This picture in my series, “the earth the colour of a hare”, contains a lot of allusions. The impetus for the montage came primarily from reading about the early eighteenth century antiquarian and scholar, Thomas Hearne. He found out about a find of Roman coins and a tessellated pavement at “Stunsfield”, Stonesfield, in Oxfordshire, at the end of January and the beginning of February, 1712. Hearne soon walked across from Oxford northwest to Stonesfield to see the remains for himself:
“This Day at five Clock in the Morning I walk’d over to Stunsfield, 8 Miles from Oxford, & return’d to Oxford in the Evening.” (Feb. 2 Sat., Vol.III, p.297)
Hearne later decided that the mosaic was Roman, and considered that the central figure was Apollo, holding some sort of dart, beside a large animal. Contemporaries held that the figure was in fact Bacchus. Hearne also believed that there had been a Roman camp there, and that the pavement was from the home of a Roman officer; the Roman road of Akeman Street is nearby.
Thomas Hearne walked over from Oxford repeatedly to view the antiquity; Graham Midgley says of him: “the great walker of the first decades of the century was undoubtedly Thomas Hearne, visiting and noting monuments, inscriptions and antiquities, but not neglecting the pleasures and adventures of the road”. (University Life, p.106)
Hearne was still writing and thinking about Stonesfield years on. There were other Roman finds in the area too. In 1724, Thursday, 26 November, Hearne notes in his diary that Mr West of Balliol College told him that there had been Roman coins found and some other antiquity at Wilton, within three miles from Witney and one of Stonesfield. (Vol. VIII, p.299) By the nineteenth century, the Stonesfield mosaic had disappeared, prey to people taking away fragments as well as to the weather. In 1813, there was an excavation of a Roman villa in the vicinity, at North Leigh.
In this picture, I have used two large white scraps: one is the flint arrowhead, and the other is the classical torso. The flint may remind us of the antiquarian world of John Aubrey too. Here, it has become part of an abstract landscape. The scraps lying on top of it come from a picture of a classical mosaic, and suggest a road or a bridge. By the side stands a labourer, with a hammer, ready to do stone work, or to chip away a piece of the precious tessellated pavement.
Around the torso are subtle indications of Oxford and of Hearne. Hearne’s college was St Edmund Hall, and I have put in its blue sundial. Hearne was second librarian in the Bodleian Library, and a tiny representation of it is there too.
The face to the left is another part of the classical mosaic picture which I have cut up. On one side of the face is a leg with an Aescupulian rod, and on the other side is part of a wine bottle top and wrapper. In this way, we can satisfy ideas of Apollo (Aesculapius is his son)and of Bacchus. The grapes around the torso emphasis the wine of the Romans, and of the area!
Today, you may get excellent wine produced very close by, at Bridewell Organic Gardens at Wilcote; and, a little further south, by Bothy Vineyard, at Frilford Heath.
If you would like to support my artwork, you can find a print of this sixth picture in the series on my prints page.
Ed C.E. Doble. Remarks and Collections of Thomas Hearne, Vol. III, Oxford Historical Society, 1889, p.297
Ed committee of the Oxford Historical Society. Remarks and Collections of Thomas Hearne, Vol. VIII, Oxford Historical Society, p.299
Graham Midgley. University Life in Eighteenth-Century Oxford. Yale University Press, 1996
Joseph M. Levine. The Stonesfield Pavement: Archeology in Augustan England, in Eighteenth-Century Studies , Spring, 1978, Vol. 11, No. 3 (Spring, 1978), pp. 340-361
M.V. Taylor. The Roman Tessellated Pavement at Stonesfield, Oxon. Oxoniensa, VI, 1941, pp.1-8