The Saint-Romain-en-Gal mosaic at the Musée d'Archéologie Nationale
New photographs have been taken of the so-called Saint-Romain-en-Gal "seasons" mosaic at the Musée d'Archéologie Nationale [National Archaeological Museum], the centrepiece of the collections. The last shots date back to 1988, so an impressive system was set up to take new, very detailed photographs of this exceptional Gallo-Roman pavement.
The mosaic, discovered in Saint-Romain-en-Gal on the right bank of the Rhône in 1891, and immediately acquired by the Musée du Louvre, was stored in the Musée des Antiquités Nationales [Museum of National Antiquities] in Saint-Germain-en-Laye in 1935. It comes from a wealthy suburban villa in the large, ancient city of Vienne, in the Isère Department. Though incomplete, the pavement is 5.66 m long and now consists of 20 sections (from the original 32) depicting scenes of traditional work and festivals in the countryside. However, these do not constitute a faithful "report" of agricultural practices either in this region or in Roman Gaul. The scenes spread out across the different sections represent personifications of the seasons, perched upon the back of various animals. Ploughing, fruit picking, grape pressing, coating the inside of earthenware jars with pitch, and a sacrifice to the god Taranis are just some of the activities illustrated on these sections. This mosaic is one of the most beautiful examples of the dynamism and inventiveness of the mosaic workshops that sprung up in Vienne during the 2nd century A.D. Dating back to the start of the 3rd century A.D., this is one of the last mosaics to be produced there. A clean-up of the mosaic carried out by the museum restoration workshop (Clotilde Proust and Philippe Catro), specially for the shoot, restored much of its splendour and original freshness, despite the traces of a fire that damaged part of the mosaic in ancient times.
The recent photographs pay tribute to this exceptional work. A mobile gantry, supporting a camera and adapted to the large size of the masterpiece, allowed several hundred shots to be taken during successive passes over the mosaic. A meticulously assembled sequence of the shots allows us to appreciate even more the fine details, the subtlety of the chromatic range and the coherence of the entire work.