Art has so many variables, and so many elements that are necessarily judged on the basis of style and personal taste, that perfection is perhaps a dubious concept. But sometimes everything coheres, ends and means conjoin, nothing strains, nothing is wasted. This Roman mosaic, for example. It’s not profound in any philosophical sense, but it is perfectly what it is: an evocation of fishness and wateriness.
The delineation of the fish is crisp and economical, the checkerboard variations in its scales a delightful translation from life into stone. There’s that wonderful eye that breaks through the outline. Several rows outside the fish parallel it, supporting it, flowing along with it. There are those ingenious and entirely abstract crenelation shapes floating around that keep the open expanses from losing focus. There is even drama: the rows in front of the head oppose its progress, but then the rows flowing off the tail restore order and harmony.
We get the same mastery in Leda and the Swan, below. The more closely you look, the more free, almost abstract, the handling is–a delight to the eye wherever the eye falls.
The figure is modeled up to a point, but it’s the clarity of the poses, both hers and his, that makes it sing. The landscape bits–those plants at the lower left–are planty without being at all representational. And the background, while merely background, is so busy surrounding the principal forms that it hardly can find peaceful areas to set off the busyness of the rest. Her robe is a wonderful abstract riff of lines, colors, and tones–especially as compared with the drapery in the piece below, where we have an excursion by someone who didn’t quite get it. Too literal in its descriptions, too earnest and passively pictorial, too flat-footed in design. Boring. Scroll back up and compare with the charge in Leda. Alas, there isn’t anything inherently exciting about mosaics.
This post is partially based on that of Oct 6, 2012