Greco-Roman Museum Mosaic Conservation

Greco roman 2

Project Director: Fr. Michele Piccirillo

Historic Era: 2nd-3rd Century BCE

Project Location: Alexandria

Project Duration: 2002-2003

Due to reopen in 2022, the Greco-Roman museum houses three mosaics that were discovered almost a hundred years ago, between 1914 and 1923. The mosaics, a beautiful and complex representation of Greco-Roman history and culture in Egypt, were chosen for an ARCE-EAP conservation project directed by Father Michele Piccirillo of the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum from 2002 to 2003. Piccirillo was assisted by a team of Italian and Egyptian conservators. The project resulted in one of the mosaics being displayed for the first time since its discovery in 1929. This undertaking would also provide an opportunity to explore and introduce new conservation techniques and materials, such as aerolam, into Egyptian technology. 

The first of the mosaics, known as the Stag Hunt, was discovered in Shatby, Alexandria c. 1921. It depicts a hunting scene, wherein three Erotes—Gods of love and sexual intercourse, and members of Aphrodite’s retinue—are seen hunting a stag, framed by an ornate border composed of three layers, the middle of which contains several different animals and mythological creatures. The second, found around 1923 in Tell Timai near present day Mansoura, is a portrait of Queen Berenike II, wife of Ptolemy III, donning military attire and a crown in the shape of the prow of a ship. The final mosaic, which was discovered in Tell Timai around 1914, is an illustration of the water nymph Arethusa on the run from the river god Alphios, who pursues her out of infatuation.

The mosaics were in relatively good condition, save for accumulated dirt and sedimentation and some missing tesserae. Previous conservation attempts had made use of methods and materials that were acceptable at the time, but needed to be rectified to meet current standards, such as cement used for bedding that had spread and washed over mosaic tesserae, which was very difficult to reverse. In line with the ARCE-EAP ethical and technical approach, a non-invasive approach was taken that aimed to present only primary material as is without introducing new illustrations for which there is no basis. Thus, the conservation process included several instances of gentle but thorough cleaning, as well as several other processes whereby tesserae were replaced, and lacunae filled with a neutral lime mortar.

Statement of Responsibility

Within the walls of the Greco-Roman Museum, Alexandria, Egypt are three intricate mosaics of very fine quality dating to between the second and third century BCE. Under the auspices of the American Research Center in Egypt (ARCE), Father Michele Piccirillo of the Studium Biblicum Franciscum directed the conservation of the mosaics. Notably, it resulted in the public viewing of the stag hunt mosaic for the first time since its discovery. Conservation work was made possible with the support of the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities (formerly the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities).

Funding Note

The conservation of the three Mosaics within the Greco-Roman Museum, Alexandria, Egypt was made possible with funding by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Grant No. 263-G-00-93-00089-00 and administered by the Egyptian Antiquities Project (EAP) of the American Research Center in Egypt (ARCE).

See the Greco-Roman Mosaics at the Maritime Museum on Google Maps here

Additional Resources

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