The Brantingham Tyche Mosaic

mosaic detail

The so-called 'Tyche Mosaic' was discovered in 1961at the site of a large villa near Brantingham, about 3km northwest of Brough in East Yorkshire. It measures 11 x 7.8m and dates to the middle of the 4th century, about 330-335 AD. The mosaic features a distinctive figure at the centre wearing a crown and surrounded by a nimbus or halo. Some experts believe this figure is a 'Tyche' (pronounced tie-key), a personification of a province or tribe, and this has given the mosaic its name.

Tyche or Muse?


There are actually two theories about who the figure is. Supporters of the 'Tyche' identification see the crown in the form of a city wall with towers - a feature seen in other representations of the deity. Some have speculated that it could be the Tyche of the Parisi, the local tribe of the area. A Tyche is usually seen with a cornucopia, or horn of plenty, but unfortunately this clinching piece of evidence would be on the left shoulder - the very part of the centre piece that has been lost!

An alternative theory is that the central bust represents one of the Nine Muses, the other eight being arranged in two rows of four at the top and bottom of the mosaic. If this is the case then the crown would actually be a feathered head-dress as worn by the muses after their legendary singing contest with the Sirens. What do you think?

Water-nymphs


Around the central bust are semicircular compartments, each containing a reclining water-nymph, holding a reed in her right hand and resting her elbow on an overturned vase - the symbol of spring. The spaces between the nymphs contain large canthari (wine-cups) or craters (vessels for mixing water and wine).

The Eight Ladies


Oblong friezes above and below the central panel each contained four female busts with a top-knot and a nimbus or halo. They are shown within a round-headed panel making the panel look rather like a row of niches in a wall. The busts are similar to the central bust but lack a crown. Unfortunately only three of the original eight have survived but all are slightly different.

Painting in Stone


Interestingly it seems that the design for the Tyche Mosaic was actually intended for painted ceilings or walls. The form of the central panel would have fitted perfectly into a dome, while the architectural niches with busts in the top and bottom panels would suit a wall. Painted wall plaster that had fallen onto the mosaic includes a nimbed bust in a roundel and shows that the design was carried upwards onto the walls of the room. The whole effect must have been a vast array of faces!