Masterpiece Stories

Painting of the Week: Fragment of a Floor Mosaic with a Personification of Ktisis

Zuzanna Stańska 18 October 2020 min Read

The bejeweled woman from the mosaic, holding the measuring tool for the Roman foot, is identified by the restored Greek inscription as Ktisis. She is a figure personifying the act of generous donation or foundation. Ktisis, in Greek ktísis – is the creation (creature) which is founded from nothing (this is also the sense of this term from Homer on).

Fragment of a Floor Mosaic with a Personification of Ktisis, 500–550, with modern restoration, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Fragment of a Floor Mosaic with a Personification of Ktisis, 500–550 CE, with modern restoration, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA.

The man to the left holds a cornucopia. In classical antiquity, it was a horn of plenty and a symbol of abundance and nourishment. It was usually a large horn-shaped container overflowing with produce, flowers or nuts. Additionally, there was originally a pair of men flanking her, not just one. The man has the Greek inscription “good” by his head. This is probably half of the text “good wishes.” The fragment, made of marble and glass tesserae (small pieces of colored material), is typical of the exceptional mosaics created throughout the Byzantine art from the 500s. What is also interesting is the story of the mosaic itself. The Metropolitan Museum, after acquiring the two figures independently, restored them in accordance with a dealer’s photograph showing their original arrangement while in storage before separation.

Look at Ktisis’ eyes – that is what really captivates me about Byzantine art. This is hard to describe, but the wideness and shininess of Byzantine eyes is something that once you see, stays with you forever.

We encourage you to take a glimpse at the article about the mosaic christened as ‘ancient bikini girls’, which was found by an archaeological excavation of the ancient Roman villa near Piazza Armerina in Sicily and other interesting articles on the mosaics published in DailyArt Magazine during last week!


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