From Daphne with love

From Daphne with love


With Head Librarian Stephanie Frontz at the Art/Music Library, University of Rochester 1/6/16 [Photo: Marc Bollman]

Intersession at the Rush Rhees library is a delicious interlude. The computers run faster and time goes slower. This break  I had the chance to leisurely explore the Art/Music Library on the Ground Floor.

Like many, my attention is immediately drawn to the large mosaic adorning the side wall area. As if an art object from the third century B.C, isn’t interesting enough, Art Library Head Stephanie Frontz filled me in on the mosaic’s fascinating modern history and journey from war torn Asia Minor to Rochester.

Originally, the mosaic had been part of a floor in an opulent Roman-era villa in the luxurious resort town of Daphne of Antioch.  During the 1930’s, Antioch was still part of Syria, although today it belongs to Turkey.

At the time of excavation, undertaken in 1939, Syria was a French colony. In May 1940, Mussolini declared war on France. As war spread to the Near East, Italian forces threatened the French colony. Possibly to avoid capture by Axis armies, Syria gave a portion of the finds to participating institutions in the United States.

Stephanie’s detailed description of the mosaic and its background:

Finding the Antioch mosaic…again…Birds and Flowers decorate the Library

When one enters the Art/Music Library on the Ground Floor of Rush Rhees Library, it’s hard to miss the large 3rd century mosaic that stands against the far wall.  During tours of the library, visitors are always asking about it, and students are intrigued by it and want to know its history.


Senior Kate Cowie-Haskell, Anthropology major/art history minor works in the library and enjoys the conversations the mosaic sparks.

This mosaic, decorated with birds and flowers within a commonly used wave pattern, is one of two acquired by the Memorial Art Gallery in 1942.  The mosaics were excavated by the Committee for the Excavation of Antioch and its Vicinity in 1939.  Participating institutions were Princeton University, The Worcester Art Museum, Wellesley College, the Baltimore Museum of Art, Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, and the Musees Nationaux de France.

The MAG purchased this mosaic and the one depicting the head of Tethys, a Greek goddess of the sea, which is on display at the MAG, from Princeton University. Both mosaics had been part of a floor in an opulent Roman-era villa in the luxurious resort town of Daphne.  The bird and flower mosaic acted as an entrance panel to what may have been an open-air fountain courtyard.


mosaic displayed at the Memorial Art Gallery [Courtesy, MAG]

Mosaics are designs made from tesserae, small pieces of colored stone or glass, embedded into a flat, prepared surface of damp concrete-like material.  Glass tesserae are much less durable than stone. As a result of wear and deterioration, the blue, blue-green, yellow-green and red glass tesserae in the bird and flower mosaic have lost their original luster. At some point after the MAG acquired the mosaics, painted restoration of the design was undertaken.

When the acquisition was announced in Gallery Notes, Jan-Feb. 1942, pictures of the mosaics show the damaged areas lacking designs.  When pictured in a Porticus article in 1982, the missing design has been painted in, and that is as it appears today.

While working at the MAG Library, I learned the Birds and Flowers mosaic was in storage, and I fell in love with it when a staff member showed it to me.  I felt the mosiac–forlorn looking in the dark alcove–should be seen and enjoyed.

Suggesting it could be displayed at the Art Library on the River Campus, the MAG staff graciously agreed.  The mosaic was carefully moved to Rush Rhees in 1981, and continues to grace the Art/Music Library. Truly a Gem of the Genesee.

Dobbins, John J., “Mosaics from Antioch” Porticus v. 5 (1982): p. 8-14

“Two Mosaic Pavements from Antioch” Memorial Art Gallery. Gallery Notes.  (January-February 1942): p. 7

Memorial Art Gallery website, Mosaic Floor Panel with Head of Tethys, 3rd century

More on Rush Rhees and the University of Rochester

Bringing back the mid 19th Century at the University of Rochester. Nanotechnology meets local history

“Ring out, Wild Bells”

A personal tour of the URMC during Meliora Weekend with Dr. Ruth Lawrence, URMS ’49. And still on the active faculty.

In search of Julie Andrews at the George Hoyt Whipple Museum

About The Author

Welcome to Talker of the Town! My name is David Kramer. I have a Ph.D in English and teach at Keuka College. I am a former and still active Fellow at the Nazareth College Center for Public History and a Storyteller in Residence at the SmallMatters Institute. Over the years, I have taught at Monroe Community College, the Rochester Institute of Technology and St. John Fisher College. I have published numerous Guest Essays, Letters, Book Reviews and Opinion pieces in The New York Times, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, the Buffalo News, the Rochester Patriot, the Providence Journal, the Providence Business News, the Brown Alumni Magazine, the New London Day, the Boston Herald, the Messenger Post Newspapers, the Wedge, the Empty Closet, the CITY, Lake Affect Magazine and Brighton Connections. My poetry appears in The Criterion: An International Journal in English and Rundenalia and my academic writing in War, Literature and the Arts and Twentieth Century Literary Criticism. Starting in February 2013, I wrote for three Democratic and Chronicle  blogs, "Make City Schools Better," "Unite Rochester," and the "Editorial Board." When my tenure at the D & C  ended, I wanted to continue conversations first begun there. And start new ones.  So we created this new space, Talker of the Town, where all are invited to join. I don’t like to say these posts are “mine.” Very few of them are the sole product of my sometimes overheated imagination. Instead, I call them partnerships and collaborations. Or as they say in education, “peer group work.” Talker of the Town might better be Talkers of the Town. The blog won’t thrive without your leads, text, pictures, ideas, facebook shares, tweets, comments and criticisms.


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