The Unswept Floor

For the mosaic class assignment at the London School of Mosaic this week we’ve been asked to produce our own responses to the Unswept Floor.

For the uninitiated, such as me, the Unswept Floor is arguably the most famous mosaic of the ancient world.   Why?  First, it was described by Pliny, who uniquely also attributed the 2nd Century BC mosaic to a great master, Sosos.   Secondly, because it’s an original, and strikingly modern.   It takes the conventional mosaic floor and turns it into something provocative and self-referential.

For the assignment I first went looking for good images of the unswept floor on the internet, and among many here is the slow-loading Vatian Museum original.    Another found image took me to the website of mosaicist Helen Miles and a wonderful blog on the mosaic, and on her and other mosaicists’ responses to it.      Her erudite and cleanly written blog posts offered a fascinating insight into the mosaic-makers trade.

Meanwhile my own thoughts went back to the French pavilion at the Venice Biennale this year.  The dystopian future vision of Laure Provoust began with a room that was an unswept sea.    It was filled wall to wall with a glassy blue resin floor embedded with the  detritus of a world on ecologically on the brink:  from dead birds and sea creatures to rubber gloves.  The floating egg shells were the most unlikely, and yet most persuasive metaphor for the floating ocean litter we have generated.

French pavilion venice

An Unswept Sea? The French Pavilion at the Venice Biennale 2019

The queue was about 90 minutes to get in but it was utterly memorable.     If I come up with a mosaic response I’ll add it to this post.

The challenges of producing this kind of trompe l’oeuil, thought-provoking mosaic of objects on a floor include deciding where the  shadow falls, and  imagining how objects are seen –  from directly above, standing over the mosaic, or approaching it.   How would you do eggshells?

Laure Provoust’s creation


For a wider room view here’s Will Gompertz’s snap on his Twitter feed.