Where do you begin with mosaics?   Impossible.   But perhaps at the Zeugma Mosaic Museum in Gazientep, Turkey.   The stunning, purpose-built museum displays the mosaics dramatically rescued from a huge Roman site being flooded by the rising  waters of a dam.

The museum took the so-called Gipsy Girl as it’s figurehead.   The museum displays its major mosaics surely  just as they ought to be: on the floor, spotlit, with gangways for visitors to look down on them.    But their Zingara was shown in a darkened room for treasured masterpieces, their very own Mona Lisa.


Zeugma Mosaic

Gipsy Girl, Zeugma Mosaic Museum

It is perhaps five years since I took that photograph, and I’ve recently been studying the history and fabrication of mosaics    at the London School of Mosaic.    The main lesson I’ve learned is that no mosaic survives contact with the enemy.

In an evening class, for my very first effort, I decided to use an image from the deeply mysterious Tree of Life mosaic that spreads across the entire floor of Otranto Cathedral in Puglia,  Italy.      This 12th Century mosaic is both used, and abused, by its Catholic guardians in a building that also houses 800 skulls of Christians slaughtered by Ottoman marauders, gruesomely glaring down around an altar.    It appeared an entirely pre-Christian panorama, that over nine centuries has mesmerised millions of visitors.

I opted for a unicorn, a tiny fragment of the whole.  It promised achievability:  a quirky, even crude, but endearing  two-dimensional medieval image in a limited palette.


Looking at it closely now, I see the particular importance of the man’s hand touching the creature’s breast; there’s a fondness and familiarity in that gesture.    The Tree of Life includes Noah’s Ark.  That was when the unicorn, according to some childhood folk song,  missed the boat.

Week two.   Working from a very basic sketch on plasticine, using what I believe is called the double-reverse method, chopping the stone: my unicorn was taking shape.  I was particularly proud of the tail.

A unicorn’s derriere.

My mosaic blogs are likely to be a work in progress so things may develop and change…