS MENAGERIE: A Roman Mosaic from Lod, Israel – At the Legion of Honor

By Seán Martinfield
Sentinel Editor and Publisher
Photo by Lynn Imanaka

First unearthed accidentally in 1996 during construction on the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway in Lod (ancient Lydda), Israel, a large and extraordinarily detailed floor mosaic was recently lifted from its site and conserved. Found in a large villa believed to belong to a wealthy Roman, the exquisitely preserved mosaic floor dates to about AD 300.  This glorious mosaic is in the United States for a limited time before it returns to Israel to become the focus of the The Shelby White and Leon Levy Lod Mosaic Archaeological Center. The Legion of Honor is one of only four museums to display this treasure before its final and permanent installation in Lod.

Exhibition curator Dr. Renée Dreyfus says, “Other Roman mosaics have been found in Israel, but this one is exceptional in its lively imagery and its excellent state of preservation.  We are thrilled to be able to display such an amazing work of art in our museum and think about what a great city Lod must have been in Roman times.  Each excavated work in the Holy Land reveals so much about the history and people who lived in this remarkable land.”

Mosaic Floor (detail), Roman, ca. A.D. 300, excavated
at Lod (Lydda), Israel, stone tesserae. Central panel,
13 ft. x 13 ft. (4 m x 4 m).
Israel Antiquities Authority and the Shelby White
and Leon Levy Lod Mosaic Center.
Image courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority

Located in Gallery 1 from April 23 to July 24, 2011, the Roman mosaic from Lod was designed as two rectangular end panels flanking a large square medallion. The medallion and one of the end panels contain delightful depictions of a menagerie of common animals and exotic beasts. The remaining rectangular panel portrays a fabulous marine scene filled with a profusion of fish, dolphins, shells and two Roman merchant ships. The absence of human figures, typical in the work of the time, makes this mosaic particularly unusual. Measuring approximately 300 square feet, the splendid work of art commands almost the entire footprint in Gallery 1, but visitors will be able to walk on three sides for ample viewing.

Watch YouTube: THE LOD MOSAIC – The Discovery of an Ancient Roman Mosaic

Gallery 2 serves as a preface to the exhibition with works from the permanent antiquities collections, including a Roman marble sarcophagus, glass vessels and two mosaic panels. There are also coins of the era with images of animals and ships borrowed from the San Francisco Ancient Numismatic Society.  A short film and interactive workstation are also located in Gallery 2 for additional context and orientation.

The presentation of the Lod mosaic is part of an ongoing series that began over thirty years ago with the exhibition Crossroads of the Ancient World: Israel’s Archaeological Heritage (1982) and continued with The Mystery of the Dead Sea Scrolls (1994), Ancient Glass from the Holy Land (1997), and Highlights from the Israel Antiquities Authority: The Dead Sea Scrolls and 5,000 Years of Treasures (2008). The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco have a collaboration agreement with the Israel Antiquities Authority designed to enhance international cultural cooperation. The exclusive accord was the first-ever such agreement between the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) and another cultural institution. The formalized relationship was created in the spirit of mutually beneficial cooperation and will allow the two institutions to work together on a series of worthy and ambitious projects and exhibitions that would not otherwise be possible. The collaboration is based on the principle of equal participation from both institutions in joint activities and reciprocal exchanges.

There are several programs and lectures scheduled at the Legion of Honor in conjunction with Marvelous Menagerie. On April 23rd artist and scholar Lillian Sizemore gives an artist demonstration in Gallery 12 at noon, followed by a lecture in the Florence Gould Theater at 2:30 pm. Sizemore will demonstrate her mosaic process, including various techniques highlighting the ancient roots of mosaic making. Sizemore’s lecture titled Exploring the Lod Mosaic: Past and Present reveals the methods and designs used to create the Lod mosaic. She introduces the ancient methods used to transfer the underlying design and how the pavements were built. Her research shows how the Lod mosaic reveals more than what meets the eye, and how ancient patterning still informs our thinking today. Sizemore repeats her artist demonstration at noon on May 14th, June 12th and July 9th.

The Helen Diller Family Annual Lecture Series focusing on recent archaeological discoveries in Israel and hosted by the Israel Antiquities Authority continues with The Lod Mosaic and Its Menagerie: Roman Influence in Local Mosaic Art, scheduled for April 27th at 7 pm in the Florence Gould Theater. Miriam Avissar, a senior archaeologist with the IAA and the original excavator of the Lod Mosaic, is the guest speaker.

Mosaic artist Vanessa Somers will be at the Legion of Honor on May 22nd to lecture and demonstrate her craft. Her illustrated lecture on the art of creating a mosaic titled Mosaics, a Lost Art—Rediscovered! begins at 1 pm in the Florence Gould Theater. Somers follows her lecture at 2:30 pm with a demonstration in Gallery 12 focusing on cutting tesserae from marble with traditional tools and assembling them into a picture.

Finally, on June 25, Metropolitan Museum of Art associate curator of Greek and Roman art, Christopher Lightfoot, will give the FAMSF Ancient Art Lecture. The lecture, titled The Roman Mosaic from Lod, Israel—Insights and Interpretations, is in the Florence Gould Theater at 2 pm.

Detail, The Lod Mosaic

Ancient art at the Legion of Honor
The Fine Arts Museums’ collection of ancient art includes antiquities from the ancient Mediterranean world and the Near East, including Greece, Rome, Egypt, Assyria, Persia and other Near Eastern sites dating back to 2500 BC. Objects on display in the Legion of Honor include pottery, sculpture, glass, and metalwork.  Fine examples from the ancient art collection include a Persian relief from Persepolis, the Winged Genius, and a group of delicately carved ivories from Nimrud (in present-day northern Iraq). These pieces offer a unique opportunity to see great treasures from the ancient Near East.

Immerse yourself in the world of art with significant publications and DVDs that reflect the Museums’ renowned collections and exhibitions. Click here to browse: Museum Stores

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Seán Martinfield
Sentinel Editor and Publisher
Seán Martinfield, who also serves as Fine Arts Critic, is a native San Franciscan. He is a Theatre Arts Graduate from San Francisco State University, a professional singer, and well-known private vocal coach to Bay Area actors and singers of all ages and persuasions. His clients have appeared in Broadway National Tours including Wicked, Aïda, Miss Saigon, Rent, Bye Bye Birdie, in theatres and cabarets throughout the Bay Area, and are regularly featured in major City events including Diva Fest, Gay Pride, and Halloween In The Castro. As an Internet consultant in vocal development and audition preparation he has published thousands of responses to those seeking his advice concerning singing techniques, professional and academic auditions, and careers in the Performing Arts. Mr. Martinfield’s Broadway clients have all profited from his vocal methodology, “The Belter’s Method”. If you want answers about your vocal technique, post him a question on If you would like to build up your vocal performance chops and participate in the Bay Area’s rich theatrical scene, e-mail him at:

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