Friday, June 24, 2011

The Unswept Floor

When we look at contemporary design we are observing the echoes of taste and creativity of people for hundreds of generations. While we think we are being terribly original with new forms we often  fail to acknowledge the influence of our predecessors or the enormous amount of reference material we have in this electronic age. Artistic appropriation is nothing new. The Romans had artisans employed to copy the style of earlier Greek statuary, and Constantine stripped the Empire of art treasures to give his new capital (Istanbul..formally Constantinople) serious design cred. That being said...the one thing these plagiarists couldn't replicate was the initial inspiration and the translation of that into various media. The Devil may be in the detail but it also shows up in the awkwardness of replicas.

The Unswept Floor is the name given to a 2nd Century Roman Mosaic attributed to Herakleitos but assumed to have been based on an earlier work by Sosos of Pergamon  (2nd Century BCE). It became a common theme in villas throughout the Mediterranean. Other themes included deities associated with bounty (cornucopia), the representation of the seasons, gladiators and  theatre sports. Mosaics were clearly status symbols for the home owner but also provide us with an enduring pictorial record of the tastes and foods of that period. The Unswept Floor is a Trompe l'oeil and, while being incredibly beautiful, shows us that the cook  in this kitchen would have given the contestants of Masterchef a run for their money. 

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