In New York, an authentic Roman mosaic used as a coffee table in an apartment for 50 years

A 2,000-year-old Roman mosaic was found in a Manhattan apartment. A couple, who had innocently bought it in the 1960s, used this archaeological piece as a coffee table in their living room.

Priceless Roman mosaic has been used as a simple coffee table in a New York apartment for half a century, reports the American chain CBS News. This mosaic, commissioned by the Roman Emperor Caligula (1st century BC) to decorate the floor of one of his ships, had disappeared from an Italian museum since World War II.

This mosaic, a geometric piece of 1.20m², resembles a square of precious green marble and purplish volcanic rock with large crystals (porphyry). It was part of the floor of one of the gigantic party ships commanded by the Roman Emperor Caligula (12 BC-41 AD). When he died, his entire fleet had been sunk where it was kept: in the middle of Lake Nemi, a small volcanic lake located southeast of Rome.

“Oh look, it’s your mosaic!”

It was not until 1895 that the first relics of the ships were brought out of the water by archaeologists. Then in the 1930s, Benito Mussolini, fascinated by Caligula, partially drained the lake in order to extract the two ships, and to exhibit the valuable pieces recovered in a museum.

But at the end of World War II, when the Nazis left Italy in 1944, much of these archaeological relics and treasures were destroyed or stolen. The famous mosaic then disappears from circulation.

It was not until 2013 that we find traces of it. At the time, a certain Dario Del Bufalo gave a press conference in New York as part of the release of his book. Porphyry on the red magnatic rock, often used during ancient Rome. When suddenly, the Italian expert hears a couple talking about their book, in which the red and green mosaic is on display. And surprise, he hears them say that they are in possession of this mosaic.

“There was this lady and this young man with the strange hat who came to the table”, recalls the specialist with the American chain. “And he said to her, ‘What a beautiful book! Oh, Helen, look, it’s your mosaic.’ To which she replied, ‘Yeah, that’s my mosaic!’ “

“It was an innocent purchase”

Contacted a little later by the gemstone expert, the couple were able to confirm to Del Bufalo that they did indeed own the mosaic in their Manhattan apartment. Helen and Nereo Fioratti assure him that they bought the coffee table from an Italian noble family in the 1960s, without realizing that it was a period piece. They bring it back to the living room of their apartment on Park Avenue in New York, and transform it into a coffee table by fixing it to the legs.

“It was an innocent purchase,” said Helen Fiorrati, art dealer and gallery owner by profession in an interview with New York Times in 2017. “It was our favorite thing and we’ve had it for 45 years.”

According to the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, this mosaic was stolen, possibly during World War II. The archaeological piece was returned to the Italian state in 2017.

“I was really sorry for her,” specialist Dario Del Bufalo told CBS News, “but I couldn’t help it, it was the most beautiful piece that was missing from the Nemi museum.” “It was the only thing to do,” he concluded.

Jeanne Bulant BFMTV reporter

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