About This Artwork

Byzantine, northern Syria or Lebanon

Mosaic Fragment with Man Leading a Giraffe, 5th century

Stone in mortar
170.8 x 167 x 6.35 cm (67 1/4 x 65 3/4 x 2 1/2 in.)

Gift of Mrs. Robert B. Mayer, 1993.345

This mosaic fragment was once part of a larger composition that paved the floor of a wealthy family villa in the Eastern Mediterranean. Composed of thousands of small tesserae, or stone cubes, it shows a giraffe and a human handler standing against a decorative backdrop of scallop-shaped semicircles. No doubt originally set amid a profusion of other wild and exotic animals, giraffes such as this one captivated the imagination of those who saw them in parades and public games. Writing around the turn of the third century, the historian Cassius Dio (about A.D. 150–235), among others, called this marvelous creature a Camelopardus because, in his opinion, the giraffe combined the physical traits of both the camel and the leopard.

—Permanent collection label

Exhibition, Publication and Ownership Histories

Exhibition History

The Art Institute of Chicago, Ancient Art Galleries, Gallery 156, 1994 - February 2012.

The Art Institute of Chicago, Of Gods and Glamour: The Mary and Michael Jaharis Galleries of Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Art, Gallery 153, November 11, 2012 - present.

Publication History

The Art Institute of Chicago Annual Report 1993-4, unpaged.

"CLEOPATRA; THE ANCIENT WORLD," Computer program, 1997, The Art Institute of Chicago.

Ownership History

Said to be from North Syria or Lebanon, possibly Tyre. Asfar Bros., Beirut; sold to Mrs. Robert B. (Beatrice Cummings) Mayer, Winnetka, IL in 1968 [according to Registrar's files, incoming receipt #24729]; on loan to the Art Institute from 1972-1993; given to and accessioned by the museum in 1993.




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