"Who Are You, Beautiful Woman? The 'Mona Lisa' from Sepphoris in Light of Epicureanism and Neo-Platonism"


  • Nava Sevilla-Sadeh Tel-Aviv University




Epicureanism, Neo-Platonism, Mosaic art, Initiation rites, Dionysian Mysteries


The identification of the image known as the "Mona Lisa" portrayed in the floor mosaic from the Roman Dionysian villa at Sepphoris has been an issue of debate in the study of Roman mosaics. This figure has been variously identified as Aphrodite, due to the image of Eros hovering next to her; as symbolizing the virtue of modesty, in relation to the apparent wine-drinking contest in the main emblem; as the "woman of the family of the house", reflecting a sense of proportion, modesty, chastity, and propriety; and as the embodiment of Happiness - eudaimonia, "the mother of all virtues". However, due to the tendency of ancient art to generalization, and following a new reading of the overall mosaic, the argument presented here is that this figure is connected to a theological context and not a moral one, and should thus be perceived within a broader context of Roman thought. The contention here is that the issue at stake is not the identification of this figure as a specific woman, but of the spirit that she conveys.  The two main world views that seem to be embodied by this image are Epicureanism and Neo-Platonism. This argument is examined here through a discussion of Epicurean and Neo-Platonic principles; and an examination of the metaphorical significance of the image of Eros as a key figure, and its comparison with images in the Orpheus mosaic from Jerusalem exhibited in the Archeological Museum at Istanbul, as images that echo symbolically the main emblem.




Author Biography

Nava Sevilla-Sadeh, Tel-Aviv University

Researcher Art Faculty Tel-Aviv University


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