Mosaic Floor with Head of Medusa

Object Details


Mosaic Floor with Head of Medusa






Rome, Italy (Place created)
Rome, Italy (Place found)


about A.D. 115–150


Stone tesserae

Object Number:



270.5 × 270.5 cm, 1745.8949 kg (106 1/2 × 106 1/2 in., 3848.9999 lb.)

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A bust of the gorgon Medusa occupies the center of this Roman mosaic floor. Although early Greek representations of Medusa emphasized her hideous and monstrous appearance, a more human-appearing figure had become the norm by the time of this mosaic in the 100s A.D. Medusa's former snaky locks are now just wild curls and she even takes on traits derived from representations of Alexander the Great and Hellenistic kings, like her wind-blown hair and turned head. In this mosaic, Medusa is placed in a shield of concentric circles, whose alternating black and white triangles create an optical illusion of continuous motion. An outer square encloses the shield and kantharoi or drinking cups fill the outer corners. This spinning shield motif with the gorgon's head as its central point appears frequently on Roman mosaic floors. The basic design derives from Athena's aegis, the scaly protective cloak decorated with Medusa's decapitated head.

Mosaic floors executed in only black and white were favored in Italy in the 100s A.D. This floor combines this Italian black and white style used for the shield with the polychrome mosaic style of other parts of the Roman Empire used here for Medusa.


Found: Rome, Italy


Royal Athena Galleries, sold to the J. Paul Getty Museum, 1971.


Erpetti, Marco. "Mosaico con gorgonéion dagli scavi di Ignazio Vescovali a Tor Sapienza nel 1818." Bollettino dei Monumenti Musei e Gallerie Pontificie 32 (2014), p. 169, fig. 16.

Pasqui, A. "Roma. Nuove scoperte nella citta e nel suburbio." Notizie degli Scavi 8 (1911), 338-339.

Blake, Marion Elizabeth. "Roman Mosaics of the Second Century in Italy." Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome 13 (1936), p. 83.

Vermeule, Cornelius, and Norman Neuerberg. Catalogue of the Ancient Art in the J. Paul Getty Museum (Malibu: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1973), pp. 51-52, no. 111, ill.

Fredericksen, Burton B., ed. The J. Paul Getty Museum: Greek and Roman Antiquities, Western European Paintings, French Decorative Arts of the Eighteenth Century (Malibu: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1975), pp. 21-22, 54.

Fredericksen, Burton B., Jiří Frel, and Gillian Wilson. Guidebook: The J. Paul Getty Museum. 4th ed., Sandra Morgan, ed. (Malibu: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1978), p. 41.

The J. Paul Getty Museum Appointment Calendar (Malibu: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1981), week of February 23.

McKeon, Carolyn Hessenbruch. "Iconology of the Gorgon Medusa in Roman Mosaic." Ph.D. diss. ( The University of Michigan, 1983), pp. 239-41.

Aisenberg, Madya. Ordinary Heroines. Transforming the Male Myth. New York, 1994, pl. 10.

The J. Paul Getty Museum Handbook of the Antiquities Collection. Rev. ed. (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2010), p. 220.

Erpetti, Marco. "Mosaico con gorfonéion dagli scavi di Ignazio Vescovali a Tor Sapienza nel 1818." Bollettino dei Monumenti Musei e gallerie pontificie 32 (2014), pp. 151-191, p. 167-169, fig. 16.

Belis, Alexis. Roman Mosaics in the J. Paul Getty Museum. (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2016), no. 1, entry by Alexis Belis.