Rabbit, Roman Mosaic

Rabbit, Roman Mosaic



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The History Of Mosaic

The earliest mosaic dates back to the 3rd millennium BC in Mesopotamia and its main purpose was protecting floors and walls. A real use of mosaic as a form of art was made only in Roman times (IV-III c. BC), when tesserae were introduced.

In the late Roman Empire mosaic was very appreciated, around IV century AD one of the currently most important mosaic sites in the world was built. Maybe the seat of the self-proclaimed Roman emperor Massenzio, but more likely the property of the governor of Sicily, Lucio Populonio. The Villa Romana del Casale near Enna, is now under the aegis of UNESCO. It was discovered only in 1950 under a landslide and now it represents the largest collection of Roman mosaics ever known one may have seen, for example, the famous Girls in Bikini, athletic women in the act of playing a different sport each.

The end of IV century saw also the division of the Roman Empire into the Western Roman Empire and the Byzantine Empire, whose name recalls a unique style in the art of mosaic, indeed, the tiny polychrome glass tesserae became a fundamental tool to express the need of visual religious content. The prevailing characteristic of the Byzantine mosaic was a large use of gold background as well as of the light through which the artist showed their icons in an intangible world, almost two-dimensional, but very colourful. Beautiful examples in this sense are the Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna (Italy) and the Hagia Sophia in Instambul.

From X to XII centuries, the typical fresco starts prevailing because cheaper than the tesserae, nevertheless the most important testimony to mosaic in the Middle Age is represented by the floor of the Cathedral of S. Maria Annunziata in Otranto (Italy), work ascribed to the Romanesque art, dominant in that period. This mosaic is a path through a theological labyrinth showing in its central part the tree of life along which the main representations take place (original sin, the expulsion of Adam and Eve etc.). The mosaic made by Pantaleone conveys a sense of horror vacui in the way every little space is filled with details and can be considered an encyclopaedia of Middle Age images.

Interesting is also what happens in Sicily - where a peculiar Arab-Norman style plays a key role - and the importance of mosaic for the creation of fundamental works in the Holy Land by the Crusaders, although only a few parts of them still exist.

The period that sees the birth of the Renaissance and of the Baroque (1500-1600) marks also a loss of interest in the mosaic art which, having a great durability, becomes just subjected to the pictorial work. Magnificent examples can still be found in the Chigi Chapel, Rome - which protects the Creation of the World, designed by Raffael - and in St. Peter's Basilica.

Only at the end of XIX and the beginning of XX century there is a rebirth of mosaic, especially through two different art movements: Impressionism and Divisionism, which characteristics implies the fragmentation of colours. Later on, the Art Nouveau and Art Deco make again this art a starting point for new techniques and styles, see the Sagrada Familia of Gaudì and the work of Klimt, who was fascinated by the Byzantine mosaics in Ravenna (which clearly influenced his works) but also the famous lamps of Louis Comfort Tiffany .

Today mosaic is an art that still attracts attention and interest all over the world, in many ways it lends itself to new forms showing all the potential these little tiles, pebbles and beads are filled with.

In Ravenna an updated archive ( Databank Mosaicisti Contemporanei ) has been created to collect as many contemporary mosaic artists as possible so that any kind of information, pictures and workshops can be accessible to all.

This entry was posted in The Craft Kit Blog and tagged history , mosaic on July 8, 2015 by admin .


The Odd, Tidy Story of Rabbit Domestication That Is Also Completely False

Few domesticated animals have as neat an origin story as the pet bunny.

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As the story goes, around 600 A.D. Pope Gregory the Great issued an edict declaring that rabbit fetuses, called laurices, were not meat but fish . This meant they could be eaten during Lent, a Christian period of repentance in preparation for the Easter holiday. As a result, French monks supposedly rushed to collect this new food source and breed them within the monastery walls, where they eventually grew into the loveable critters we know today.

It's a nice, neat tale of domestication. It also almost certainly never happened.

A new study, published in the journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution, takes a trip down the rabbit hole of recent rabbit evolution using a multi-faceted approach of genetic analysis, historical documents, archaeological remains and fossil evidence to tease out the real history of bunnies. The results suggest that this myth arose from a simple misinterpretation—and lends support to the idea that the story human interaction with wild beasts is inevitably a far more complex process than the legends say.

The study began when Greger Larson, an evolutionary biologist at Oxford University, was hoping to test a DNA modeling method his lab previously developed to map genetic history of modern domesticated and wild animals. Bunnies were an ideal test subject since their domestication seemed to have a definitive start: 600 A.D., when the Pope issued his edict.

"My first instinct was not to question that story," says Larson. But in an off-hand remark to his graduate student Evan Irving-Pease, who led the analyses, Larson requested he find a reference for the papal decree to pair with the genetic study. As Irving-Pease soon discovered, no such decree exists. So where did this domestication myth come from?

Irving-Pease traced the peculiar story to a 584 A.D. document from Gallo-Roman bishop and historian St. Gregory of Tours—not Pope Gregory the Great. The passage describes the actions of Roccolenus, a henchman from northern France, who planned to ransack the city of Tours. But before he could, the henchmen fell dead, incidentally after eating young rabbits during Lent. The passage was misinterpreted by scholars in the mid-1900s, and over time the apocryphal tale was born.

"Cows and Rabbits in the Barn." 1870 oil painting by Louis Reinhardt. (Wikimedia Commons)

Next, the researchers turned to genetic analysis to fill out the picture. All modern pet bunnies come from wild rabbits of the species Oryctolagus cuniculus cuniculus, which likely roamed the South of France and northeast Spain for several million years. As documented in a� study published in Science, during the last glacial maximum (roughly 18,000 years ago), advancing glaciers likely pushed the French bunnies back into Spain. Once the ice retreated, rabbits returned to France, with the marks of this population shift still discernible in their DNAOur modern domesticated rabbits all evolved from the French populations, the DNA suggests.

To find out when exactly this happened, the Oxford team applied their DNA modelling method to parse through the genome of modern wild and tame French bunnies. What they found surprised them yet again: The analysis suggested a split occurred between 12,200 and 17,700 years ago, thousands of years before the supposed papal decree and well before records suggest intense bunny-human interaction.

To be clear, this doesn't suggest early Homo Sapiens had a fondness for the little fluffs. Instead, the split could reflect other factors, such as geographic separation, which limits mating and could have created several subgroups of bunnies, with some genetically closer than others. Later, one group of critters became domesticated.

Archaeological and historical records portray some of the many shifts in human-bunny relations over the years, Irving-Pease explains via email. "We hunted them during the Palaeolithic, housed them in Roman leporaria, kept them in Medieval pillow mounds and warrens, forced them to reproduce above ground in hutches, and only recently bred them for morphological novelties as pets," he writes. Together, these pieces show the winding history bunnies took from field to hutch.

But in a larger sense, Larson says, asking when exactly domestication begins is the wrong question. "We use this terminology that there is an implied understanding, but when you start to dig at it, when you start to reach for it, it just recedes from your fingertips," he says.

By seeking tidy origin stories for domestication, Larson argues, researchers overlook the complexities of the process. "A lot of our narratives work like this," he says, comparing the story of the Pope to the pervasive,  but not entirely true , tale of Isaac Newton understanding gravity after an apple struck him on the head. In reality, he says, the process of scientific discovery is much more gradual—and so is the process of domestication.

Researchers often look for specific physical clues, like the floppy ears in dogs, which are visible traits associated with desirable features like a less aggressive personality. Although breeders don't select for floppy ears, this trait often crops up while trying to produce more friendly canines. But these physical or genetic markers alone don't tell the whole story.

For bunnies, telltale changes in coat color weren't documented until the 1500s, when domestication was in full swing. Skeletal changes, like differences in size, didn't come about until the 1700s, when pet breeding began. Each factor is a piece of the larger puzzle of humans interacting with wild beasts.

Melinda Zeder, senior scientist at Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History and an adjunct professor of human ecology and Archaeobiology a the University of New Mexico, agrees with these conclusions. "The authors here are pointing out and trying to correct a really a longstanding fallacy—it's a little bit depressing that it still needs to be pointed out, but it does—that domestication is not a … point at which wild becomes domestic," she says. "It's a process."

Miguel Carneiro, evolutionary biologist at the CIBIO University of Porto who was part of the 2014 genetic analysis of rabbits, says that the study clears up historical misconceptions. "This is a timely paper that brings a healthy dose of skepticism regarding the timing of rabbit domestication and the associated cultural context," he writes in an email to Smithsonian.com.

Leif Andersson, a molecular geneticist at Uppsala University in Sweden and Texas A&M University agrees that the historical documentation has its merits. Andersson, who was also a senior author of the 2014 study, adds, "unfortunately, I think the authors of this paper make the same mistake as what they accuse others for in this manuscript … When we talk about the early domestications of for instance dog, pig and chicken it was certainly an ongoing process that happened over a long period of time," he writes. "But this does not mean that domestication always [has] to be a continuum that happened over a long period of time" in which wild and domestic groups continue to mix.

He points to the Syrian hamster, commonly known as the golden or dwarf hamster. Today’s dwarfs all supposedly originate from a single litter collected in 1930. But Larson and his team are currently investigating the case and believe the situation may be more complex. "Yes, there was removal of some hamster from a context," he says, "but they were from a farm in a burrow, so they were already close to human[s]." According to Larson, since their initial removal, "populations on these farms are [still] virtually identical to ones in the lab."

Understanding these human-animal interactions is increasingly important in today’s world, Zeder explains. "In an era when we think of things [that happened] 28 seconds ago as being out of date," she says, studying domestication "gives us a connection to a long heritage of human manipulation of the environment."

She adds, "the more that we understand that we're part of that long heritage, the more we will take responsibility for making sure it continues."


A Brief Introduction to Roman Mosaics

Detail of a corner panel from Mosaic Floor with a Bear Hunt, A.D. 300–400, Roman, from near Baiae, Italy. Stone tesserae, 51–68 1/2 × 34 1/2–58 ¼ in.

Mosaics offer a vivid picture of ancient Roman life. From dramatic athletic contests to tender portraits of local wildlife, mosaics provide a glimpse at who the Romans were, what they valued, and where they walked.

The new exhibition Roman Mosaics across the Empire (at the Getty Villa through September 12) features examples from Italy, France, North Africa, and Syria, some dating back 2,100 years. Large assemblages of mosaics aren’t usually on display at the Getty Villa—no wonder, given that the largest group in the collection is over 600 square feet and weighs 16,000 pounds!

Exhibition curator Alexis Belis, author of the accompanying digital publication Roman Mosaics in the J. Paul Getty Museum, walked me through some of her favorite facts about mosaics, as well as a few can’t-miss objects in the exhibition.

1. Roman mosaics were meant to be walked on.

Paintings covered the interior walls of Roman villas, but weren’t practical for decorating floors. Enter mosaics: a durable and lavish way to spruce up a room and support foot traffic at the same time.

2. They’re interactive.

Mosaics are designed to be seen from different angles and to change as your perspective moves. A mosaic from LACMA’s collection, on view in the exhibition, sports a hunting scene around the border, encouraging you to walk around and look again.

3. The Romans perfected mosaics as an art form.

The Greeks refined the art of figural mosaics by embedding pebbles in mortar. The Romans took the art form to the next level by using tesserae (cubes of stone, ceramic, or glass) to form intricate, colorful designs.

4. Mosaics are full of drama and violence.

Action scenes, violent hunts, exotic creatures, and angsty mythological episodes are all frequent subjects on mosaics. The dramatic scene below, for example, shows a lion sinking its fangs into the haunch of a fleeing bull.

Mosaic of a Lion Chasing a Bull, A.D. 400s–500s, Roman, made in Syria. Stone tesserae, 32 × 59 in. The J. Paul Getty Museum, 75.AH.115

5. Mosaics were symbols of wealth and status.

Blending art and home décor, Roman mosaics were commissioned to adorn and impress guests inside private homes and villas. Wealthy Romans chose themes to reflect their status: mythological stories would show off a man’s book learning, while scenes of wild animals being captured for fights in the arena might highlight his sponsorship of public games.

6. To get special colors, mosaic artists used glass and imported stones.

Mosaic artisans relied on local stones for the bulk of their work, but imported unusual colors for special highlights. When no stone would do, they turned to glass in bright colors like blue and green.

Detail of glass tesserae in Mosaic of a Lion Attacking an Onager, A.D. late 100s, Roman, made in Tunisia. Stone and glass tesserae, 38 3/4 × 63 in. The J. Paul Getty Museum, 73.AH.75

7. They’re as brightly colored now as they were 2,000 years ago.

Mosaics are made of stone and glass, which fade hardly at all.

8. The most detailed Roman mosaics use small stones to achieve an effect like brushstrokes.

Especially in the eastern provinces of the Roman empire, artists “painted” with stone, using small, vivid tesserae that resemble Pointillist daubs of pigment. (See the image at the top of this post.)

9. Mosaics tell us about ancient history.

Mosaics are significant not only as art, but as evidence of where and how people lived, worked, and thought. The locations and architectural settings of many mosaics have been recorded over the centuries by archaeologists, helping illuminate their cultural context.

Excavation reports reveal that this mosaic fragment depicting a hare with grapes was originally located in the Bath of Apolausis near Antioch, alongside many other significant mosaics. Mosaic Floor with Animals (detail), Roman, made in Antioch, Syria (present-day Antakya, Turkey). Stone tesserae, 101 1/4 × 268 5/8 in. The J. Paul Getty Museum, 70.AH.96

10. Many mosaics lay under the soil for thousands of years.

Because they are built into the foundations of buildings, mosaics are among the best-preserved of all forms of Roman art. Frescoes were knocked down and bronze sculptures melted for reuse, but countryside ruins often sat undisturbed for centuries under layers of soil and vegetation.

11. The Romans sometimes redecorated, adding new mosaics on top of old ones.

The Roman rich weren’t so different from those today—they liked to update. This mosaic of the Medusa was found on top of another mosaic of a marine scene. Instead of demoing the original floor, the contractors just put the new one on top.

Mosaic Floor with Head of Medusa, about A.D. 115–150, Roman, made in Italy. Stone tesserae, 106 1/2 × 106 1/2 in. The J. Paul Getty Museum, 71.AH.110. This mosaic is on view outside the exhibition galleries, in the lobby of the Getty Villa Auditorium.

12. Where the Romans went, so did mosaics.

The spread of mosaics parallels the vast spread of Roman power, from France to Syria to Tunisia. And like the rest of Roman culture, mosaics in different places reveal a combination of local traditions and Roman influence.

13. Just like music and fashion today, mosaic styles had their fads.

In Italy and Gaul (France) in the first century A.D., black and white mosaics came into style—and no one is really sure why. Cost savings? Not likely, since the style makes an appearance at the villa of Roman emperor Hadrian, who could afford the best of the best.

14. Thousands of mosaics still dot the landscape in the Mediterranean Region and North Africa.

Partners in the international MOSAIKON initiative are working to improve the conservation, presentation, and management of these mosaics, many of which are still in situ (in their original archaeological locations).

15. Mosaic artists had different styles, which you can see if you look closely.

Large mosaics were a massive undertaking, requiring the hands of more than one expert. If you look closely at the Bear Hunt Mosaic in Roman Mosaics across the Empire you can see an example: the two faces in the far right corners have different styles, colors, and quality, revealing that different hands made them.

Roman Mosaics across the Empire is on view at the Getty Villa through January 1, 2018. Admission to the exhibition is free with your advance, timed-entry ticket to the Getty Villa.


The astonishing mosaics of the Roman Villa del Casale

The mosaics of the Villa Romana del Casale offer an insight into daily life in Ancient Rome. The site has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Roman Villa del Casale was built between 320 and 370. The site is located about 5km outside the town of Piazza Armerina, Enna. It is the richest and most complex collection of late Roman mosaics in the world.

During the first two centuries of the Empire, the economic conditions of Sicily worsened and the population in the countryside drastically decreased. Furthermore, the Roman government neglected the territory, which became a place of exile and a refuge for slaves and brigands.

Rural Sicily entered a new period of prosperity at the beginning of the 4th century, with commercial settlements and agricultural villages flourishing.

Women in the Roman Empire did engage in sports

The currently most accredited hypothesis identifies the owner with a prestigious figure of the Constantinian age, Lucio Aradio Valerio Proculo Populonio, governor of Sicily between 327 and 331 and consul in 340.

The games he had organized in Rome in 320 were so sumptuous that their fame lasted for a long time, and perhaps the depictions on some mosaics of the villa (the “Great Hunt” in corridor 25 and the “Circus Games” in the gymnasium of the thermal baths) intend to recall this event.

The was damaged during the domination of the Vandals and the Visigoths. The buildings remained in use during the Byzantine and Arab period. In the 12th century, a landslide covered the villa and the site was finally abandoned.

The first professional excavations were made by Paolo Orsi in 1929. Major excavations took place in the period 1950–60 led by Gino Vinicio Gentili.


Roman Mosaics

Mosaics are among the most attractive works of art to have survived from the Roman period, and Britain has produced nearly 800 examples – many of great skill and beauty. They have great value both as works of art and as social and economic documents. In the Roman world the full expression of the wealth of a Roman citizen lay in the quality and number of mosaic floors in his house, and the style of a pavement tells us something of popular taste. The pavements from Cirencester form one of the finest collections of mosaics known from Roman Britain. Over 90 tessellated (mosaic) pavements have been discovered from Roman Corinium.

Mosaic making appears to have spread to the Western Roman Empire from Greek lands. In Phrygia (modern Turkey) a mosaic has been found that dates back to the eighth century B.C. but the earliest wave of activity seems to have been in Greece in the fourth and third centuries B.C. At this time small black and white natural pebbles were used to construct patterns and pictures, with the use of colour being rare. By the second century B.C. the practice had begun of using small, specially hand-cut pieces of stone, marble, clay and glass, which considerably extended the scope of the mosaicist. These small pieces were called ‘tesserae’ or ‘tessellae’ and were usually cubes of approximately a centimetre square.

The art of laying tessellated floors was called `Opus Tessallatum’. Correctly this term applied to all floors in small, cut pieces. Floors laid in coarse tesserae of one colour were put down in poor houses or in the less important rooms of finer buildings and this work was call ‘Opus Signinum’. The patterned mosaic work, like that on display in the Museum, was known as ‘Opus Vermiculatum’.

The task of cutting tesserae probably took place in the stonemasons’ workshop – though it might also be done at the site of the new floor. The tesserae were carried about in large double trays. The mosaicist would make the tesserae out of whatever materials were locally available. In Britain, materials were rarely `imported’ for this purpose, although occasionally, where quantities of marble or glass were brought in for building or sculpture, chippings and wasters might have been used in the floor. From Roman Britain there are examples of black-and-white and polychrome designs. Different raw materials gave the various shades required.

  • Limestones – greys and browns (The local Cotswold limestones gave greys and creams and the Lias Limestone, as found in the Severn Valley, gave blue colours).
  • Greensands – greens
  • Sandstones (e.g. in the Forest of Dean) – yellows and browns
  • Purbeck Marble – dark blues, reds and greens.
  • Kimmeridge shale – black and dark grey.
  • Manufactured pottery (Samian ware) and tiles – reds.

Glass was used only rarely in Britain. Notice on the Hare Mosaic the few clear glass tesserae on the hare’s back and red glass used on the legs of Actaeon on the Seasons Mosaic.

The technique of mosaic production was a laborious one. The design was chosen and the number of tesserae required was calculated and made in the right size, shape and colour. It was essential that each mosaic should be well drained and it was for this reason that, wherever possible, the pavement was placed over a hypocaust system. When there was no hypercaust a suitable foundation of sand, gravel or rubble had to be constructed. The thickness of this would depend on the nature of the subsoil. A mortar bed was then prepared and spread over the foundation. The tesserae were set out carefully, using rules and setsquares, and pressed down into the cement while it was still slightly wet. The mosaic was then rolled and polished.

The designs on the mosaic floors, whether figured or geometric, show a remarkable uniformity throughout the Roman world, with the same themes and motifs occurring again and again. To some extent this can be explained by the mobility of craftsmen taking their ideas from place to place with them. It can also be accounted for by the circulation of pattern books. These consisted of sheets of parchment or thin wooden boards, since perished, which carried designs available to the client, from which the craftsmen might work. The books provided models and suggestions to the customer and seem not to have been intended for slavish copying, thus allowing considerable scope for individual taste and imagination.

Mosaic making was unknown in Britain before the Roman Conquest. It was by origin an entirely Mediterranean form of art. On stylistic grounds the few early pavements in Britain can be attributed to foreign craftsmen. In the early stages these foreigners, some possibly Greeks, who had been trained in Mediterranean workshops, travelled to Britain to lay floors in the new province as required. Even during the fourth century it is possible that the more competent mosaics were laid by continental craftsmen.

By the late second century there was an increasing demand for mosaics from the new towns and country houses and during this time foreign craftsmen and local apprentices probably worked together. In Cirencester it had long been thought that we have evidence of this ‘collaboration’ on the second century Seasons Mosaic. It has been observed that the head of Spring is drawn with harder and heavier lines that those of Summer or Autumn and lacks the skillful shading and modelling of the others. It is obviously the work of a loss gifted craftsman.

As the art spread in Britain the craftsmen became organised into local ‘schools’ – based in regional centres and serving the surrounding areas. Each workshop would have specialised in certain designs and had its own repertoire. One such school is thought to have existed in Colchester and St. Albans as early as the second century A.D. but they became easier to distinguish during the fourth century. From about 300 A.D. there was a terrific boom in the industry with a growing market in the expanding towns and the rich villas.

On stylistic grounds as many as 10 schools have been identified in such towns as Durnovaria (Dorchester), Durobrivae (Water Newton), Peturia (Brough-on-Humber) and Corinium (Cirencester). The Corinian School, based here in Cirencester, was probably the largest, and many mosaics have been assigned to it, mostly from Gloucestershire and from Cirencester itself. Recurring subjects and motifs can be observed, the Orpheus theme, for example, as excavated from Barton Farm, Cirencester, and also from neighbouring Woodchester.

Imagery on mosaics provides information about Roman life and culture and might include religious and mythical figures, clothing, everyday tasks and popular symbols and decoration.


Ben-Fur: Romans brought rabbits to Britain, experts discover

Who brought the first rabbit to Britain? Not, it would seem, the Normans, who were previously thought to have introduced the animal to England in the 11th century.

Instead, re-examination of a bone found at a Roman palace more than half a century ago has shown that it belonged to a rabbit that may have been kept as a pet by the villa’s owners – making it Britain’s first bunny.

The 4cm fragment of tibia bone was unearthed at Fishbourne Roman palace in Chichester, West Sussex in 1964 but was stored in a box at the site until 2017, when Dr Fay Worley, a zooarchaeologist with Historic England, recognised it as belonging to a rabbit.

The bone does not have any butchery marks, and another analysis suggests the animal was kept in confinement. Radiocarbon dating showed the rabbit lived in the first century AD.

The discovery emerged from a broad study into the origins of Easter by academics from the universities of Exeter, Oxford and Leicester, with the involvement of Arts and Humanities Research Council, Historic England and Sussex Archaeological Society.

Naomi Sykes, a professor of archaeology at the University of Exeter who is leading the work, said: “This is a tremendously exciting discovery and this very early rabbit is already revealing new insights into the history of the Easter traditions we are all enjoying this week.

“The bone fragment was very small, meaning it was overlooked for decades, and modern research techniques mean we can learn about its date and genetic background as well.”

Worley said she had been excited to recognise the bone and was “thrilled when the radiocarbon date confirmed that it isn’t from a modern rabbit that had burrowed in.”

“This find will change how we interpret Roman remains and highlights that new information awaits discovery in museum collections.”

Fishbourne Roman palace is the largest Roman residential building ever discovered in Britain, and was built in 75AD, about three decades after the Roman invasion of Britain.

The inhabitants of the palace were known to be wealthy and kept a varied menagerie, so the rabbit – which is native to Spain and Portugal – could have been an exotic pet.

Rob Symmons, the curator of Fishbourne, said: “There is no evidence to suggest there were many rabbits in this area, but it does appear they were closely confined and more likely to be kept as exotic pets.

“It is a change in history and the way we look at animal introductions in this country.”

The first historical mention of an “Easter bunny” is in fact an Easter hare, and is found in a German text from 1682. It is not clear how, when or why the rabbit became linked to the Easter festival.


Different Genders, Different Personalities: Male and Female Aspects of the Moon

A study of colonial period sources, Pre-Columbian iconography, and ethnographic data shows us the different roles played by male and female lunar deities. The multiplicity of lunar deities may reflect the many personalities of the moon as it undergoes a transformation over the course of a month and disappears for a short period during the new moon phase.

Four stages of the lunar cycle (Crescent, quarter, gibbous, full) ( CC BY 2.0 )

The moon's monthly transformation is believed to be a process of growing, with the period of the new moon to first crescent representing the newborn moon. It is also evident that different phases of the moon are associated with different genders and, in some instances, the moon may be visualized as changing gender over the course of the month.

In Egyptian mythology, hares were closely associated with the cycles of the moon, which was viewed as masculine when waxing and feminine when waning. Therefore, hares were believed to be androgynous, shifting back and forth between the genders. A hare-headed god and goddess can be seen on the Egyptian temple walls of Dendera, where the goddess is believed to be Unut, while the god is most likely a representation of Osiris who was sacrificed to the Nile annually in the form of a hare. This belief continued up to the 18th century European folklores.

In the Aztec story of the creation of the sun and moon, Tecuciztecatl, the future moon, threw himself into the fire following the newly transformed sun. In his depictions, Tecuciztecatl wore the xicolli ( sleeveless jacket) of a priest, which indicates a masculine role. However, a parallel creation legend in the Leyenda de los Soles brings out a female quality in the description of the moon god who sings and dances Iike a woman. The moon rabbit is an insignia of both male and female lunar deities in the Classic Maya period.


History of rabbits

Rabbits belong to the order of mammals called Lagomorpha, which includes 40 or so species of rabbits, hares and Pikas. Fossil records suggest that Lagomorpha evolved in Asia.

Rabbits belong to the order of mammals called Lagomorpha, which includes 40 or so species of rabbits, hares and Pikas. Fossil records suggest that Lagomorpha evolved in Asia at least 40 million years ago, during the Eocene period. The break-up of continents during this period may be responsible for the wide distribution of differing species of rabbits and hares around the world, with the exception of Australia. There are currently more than 60 recognised breeds of domestic rabbit in Europe and America, all of them descended from the European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus), the only species of rabbit to have been widely domesticated. It is a seperate species from other native rabbits such as the North American jackrabbits and cottontail rabbits and all species of hares.

The European wild rabbit evolved around 4,000 years ago on the Iberian Peninsula, the name 'Hispania' (Spain) is translated from the name given to that area by Phoenician merchants, meaning 'land of the rabbits'. When the Romans arrived in Spain around 200BC, they began to farm the native rabbits for their meat and fur. The Romans called this practice 'cuniculture' and kept the rabbits in fenced enclosures. Inevitably, the rabbits tried to escape and it is perhaps no surprise that the latin name 'Oryctolagus cuniculus' means 'hare-like digger of underground tunnels'. The spread of the Roman empire, along with increasing trade between countries, helped to introduce the European rabbit into many more parts of Europe and Asia. With their rapid reproduction rate, and the increasing cultivation of land providing ideal habitat, rabbits soon established large populations in the wild. The European rabbit continued to be introduced to new countries as they were explored, or colonised by European adventurers and pioneers. Wild rabbits thrived in many new locations, and populations grew rapidly in countries with suitable habitat and few natural predators. The European rabbit became widespread in North America and Australia, for example, where the wild rabbit has become a troublesome pest to farmers and conservationists.

Wild rabbits are said to have been first domesticated in the 5th Century by the monks of the Champagne Region in France. Monks were almost certainly the first to keep rabbits in cages as a readily available food source, and the first to experiment with selective breeding for traits such as weight or fur colour. Rabbits were introduced to Britain during the 12th Century, and during the Middle Ages, the breeding and farming of rabbits for meat and fur became widespread throughout Europe. Sources suggest that some women among the Medieval gentry even kept rabbits as pets. The selective breeding of European rabbits meant that distinct breeds arose in different regions, and the origins of many old breeds can be traced back several centuries. For example paintings from the 15th century show rabbits in a variety of colours, some even with white 'Dutch' markings 16th century writings suggest that the Flemish Giant was already being pure-bred under the name Ghent Giant, in the Flemish speaking Ghent area of Belgium 17th century sources tell of the arrival of 'silver' rabbits in England and France, brought from India and China by seafarers and influential in the Silver and Champagne de Argente breeds 18th century sources suggest a breed known as Lapin de Nicard once existed in France and weighed as little as 1.5kg (3½ lbs), some consider this to be the forerunner of all dwarf breeds the English Lop can also be traced back to 18th century records, and is considered the ancestor of all the lop breeds. By the middle of the 19th century, the widespread practice of selectively breeding domestic rabbits had resulted in a large variety of breeds, ranging from the tiny Polish rabbit to the huge Flemish Giant.

Up until the 19th century, domestic rabbits had been bred purely for their meat and fur, but during the Victorian era, many new 'fancy' breeds were developed for the hobby of breeding rabbits for showing. Industrialisation also meant that many people moving from the country to the expanding towns and cities, brought rabbits with them apart from poultry, they were the only 'farm' animal to be practical to keep in town. Although many of these rabbits were bred for meat, it became increasingly common among the rising middle classes to keep rabbits as pets. Rabbits were connected with the countryside and the animals they had left behind, and became considered almost sentimentally. Rabbit wares were promoted in connection with children, and the romantic attitude towards rabbits persists today in the association of 'bunnies' with newborn babies, and the idea of rabbits as a children's pet. By the 20th century, rabbit breeding had become a popular hobby across Europe, with many rabbit fanciers developing new varieties and colours. Some breeds, such as the Himalayan and Rex, came about as the result of naturally-occuring genetic mutations which were then fixed or enhanced through a selective breeding programme. Others were developed through cross-breeding, particularly with rabbits imported from other countries as a result of increasing travel in Europe. Many breed societies and clubs were established, with some breeds undergoing dramatic swings in popularity, often due to changing fashions for fur and commercial uses. Although the European rabbit arrived in America with european settlers, and established a large wild population, rabbits were mostly hunted in the wild until the late 19th century. Domestic rabbitry did not become popular in the United States until around the turn of the century, when many European breeds began to be imported, and breeders also developed some American breeds.

During the two World Wars, governments in both Britain and the United States encouraged people to keep rabbits as a source of homegrown meat and fur, both for themselves and to help feed and clothe soldiers. After the wars, many people continued to keep rabbits in their gardens, and they become commonplace as household pets. Rabbits have become the third most popular pet after cats and dogs in the UK, unlike cats and dogs however they are traditionally seen as 'childrens pets', and often sadly misunderstood. During the last 30 years or so, attitudes towards rabbits as pets have been undergoing a gradual shift. The promotion of rabbit welfare is fostering a greater understanding of rabbits from their basic needs to their intelligence, personality and behaviour. Rabbits are increasingly seen in the same way as cats and dogs, as a rewarding companion or family pet, and provided with the same level of care and attention, from routine vaccinations and healthcare, to greater freedom and interaction with their owners.


It's a Visual Thing

Most large floor mosaics are difficult to photograph straight on, and many scholars have resorted to building scaffolds above them to get an objectively rectified image. But scholar Rebecca Molholt (2011) thinks that might be defeating the purpose.

Molholt argues that a floor mosaic needs to be studied from the ground level and in place. The mosaic is part of a greater context, says Molholt, capable of redefining the space it defines--the perspective that you see from the ground is part of that. Any pavement would have been touched or felt by the observer, perhaps even by the bare foot of the visitor.

In particular, Molholt discusses the visual impact of labyrinth or maze mosaics, 56 of which are known from the Roman era. Most of them are from houses, 14 are from Roman baths. Many contain references to the myth of Daedalus's labyrinth, in which Theseus battles the Minotaur at the heart of a maze and thus saves Ariadne. Some have a game-like aspect, with a dizzying view of their abstract designs.