According to The Guardian, a geometric mosaic from one of Roman Emperor Caligula’s lavish party ships was being used as a coffee table in a New York City art dealer’s Park Avenue residence.
In 2013, Dario Del Bufalo, an Italian expert on ancient marble and stone, was signing copies of his book, “Porphyry,” which documents ancient and modern works of art that incorporate the book’s titular reddish-purple stone, as well as a photograph of a long-lost Italian mosaic.
“There was a lady with a young man wearing an odd hat who came to the table and said, ‘What a lovely book. Helen, take a look at your mosaic.’ And she replied, ‘Yes, that is my mosaic,'” Del Bufalo explained on “60 Minutes.” “Anderson Cooper is a correspondent.
Del Bufalo tracked down the young man, who confirmed that Helen Fioratti and her husband purchased the mosaic from an Italian family in the 1960s and transformed it into a coffee table, according to The Guardian.
The mosaic was originally part of an inlaid floor on one of Caligula’s party ships prior to his assassination, CBS News reported. Cooper recounted Caligula’s four-year reign, citing scholarly accounts of the dictator’s brutality, cruelty, and possibly derangement.
According to Cooper and Del Bufalo, numerous artefacts, statues, and images of Caligula were destroyed following his death, including the sinking of his ships in Lake Nemi, a small volcanic lake south-east of Rome.
In the 1930s, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini ordered the draining of Lake Nemi to enable the recovery of party ships and the artefacts they contained, CBS News reported. However, according to The Guardian, Nazi troops burned the archaeological treasures as they retreated from Italy in 1944.