How I recreated the Julia Felix mosaic

This post treats of the analytical and synthetic aspects of recreating the Julia Felix mosaic.

3 stages of recreating the design of an antic mosaic are :

  1. Analysis of the mosaic to determine different elements and sub-elements.
  2. Actual re-creation of new elements.
  3. Assembly of the new elements to complete the design.

This post addresses points 1 and 3. Future posts will treat of the actual recreation of elements and sub-elements.

The house of Julia Felix in Pompeii

The House of Julia Felix occupied a huge plot in Pompeii. The property occupied 2 blocks (insulae) of the city close to the Palaestra and Amphitheatre. One third of the land was occupied by the sumptuous house itself and the remainder was planted as a magnificent garden.

Plan of the Villa of Julia Felix in Pompeii, showing the different areas of the property.

Plan of Julia Felix’s Villa

 

After the earthquake of 62 AD, Julia rented part of her house as apartments and shops “to respectable people” and had opened her private baths to the public.

 

the entrance to the bath of Julia Felix in Pompeii

Entrance to the baths

Julia Felix’s bath were magnificent

At their center a shallow basin functioned as an impluvium. Its bottom was decorated with a splendid black and white mosaic featuring a furnace man (important to keep the baths warm!) and a marine scene with dolphins and tritons.

Black and white mosaic at the bottom of the impluvium of the bath of Julia Felix, now at the Naples museum

Julia’s impluvium mosaic.

This mosaic is now set in the floor of the Naples archaeological museum.

I found the Julia Felix mosaic so stunning I had to recreate it.

When I rebuild an ancient design, I work by pieces. I separate the original design in several smaller parts and recreate them one at a time. Finally, I recombine the various parts to recreate the whole design.

I separated Julia’s mosaic in 5 main parts

  • Furnace man
  • Tritons (4 of them)
  • Dolphins (4 of them)
  • Fortifications
  • Stars border.

And I went to work… with the help of my good friends Gimp and Inkscape.

The 4 dolphins, 4 tritons and the furnace man are clearly defined individual designs. Antic mosaicists, even though they very often worked from cartoons, never reproduced the same design twice in order to keep their creations more lively.

Nine individual creatures

And so here are the recreated drawings of the 9 creatures :

furnace man at the center of the Julia Felix mosaic.

Furnace man

One of 4 dolphins from the Julia Felix mosaic

Dolphin 01

Dolphin 02

Dolphin 03

Dolphin 04

One of the4 triton of the Julia Felix mosaic

Triton 01

Triton 02

Triton 03

Triton 04

 

City walls of Pompeii in the Julia Felix Roman mosaic

Town Fortifications

The Pompeiians were proud of their city’s walls and liked to have them represented on mosaic decorating their homes. Pompeii became Roman colony and his citizen roman in 89 BC but the city existed for many hundreds of years before that. Its people, among them the Samnites, had very early built a set of defensive walls as a protection against many enemies, including the Romans.

one side of the fortifications of the mosaic of Julia Felix

one side of the city walls

I designed one wall of the fortifications as an element and built the square by combining 4 elements on a square.

external border of the Julia Felix mosaic

External border

The external border is a combination of 4 lines of stars.

Individual star

corner star, external border of Julia Felix mosaic

Corner star

 

Drawing those individual pieces is time consuming, but once you have them all, it becomes quite easy to out them together. And you can use them again later in different designs.

Assembling the elements of the Julia Felix mosaic

I first drew a square around the furnace man

Added the dolphins and tritons around.

and surrounded them by the city walls

And inally added the starry border !

completed, recreated Julia Felix mosaic.

Julia Felix mosaic, complete.

 

Feel free to use the images on this page for your own designs.

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