Ravenna: TAMO

TAMO in the former church of San Nicolò.

The TAMO museum in Ravenna opened its doors in 2012. TAMO is an acronym for Tutta l’Avventura del Mosaico, or ‘the complete adventure of the mosaic’. Everyone know that the city of Ravenna is famous for her mosaics, most of which date from the fifth and sixth century. TAMO focusses on mosaics from Antiquity to the present day. It provides information about the entire process of mosaic making, from designing a mosaic to cutting the tesserae, actually laying the mosaic, restoring it etcetera. The museum is housed in the deconsecrated church of San Nicolò. The church dates from 1364 and has a single nave, which makes it well suited for exhibitions. Although the building was secularised as early as 1866, it still serves as a wedding venue. Of course nowadays only civil marriages take place here.


TAMO possesses an interesting collection of ancient mosaics. On the right wall we can for instance admire a beautifully restored Roman floor mosaic from Faenza, which was called Faventia back then. On the mosaic we see a leopard attacking a prey (of which only two very thin legs have been preserved). The mosaic dates from the second half of the third century and embellished a dining room (triclinium) of the house of a rich Roman. Visitors can watch a video that explains how the mosaic was restored in 2013. In the central part of the museum lies another floor mosaic from Faenza. It is slightly older and dates from the reign of the emperor Augustus (27 BCE-14 CE).

Floor mosaic with a leopard from Faventia (Faenza).

Floor mosaic from Faventia (Faenza).

From Ravenna itself is a floor mosaic from the basilica of San Severo, which was demolished two centuries ago. Severus was bishop of Ravenna in the 340s. The church dedicated to him in Classe, at the time an autonomous civitas south of Ravenna, was built by the archbishops Peter III (570-578) and John II (578-595). The San Severo was consecrated in 582, but demolished in 1820. Thanks to recent research we have a fairly good idea of what the building must have looked like. Moreover, parts of the sixth-century mosaics have been recovered. Pieces of these can be admired in Classis Ravenna – Museo della Città e del Territorio, but also here in TAMO.

Floor mosaic from the San Severo.

The right part of the former church focusses on the floor mosaics from the early thirteenth century that can be viewed in the church of San Giovanni Evangelista in Ravenna. On display in the museum are several high-quality copies, accompanied by captions with a thorough analysis of the scenes. Some of these are about the Fourth Crusade, which led to the conquest of Constantinople – a Christian city! – in 1204. Others seem to have courtly love as their theme. I must say it is a bit of a pity that we only find this detailed information in the museum, which only has replicas. The original mosaics in the church of San Giovanni Evangelista are presented wholly without captions.

In the same part of the church we can admire some more Roman mosaics. It was not entirely clear to me whether these are copies or works on loan from other museums. In any case, I was pretty sure I had previously seen a beautiful asarotos oikos – a floor with leftovers from a copious meal – from the first century BCE in the Museo Archeologico Nazionale of Aquileia. A mosaic featuring a horse and a member of the White circus party is from the Museo Nazionale Romano (Palazzo Massimo) in Rome. I have a strong feeling that we are dealing with (excellent!) replicas here, but feel free to correct me if I am wrong.

Asarotos oikos.

Not original, and in fact not even a replica, is an image of a tombstone that has a prominent role in the exhibition. The tombstone is a monument for a mosaicist that dates from the late third or early fourth century. On the relief of the monument we see, among others, two men cutting tesserae with their little hammers. Two other men in the background appear to be bringing or taking away materials, while on the right a foreman is supervising the process and – judging by his gesturing – giving instructions. I saw the tombstone, which is from the antiquarium of Ostia Antica, earlier this year at an exhibition in Rome. See the image below.

Tombstone of a mosaicist.

Dante and the eagle (Ferruccio Ferrazzi/Romolo Papa).

The former Augustinian monastery of the Eremitani or ‘hermits’ next to the church has a permanent exhibition called Mosaici tra Inferno e Paradiso, which is also part of the museum. The 21 mosaics that have been set up here along the walls of the cloister are all linked to the work of the great poet Dante Alighieri (ca. 1265-1321), who died in Ravenna. The mosaics were made in 1965 on the occasion of the 700th birthday of Dante (although it may be noted that his exact year of birth is uncertain). Famous artists first made designs (cartoons) for the mosaics, which were subsequently laid by skilled mosaicists.


People who have had enough of the mosaics can also find a few remnants of frescoes in the former church. In the second half of the fourteenth century the anonymous Maestro di San Nicolò painted a series of frescoes about the life of Saint George the Dragonslayer. In the choir a fragment has been preserved showing the hero, the dragon and the damsel in distress. The church also has works by Francesco Longhi (1544-1618) and Cesare Pronti (1626-1708), a student of the more famous Guercino. Their works are not really art with a capital A, but they are certainly interesting.

Remains of a  fresco featuring Saint George, the dragon and the princess.

The next time I visit Ravenna I will certainly go back to TAMO again. Apparently there is a famous mosaic in the museum, which comes from the so-called Domus del Genio delle Acque and was found in 2011. This Roman house (domus) was named after the head of a bearded man who was part of a mosaic floor. The man was identified as a river god and was subsequently called the genius (‘spirit’ or ‘personification’) of the waters. Oddly enough, I did not see the mosaic during my visit to the museum, and I probably have myself to blame. If there is a next time, I will be sure to pay more attention.

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