The Bikini Mosaic at Villa Romana del Casale, Sicily

This is a detail of one of the many floor mosaics found at the fabulous early fourth-century AD Villa Romana del Casale near Piazza Armerina in central Sicily. The villa was palatial in scale and dazzling in its creature comforts and decorations, both on the walls and on the floors. Every important room had figural mosaic floors, while lesser rooms had mosaics of elaborate geometrical or floral motifs.

Throughout the villa, the imagery was light-hearted, with an assortment of amusing motifs popular with patricians: hunting, public entertainments and scenes of putti (naked cherubs, with or without wings) shown in adult occupations.

Athletic contests could involve either men or women. This example is famously the latter, not least because of the precocious appearance of the bikini. Although there were serious Olympic Games for women, we may presume a less lofty motivation for the appearance of this motif in the floor mosaics of an elite villa; it was added later than the rest of the floors in the villa, indicating a patron with specific requirements.

The Late Antique date is obvious in the figural style: although idealised figures would have been appropriate for this athletic topic, we see instead the stiff, stylised figures of the fourth century AD.

The whole mosaic occupies a space 5’7” long (180 cm).

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