Although the Vatican Mosaic Workshop, dedicated to the embellishment of St Peter's, had been founded in 1576, it was the discovery of a fragment of mosaic pavement by the antiquarian Cardinal Giuseppe Furietti (1685-1764) during excavations at the Villa Adriana at Tivoli in 1737 which awoke new interest in Roman mosaics. Described by Alvar Gonzalez-Palacios as "perhaps the most loved mosaic of antiquity" (Exhibition catalogue, The Art of Mosaics, Los Angeles, 1977, p. 57), Furietti believed it to be the original lauded by Pliny the Younger as part of the finest recorded Greek pavement laid by Sosus at Pergamon and known as the Asarotos ~cos or Unswept House, "from the fact that he there represented, in small squares of different colours, the remains of a banquet left as if by accident, and other things which are usually swept away by the broom. There is a dove, greatly admired, in the act of drinking, the shadow of its head reflected in the water, while other doves are sunning and grooming themselves on the edge of the bowl" (Natural History, bk. 36, chap. 184). Contemporary scholars correctly thought the Cardinal's find to be a copy made for Emperor Hadrian but nevertheless, on Furietti's death in 1764, the mosaic was purchased by Pope Clement XIII and installed in the recently-founded Capitoline Museum where it remains a powerful tourist attraction to this day. In the present lot, the color and shape of the tessare is remarkably well chosen by the artist which results in a subtle composition.
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