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   The mosaics of the intermediate phase



-The Cross
-Geom. panel
-Cella Tricora

-S. Baptistery

-S. Baptistry


The mosaic of the diakonikon-baptistery of 530, to the north of the courtyard in front of the cella trichora, and the mosaic of the intermediate liturgical area in the chapel of the southern baptistery, belong to the intermediate phase before the construction of the basilica.

The mosaic of the diakonikon - baptistery
(August 530, work of the mosaicists Soel, Kaium and Elijah)

The diakonikon-baptistery was built to the north of the cella trichora, at a level which was 1 meter lower in respect to the courtyard in front of it. It was situated between the funerary chapel and one of the monastery rooms in area G. A staircase, from the porticoed northern wing of the courtyard lead to it.

The mosaic distinguishes itself for its elegance and its novelty amongst the contemporary mosaics in the territory of Madaba . It is the work of mosaicists Soel, Kaium and Elijah who completed their embellishment of this liturgical annex in August 530, at the time of bishop Elijah of Madaba, abbot Elijah of the monastery at Nebo and the honorary consuls Lampadius and Orestes. The benefactors of this work of art were the members of three officers' (scholars-advocates) families of the imperial administration as is registered in the two inscriptions which accompany the work.

The composition with its three distinct sections is to be set in relation to the "font of regeneration" constructed at the eastern end of the chapel.

A rectangular panel, on the north side in continuation of the stairs that descend in the vicinity of the south west corner of the room, is framed by a band of polychromed tesserae in yellow, red and black. The field contains a network of flowered crosses with the resultant rhombi containing diamonds.

A scaled motif laden with flowers framed by polychromed lines of tesserae encloses, on three sides, the cross-shaped font. Four isolated motifs are added in the corners formed by the arms of the cross: interlaced figures of eight with a superimposed bunch of grapes; a knotted circle, forming on its inside a cross of knots; two interwoven curved triangles; a band motif in the form of a mat with square knots.

Geometric motifs decorate the panels placed in the space between the pillars which are set against the walls. In the panels in the vicinity of the northern wall, partially destroyed during the reconstruction of the same, we find two compositions made of adjacent squares, further subdivided and set as a checkered board with fields of yellow and black tesserae. In the central squares, on a white background there are inserted, diagonally or at right angles, crosses with arms split at their extremities, made of red and yellow tesserae. There follows a third panel with a lozenge knotted to a central circle with a flower in the resulting lateral spaces and half a diamond inserted in the corners of the frame. A fourth frame was decorated with lozenges.

The three inter pilaster panels, on the south wall, have been well preserved. A red tesseraed lozenge containing a peltate motif in white tesserae is inserted between four triangles formed by bands of yellow tesserae within the panel. There follows a lozenge knotted to a central circle with the addition of a flower, in the resultant lateral spaces, and half a diamond in each corner of the panel. The third panel contains knotted adjacent circles.

A large part of the room is occupied by the central carpet enclosed in a polychromed loose cup shaped guilloche with rounded edges and eyelets on a black background, bordered by a double polychromatic cordolo. Within the guilloche there are four superimposed rows depicting separate hunting and sheep rearing scenes starting from the west side of the panel, which is closed, to the east, by the five lines of the dedicatory inscription which is set in a simple frame of polychromed lines.

The figures in the central panel are split on four separate levels enlivened by small stylized trees and flowers on a white background. In the first row there are two hunting scenes: a Negro holds an ostrich on leash, and a youth, wearing Persian attire with Phrygian cap leads a zebra and a camel or giraffe.

In the second row a shepherd, seated on a rock beneath a tree, surveys his little flock of sheep and goats who are nibbling at the four trees. Strangely the foliage of the second tree on the right, even if exactly the same in design and workmanship as the others, is rendered upside down.

In the third row two hunters on horseback, accompanied by dogs, are spearing a bear and a boar.

In the fourth row a young shepherd is fighting off the assaults of a lion, protecting a zebý which is roped to a tree; and a shield bearing soldier, wearing a Phrygian cap, thrusts his lance into an attacking lioness. Two trees, one with open foliage and another with closed foliage are the setting for these two fighting scenes.

The floral motifs added between the figures or next to the trunks of the trees are characterized by various leafed branches at the end of which there are closed or open buds. These are rendered in profile, with a hint of a triangular trunk at the base. The trees are made up of a curved cut off trunk from which branches emerge autonomously to form the foliage rich in leaves and fruits. One can recognize pomegranates and apples rendered with red tesserae while pears and plums with yellow.

The scenes are rendered with a particular attention to detail. The costumes that the persons are wearing, such as the boots, trousers, the tunic tied at the waist, the cloak fastened on the chest and the headdress of the young man in Persian dress, are well finished. On can notice the refined striped decorations as well as the creases on the loin-cloth of the Negro in the first row. In the third row, the harness of the saddled horses, the bridle as well as the shield and spear of the soldier in the fourth row or the gushing blood from the wounded animals, witness to refined craftsmanship. The animals are rendered with this same technique; the zebra with its striped hide and the camel or giraffe with its spotted fur, hump and long neck.

The faces of the personages in this mosaic are of particular interest. These are all pictured frontally with an almost iconic immobility except for the profile of the bearded shepherd seated on a stone, of whom one must point out the rendering of the beard. On a technical level, it is the first time that faces are rendered using tesserae which have been broken down to splinter size to obtain a naturalistic shading. A technical characteristic which becomes a constant feature of later mosaics. This work can be considered as the standard-bearer of the taste which imposes itself amongst the mosaicists of Madaba and its territory.


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On Sunday, 15 August, 2004 at 6:58:37 am
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