The missing Caligula mosaic used as a coffee table for 40 years

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Photo: 60 minutes

In a case of life stranger than fiction, a long-lost ancient mosaic was discovered in a Manhattan apartment, where it served as a coffee table. It’s a remarkable story that has brought the ancient Roman mosaic – which was created for Emperor Caligula’s party ship – to its rightful place. Without a series of coincidences, it would have stayed in the home of art dealer Helen Fioratti, who had no idea of ​​his incredible origins.

Fioratti says that she and her husband bought the mosaic from an Italian noble family in the 1960s. They then mounted it on a stand, turning the artifact into their coffee table. And the mosaic held this function until a short time ago. It wasn’t until Helen and a friend attended Professor Dario del Bufalo’s book signing in 2013 that fate intervened.

Del Bufalo is an expert in stone carving and was promoting his book Porphyry. While signing copies, he saw a man and a woman leafing through the book. When they came to a page with a photo of a Roman mosaic that had disappeared during WWII, the man exclaimed, “Oh, Helen, look, this is your mosaic. Del Bufalo told the whole story to Anderson Cooper on 60 minutes, explaining how this chance encounter made it possible to recover this precious artefact.

Caligula bust

Bust of Caligula. (Photo: Louis le Grand, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

The mosaic is all the more important since it belonged to Caligula. This controversial emperor of Rome had a short reign that ended with his assassination. Characterized by some as “mad,” he was largely erased from history after his death. But, in 1930, two large ships were discovered at the bottom of Lake Nemi, just outside Rome. These were pleasure boats built by Caligula, the largest boat serving as a floating palace. The remains of these ships are located in the same museum that houses the mosaic. In fact, the mosaic was actually the dance floor of one of the ships.

Fioratti, who ceded the table to the Italian authorities at their request, may now be without her coffee table but she certainly has an incredible story to tell. Lucky for her, Del Bufalo offered to have a replica produced for her, so that she could continue to enjoy the play at home.

Hear the story of how Caligula’s mosaic turned into a coffee table in a Manhattan apartment.

h / t: [Smithsonian Mag]

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