“There are still very many mosaics from Antiquity
19 October 2015
Universidad Carlos III de Madrid
UC3M Professor Luz Neira headed the latest conference of the Association Internationale pour l’Étude de Mosaïque Antique (AIEMA), an international event that is held every three years. This 13th edition, held for the second time in Spain after 25 years, was organized by the UC3M Institute of Culture and Technology in collaboration with the National Archaeological Museum.
Q. What is meant by ancient mosaic?
A. In studying ancient mosaics, we deal with the research of mosaics that date to the Hellenistic Age, the Roman Imperial age and even the Middle Ages.
Q. At the conference, new discoveries were discussed. Which ones would you highlight?
A. I would highlight the recent discoveries on the island of Cyprus, where magnificent collections have been documented for years. They reflect the mentality, beliefs and debates among followers of traditional cults, schools of philosophy and the founders of the new Christian faith. The University of Cyprus, in Nicosia, will host the 14th AIEMA Conference in 2018.
Q. Have there been any discoveries in Spain recently?
A. Yes, in Écija, where one sees the growing importance of the ancient Astigi, and in Castulo (Jaén), where they have discovered a very beautiful mosaic at the archaeological site. This mosaic has an unusual representation of mythological scenes never combined before: the Judgement of Paris and the love of Selen and Endymion. And, of course, the incomparable mosaic of Noheda (Cuenca), which is probably one of the most complex and interesting pavements from the entire Roman Empire.
Q. Are there still many discoveries to unearth?
A. Yes, very many. We know only a very small number of mosaics from Antiquity. The key is the resumption of scientific and systematic archaeological digs. However, they can only undertake campaigns that insure the conservation and protection of the discoveries—in our case—of mosaics.
Q. What position does Spain occupy in the world with regard to this area of research?
A. A very important position, because of the number and quality of Hispano-Roman mosaics, as well as the expertise of the Spanish researchers that have contributed so much to the evaluation of the Roman mosaics of Hispania. Noteworthy among them are the great master Professor Blázquez, Doctor López Monteagudo, Professor San Nicolás, Doctor Álvarez and the recently-deceased Doctor Fernández Galiano, Doctor Durán and young doctors such as Mañas and Bermejo.
Q. Has this conference ever been held in Spain before?
A. Yes, the Sixth AIEMA Conference, which was held in Palencia and Mérida in 1990. Now, after 25 years, the choice of Madrid and, specifically, UC3M for the organization of this edition of the conference (which the members of the board and the assembly decided on by unanimous vote during the previous conference in Venice in 2012) responds to several points: the significance of the Hispanic discoveries, the contribution of Spanish researchers, the growing prestige of the Seminar on Roman Mosaics (initialled SMR in Spanish), which we have organized since 2006 at the UC3M Institute of Culture and Technology (ICyT), and the unconditional support from the President’s office, previously with Daniel Peña and now with President Juan Romo.
Q. What is the most difficult aspect of organizing this kind of event?
A. It is a conference that is held every three years and which requires coordinating a lot of people. To this end, I want to highlight that I had the help of a fantastic and enthusiastic team of doctoral candidates from the ICyT: Beatriz Fernández Bonet, Estela Martínez, Javier Caballero and Luigi Quattrocchi. I also want to acknowledge the collaboration of the National Archaeological Museum, particularly its deputy director, Carmen Marcos, as well as colleagues from the UNED, the German Archaeological Institute of Madrid (initialled DAI in Spanish), Carranque, Complutum and Almenara de Adaja. It has been satisfying to gather prestigious colleagues as well as young researchers who guarantee future research into mosaics.
Q. What is your area of research in mosaics?
A. Iconography. In recent years, the representation of daily life and mythological scenes, the figuration of a dominus and his universe as well as feminine representations, the symbolic allusion to the pairing of civilization and barbarism, images linked to their beliefs, etc., reflect the concerns and the propagandist pretensions of the elite and their contribution to the shaping of certain stereotypes, not only in the Roman world, but over the course of history up to the present.
Q. Not long ago you published a book that analyzes religious, ritual and magic iconography?
A. Yes. I coordinated the publication of the book Religiosidad, Rituales y Prácticas Mágicas en los Mosaicos Romanos (CVG, 2014). The ancient literary sources and data provided by archaeology offer a lot of information about the religious beliefs of the Romans, their rituals and magic practices and their funeral rites. With the research we carried out for this publication, we tried to find out how these beliefs are represented in Roman mosaics from the whole Empire.
Q. Does a mosaic have more importance as an artistic reference or as a historical reference?
A. Although most people who study a mosaic highlight its artistic value, mosaics are a documentary source for the study of the history of those who commissioned them and those who made them. Preserved in their original context, they are a valuable testimony of their era.
Q. At the conference, scientific and technical applications to the study of mosaics were discussed?
A. Right. It is another of my lines of research. In this regard, I would highlight the research focused on the analysis of tiles which reveal the use of certain tools, or applications that contribute to the dissemination and accessibility of our studies among wider sectors of the public. For me, the application of technology is fundamental. In addition to contributing to dissemination, I am firmly convinced that it contributes to the research itself.