Beautifully lifelike depictions from
mythology often graced the ground floor of ancient Roman villas. Made
from colored stone and glass, these intricate mosaics showed scenes from
battles and warriors, gods and demons.
One featured Medusa as the central medallion, her swirling snakes swinging wildly about her head.
Dated somewhere around the second century, it remained buried for
centuries on the island of Sardinia until its discovery in 2010. This
June, 14 University of Delaware art conservation undergraduates and one
graduate student worked with a famed conservator to excavate and
preserve the remaining salvageable pieces from the ancient mosaic.
Blogging their experience,
the students worked with Roberto Nardi, one of the world's leading
archaeology and mosaic conservators, to excavate the pieces and
transport them to a workshop in a converted 13th-century Franciscan
convent outside of Rome, where they began to piece together the
fragments of the central medallion of the Medusa mosaic.
The students also studied under Roberto Cassio, director of Vatican
Museums Restoration Laboratory for Mosaics, who uses traditional Roman
materials and techniques to reproduce and restore classic, religious and
modern subjects and portraits.
"Introducing us to the new mosaic material he uses, comprised of
glass with metals and minerals, he walked us through his method of
creating tesserae (out of small glass rods) and melting and molding them
with a blowtorch," the students wrote in a June 21 blog post. "After
sufficiently stretching the melted tesserae to the desired thickness, we
practiced breaking the tesserae and learned how to place them on the
mosaic, eager to try and match Roberto's perfect technique."
In addition to their excavation and conservation work on the Medusa
mosaic, the students spent their spare time touring Rome, Sardinia,
Assisi and Spoleto; meeting famed sculptors, such as Norman Rockwell's
son, Peter Rockwell, and iconic conservator Gael de Guichen; and
visiting conservation labs, including the stone, painting and mosaic
labs of the Museo Vaticani.
"This was the first time the department has offered this experience,
and we certainly hope to do more," said Vicki Cassman, associate
professor and undergraduate director of the art conservation program.
"Our students returned with a deeper appreciation and understanding of
conservation, not just as something we study in class, but as something
that has a profound impact on culture and society across the globe."