20. Mosaic Panel with Head of a Season

  • Roman, from Syria (or possibly Jordan), AD 400–600
  • Stone and glass tesserae, 73.7 cm × 74.3 cm
  • 70.AH.95


The findspot of this mosaic is unknown but is most likely Syria or possibly Jordan. The J. Paul Getty Museum purchased the mosaic in 1970.1


A female bust crowned by a wreath of leaves, fruit, and flowers appears on this mosaic panel. Although previously identified as either Christ or Bacchus, the figure is more probably a personification of one of the Seasons, perhaps Methoporinē (Autumn in Greek).2 Traces of the dark lines of a border run along the right and top left sides of the panel, suggesting that it was once part of a larger mosaic pavement that included personifications of Spring, Summer, and Winter. The features of the figure’s face, especially the large, prominent eyes, straight nose, and heart-shaped lips, are characteristic of the regional style of the Levant, as seen in fifth- and sixth-century AD mosaics from sites such as the Nile Festival Building at Sepphoris in Israel and the Hippolytus Hall at Madaba in Jordan.3 However, the range of colors represented in the Getty mosaic is unusual for mosaics of the region, as it includes more shades of blue and green made possible by the use of glass tesserae. While glass tesserae were more frequently seen in wall mosaics due to their relative expense and fragility, they were also used in floor mosaics to expand the mosaicists’ palettes.4

The iconographical tradition of the Seasons is long and varied, and in the Roman period these figures could be depicted as either female or male.5 By the fifth century AD, however, artists stopped producing images of male Seasons almost entirely, choosing instead to portray the figures exclusively as female.6 Although of pagan origin, these personifications were judged acceptable for inclusion in both Christian and Jewish decorative programs in late antiquity, and they appear in funerary art (notably sarcophagi) and in church and synagogue floor mosaics.7 As part of a larger program, this panel, from the floor of either a house or a Christian church, likely symbolized the order of the natural cycle of the year, presided over by God.8


Similar female busts of the Seasons appear in a number of mosaic pavements in Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria, typically on the floors of churches. At Deir es-Sleib in Syria, the four Seasons, each labeled with the corresponding name in Greek, appear in square panels surrounding a central roundel that decorates the pavement of the south sacristy of “Basilica A.” Autumn wears a mantle tied in front in the same manner as that depicted on the Getty panel.9 A mosaic representing the female personification of Ktisis (the act of donation), now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and likely from the same general region as the Getty mosaic, features a similar mantle.10 Other extant mosaics that depict the Seasons include pavements at Caesarea Maritima, El-Maqerqesh, Madaba, and Petra.11 While the Seasons are typically identifiable by their attributes—Autumn wearing her crown of leaves and fruit, Winter in her veil, Spring with her wreath of flowers, and Summer in her wreath of wheat—they are also usually labeled with their names in Greek, as at Deir es-Sleib. This kind of doubling of image and text served not only to identify the figures but also to exhibit the paideia (learnedness) of the patron.12


The mosaic is set in concrete and shows numerous signs of modern restoration, including the detachment and reintegration of a section on the bottom left, which has skewed the figure’s right side at an angle to the rest of the body. The glass tesserae in the mosaic are extremely worn. Some original tesserae at the top of the panel are covered by the concrete fill.


Vermeule and Neuerburg 1973, 56, no. 118.

  1. Purchased from Michel Dumez-Onof, London. 

  2. Vermeule and Neuerburg 1973, 56, no. 118. On the attributes of Autumn, see Parrish 1984, 38–40; and Hachlili 2009, 184–91. The personification of the Earth (Gē) is often affiliated, and sometimes conflated, with that of Autumn; see Talgam 2014, 350–51. 

  3. Sepphoris, Nile Festival Building: see Weiss and Talgam 2002; and Weiss 2009. Madaba, Hippolytus Hall: see Piccirillo 1993, 66. 

  4. While Vermeule and Neuerburg state that the inclusion of glass implies that the panel was made for a wall, the worn state of the glass tesserae, as well as the overall iconography, suggests that the panel was part of a floor mosaic; see Vermeule and Neuerburg 1973, 56. On the use of glass in floor mosaics, see Dunbabin 1999, 101–29. 

  5. Hanfmann 1951. 

  6. Hanfmann identifies at least twenty busts of the female Seasons but only six full-length male Seasons; see Hanfmann 1951, 264. 

  7. Hanfmann 1951, 262–67. 

  8. In Jewish contexts, the Seasons typically appear in triangular panels at the corner of circular depictions of the Zodiac; see Hachlili 2009, 45–48, 184–85. On late antique Christian interpretations of the Seasons, see Hanfmann 1951, especially 201, 205–6; Maguire 1987; and Talgam 2014, 191–94. 

  9. Donceel-Voûte 1988, 61–69, fig. 35. 

  10. Metropolitan Museum of Art 1998.69, 1999.99; see Evans, Holcomb, and Hallman 2001, 16–17. 

  11. See Hachlili 2009, 184–91. For examples in North African mosaics, see Parrish 1984, 204–6, no. 50, plate 69. 

  12. Leader-Newby 2005.