ON June 24, Gloucestershire auctioneers Chorley's will offer for sale this enormous 47 x 47ft (14.3 x 14.3m) reconstruction of the Orpheus pavement, a Roman mosaic.
The project took brothers Bob and John Woodward ten years to
complete and consists of 1.6 million hand-cut clay tesserae. The
remains of the original Orpheus pavement are in the large hall of
the Roman villa at Woodchester, near Stroud. The Woodward brothers
visited the mosaic at its most recent uncovering and public viewing
in 1973, after which Bob Woodward's research began.
The result is part fantasy, part fact. The earliest report Mr
Woodward found was from 1693 when Celtic scholar Edward Llwyd
recorded having seen "birds and beasts on the floor". A manuscript
in the Bodleian Library reported that in 1711 visitors noticed what
they thought was a wyvern (in fact, it was a griffin). There are
various other references down the years.
The Woodward brothers also studied other Orpheus mosaics to make
their reconstruction of missing sections as accurate as
The original pavement is made of limestone in seven different
colours and 14 shades, but recreating it in stone would have been
too expensive and heavy, so the Woodward brothers used naturally
coloured clay, only using artificial colour to represent water.
Twelve tons of clay were fired into strips and then cut into
cubes. Colour slides of the original were projected from below onto
a transparent workbench and each tessera was cemented onto boards
in 400 sections that could be moved individually and assembled on a
Both the original and reconstructed pavements are in the
Guinness Book of Records under "Largest Mosiac". The
reconstruction, already in need of restoration, has been on display
at Prinknash Abbey. Chorley's, who are based in Prinknash Abbey
Park, will sell the pavement in situ but, as yet, have not set an
Contact 01452 344499.
A catalogue will be available in early June at www.simonchorley.com
By Anna Brady
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