Vanessa Somers Vreeland’s Mosaic: By Prof. Giandomenico Spinola Expert on the Vatican Asaroton, Vatican Museums, Rome
Vanessa Somers Vreeland’s Mosaic: Asaroton 2,000
By Prof. Giandomenico Spinola
Expert on the Vatican Asaroton, Vatican Museums, Rome
The story of the “Asaroton Oikos,” the Unswept Floor, is very ancient. First mentioned by Pliny (Nat. Hist. XXXVI 184) who noted that this work was made for a mosaic pavement by Sosos, a well-known mosaic artist [in
the 2nd Century B.C.]
The fame of the Asaroton was astounding, due to the effect of its three-dimensionality (with shadows faithfully depicted), and as a work of beauty. The Romans copied it various times, including the Asaroton signed by Heraclitus, in our own Vatican Museum, and another version of it in the Museum of Aquileia. As in the original from Pergamon, these ancient Roman copies are works of technical virtuosity, made with tesserae (mosaic pieces) that are particularly small and carefully cut. In the Vatican Asaroton this comes down to nearly a million tesserae per square metre. Everything that was brought to the table in the Greco-Roman world can be found translated into rubbish on the unswept floor: fish bones, antennae of crustaceans, clam shells, chicken bones and feet, fruit skins and kernels, and so on. In the Vatican mosaic only the mouse is alive in this dead “tableau vivant,” while the theatrical masks, placed on one side of the floor, represent the entertainment. The value of such an art work is also in its allegories.
Pitagora said it was never necessary to clean up the fallen bits of food during a banquet, as they were destined for departed ancestors. It was a tradition to leave this detritus on the floor—at least until the guests had left—so as not to anger the dead.
There were always theatrics at a banquet: a traditional ceremony of poems, dances, plays. These receptions demonstrated the luxury and power of the host: with food brought in from foreign parts; expensive and highly exotic. The banquet represented in the Asaroton is exaggerated and ironic: imaginary rubbish, trash that doesn’t pollute or smell.
The precious and brilliant mosaic work of Vanessa Somers Vreeland represents a version just as artistic and ironic as the other Asaroton, naturally represented in a contemporary key. Instead of luxury she substituted modern technology. Instead of the contents there is often – though not only – its container. We should have entered into the era when garbage is sorted by categories, but our garbage is only theoretically recyclable; and here is our floor, our Earth, covered with empty cans, bottles and utensils from the kitchen and table. Our poor mouse doesn’t have much for his banquet. Vanessa Somers Vreeland’s mosaics are artistic masterpieces. They are also, perhaps, in her heart a satirical denunciation of what and how much we consume as well as what and how much detritus we leave for posterity.