Late Antique Mosaics in Brussels

During a visit to Brussels this weekend, I visited the Musées Royaux d’Art et d’Historie, located in the Parc du Cinquantenaire. The museums hold a marvellous collection of late antique art as well as an reconstructed section of Apamea‘s colonnaded street.

Apamea mosaic
The Great Hunt Mosaic from Apamea, now in the Musées Royaux d’Art et d’Historie, Brussels. Photo: TMK, July 2006.

One of the museum’s star pieces is this hunt mosaic from what is believed to be the governor’s palace at Apamea. It was discovered in 1935, and subsequently moved to Brussels, where it has been restored several times, most recently in the 1960s. An inscription gives both the function of the room it decorated (triklinos, i.e. dining room) and the date of the room’s late antique restoration (September 535). Janine Balty notes the uniqueness of this mosaic in Syria and compares it to the mosaics from the 6th century palace at Constantinople that similarly have hunting themes. For that reason, she also proposes that the mosaic could have been made in Constantinople.

While the inscription on this mosaic is interesting, it gives us only a terminus ante quem. The mosaics in the Istanbul Mosaic Museum are traditionally dated to the 6th century, but also that has been disputed. The mosaics from the Apamea synagogue, on the other hand, have inscriptions that give an absolute date of 392. These mosaics, also now in Brussels, are thus of great importance to understanding the chronology of late antique mosaics in the eastern empire, although being from a synagogue, they are almost exclusively decorated with geometric patterns, except for a few floral elements. They are also testimony to civic benefaction (euergetism), as inscriptions give the names of the donors of each section of mosaic.

The last major group of late antique mosaics in Brussels are those that decorated the portico floor of Apamea’s colonaded street. The original length of these mosacis is a massive 110 m. Luckily, these were also found with a (fragmentary) inscription that dates their insertion to 469. Their iconography, mostly animals such as lions, sheep, ducks and geese, is more in line with the Great Hunt mosaic from the governor’s palace, but are of a lesser quality and in a simpler style.

Janine Balty. 1986. Mosaïques d’Apamée. Brussels: Musées Royaux d’Art et d’Historie.

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