Polychromatic mosaic representing a wild boar
Period: 2nd-3rd century A.D.
Material: Stone and glass paste tesserae
Dimensions: Diameter: 36 cm
Ex-English private collection.
Complete mosaic round panel, which would have been part of a larger composition, currently applied to its original ancient pavement, but would have been consolidated on the background; several breaks; possible small restorations.
The mosaic has a polychromatic decoration, with alternating tesserae of more or less bright or dark orange-brown color (thus varying from beige-yellow to dark brown, from orange to ocher and from gray to black), on a uniform background of white tesserae. These tesserae are arranged in successive rows that follow the curve of a circle, which creates a number of interspaces revealing the basic structure on which the tesserae are applied (brownish slip).
An outer border made of a frieze of red tesserae encircles the figural scene: a tensed wild boar is depicted on a thick ground line composed of three rows of dark beige tesserae. The entire body of the animal is detailed through the shades of tones described above: the hair, which forms a crest on the upper back, the curves of the muscles, different anatomical details like the tail, the eyes, the snout, the tusks, the jaw, etc.
The animal is represented at its best and full force here, alert but at ease. It is therefore not a question of a chase in the context of a hunt, but a peaceful scene that portrays the beauty and strength of this wild animal.
In ancient times, in the Roman period, wild boar were common from Great Britain (in the north) to northern Africa (in the south); in Italy, they were especially abundant. There are thus many representations of this animal, males as well as females, wild sows with or without their young. The types of representations are varied and include, for instance, small sculptures in the round, low reliefs and mosaics.
In Greek mythology, the wild boar was particularly known in the third labor of Heracles, the famous Erymanthian boar, which the hero had to capture alive. It lived near the Erymanth mountain, in Arcadia, where it terrified all the inhabitants.
Linked to this mythological feat, the wild animal was feared because it stopped at nothing. But it was also regarded as an animal of choice and made hunting expeditions all the more prestigious by the fact that they were difficult and dangerous.
It is also noteworthy that wild boar were popular as pets. They would thus be seen near the country properties that belonged to the wealthy Roman citizens circa the late Republic. These wild boar would therefore be tamed or would delight the participants in a hunt through the fields, as mentioned above.
Wild boar representations often illustrated hunting or capture expeditions, with dogs catching the animal, like the beautiful mosaic of The Small Hunt, at Piazza Armerina, Sicily, a work dating to the early 4th century A.D.
On the other hand, there are also more bucolic scenes, as it is the case for our mosaic, that demonstrate the majesty of this powerful animal, on the model of the mosaic excavated in the south-east aisle of the Champs de Mars, in Vienne, which is composed of a central octagon showing Orpheus playing the lyre and charming with his music various animals placed in the peripheral octagons (wild boar, leopard, lion, horse) and in squares (duck, parakeet, partridge, purple gallinule); this composition dates back to the late 2nd century A.D.
BLAKE M., Roman Mosaics of the Second Century in Italy, in Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome 13 (1936), pp. 67-214.
CLARKE J.R., Roman Black and White Figural Mosaics, New York, 1979, fig. 40 (for a comparison with the black and white mosaic depicting a deer, an elephant and a wild boar, in Ostia, Foro delle Corporazioni, stationes 26, 27, 28, dated to circa 170 A.D.).
DRAGOTTA A.-M., Piazza Armerina: Les mosaïques, Palermo, 1988, central pages of the guide, with ill.
LANCHA J., Les mosaïques de Vienne, Lyon, 1990, pp. 23-25, ill. 3.
TOYNBEE J.M.C., Animals in Roman Life and Art, Baltimore, 1996, pp. 1130-1136.