How the mosaics lost during the reign of the Roman emperor ended up entertaining guests in apartments in New York City.
When the stains on the mosaics must be removed, the mosaics used to decorate the luxury pleasure boats of the first century. They are not the remnants of the slutty carnival that the Roman emperor Caligula once held on board.
Rather, they are relics of modern everyday life in New York City apartments after nearly 2000. But exactly how the mosaic appeared in the living room of Park Avenue remains a mystery.
Mosaic is a geometric block measuring four and a half square feet, composed of rich green and white marble and fuchsia porphyry, a rock with crystals, often the choice of Roman emperors. It is part of the mosaic floor of a huge and luxurious party ship commissioned by the Emperor Caligula, a despised ruler who has historically been described as cruel, Depravity-maybe even a little insanity. When Caligula was assassinated in 41 AD only four years after his reign, his ship sank in the middle of Lake Nemi, a small volcanic lake in southeastern Rome.
In the following centuries, people tried many times to raise gorgeous boats from the lake. The Italian Renaissance architect Leon Battista Alberti first tried to salvage the remains in the middle of the 15th century, but was ultimately unsuccessful. Then in 1895, divers conducted a thorough investigation of the scene and began to resurface from the muddy ground at the bottom of the lake. That was when archaeologists unearthed some colorful stone mosaic tiles.
Italian archaeologist Rodolfo Lanciani, published in The Youth's Companion in 1898, wrote in The Youth's Companion: "The deck must be a spectacular sight. Its power and elegance exceed people's imagination..." The New York Times. "Finally is the sidewalk that the emperor's foot has stepped on. The discs made of porphyry and serpentine are not thicker than silver dollars. They are made of enamel, white and gold, white and red, or white, red and green. The colors are very bright. Imagine. Take a look at the deck of a modern yacht inlaid in enamel."
These wooden boats are 230 feet and 240 feet long and are mostly flat, apparently built as barges, designed to stop in calm water rather than passing through waves. According to the New York Times in 1908, these boats were covered with silk sails, as well as characteristic orchards, vineyards, and even bathrooms with running water ("When people can easily jump off the boat, there is no Necessary," the New York Times said). According to the Scientific American magazine published in 1906, in order to determine whose ship was equipped with such luxurious accommodation facilities, the lead pipe was engraved with the official name of Caligula, Gaius Caesar Augustus Germanicus.
It was not until the 20th century that the full magnificence of the ship was revealed. Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini was deeply attracted by Caligula-Caligula's legend included turning his palace into a brothel and appointing his horse as a senior Senator-so much so that he ordered the Nemi Lake to be partially drained so that two boats could be raised. In the early 1930s, Mussolini commissioned a museum by the lake to collect ships and them after they were recovered.
However, after being submerged for nearly 1,900 years, the floating den of debauchery in Caligula will not see dry land for long. During World War II, the Nazis used the museum as an air-raid shelter. The Italians in Nemi claimed that the retreating Germans set fire to the building in 1944, destroying most of the contents.
Destined to hold idle drinks in the Upper East Side of Manhattan, the colorful mosaic floor tiles have no evidence of fire damage. Italian ancient marble and stone expert Dario del Buffalo told 60 Minutes reporter Anderson Cooper that this showed that the mosaics were either stolen from the museum before the fire broke out or remained in private hands after being extracted from the lake.
At some point after the war, the mosaic disappeared. Del Buffalo attached a photo of it to a book about porphyry he published in 2013. He inadvertently listened to it at a lecture and autograph session at the Bulgari Jewelry Store on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. Here comes an extraordinary conversation.
"A lady came to the table with a young man in a strange hat," Del Buffalo said. "He told her,'What a beautiful book. Oh, Helen, look, that's your mosaic.' She said,'Yes, that's my mosaic.'"
Del Buffalo was shocked by the substance and indifference of the statement. He quickly completed the signing and found the couple. He found the young man who told him yes, it was Helen's coffee table in her house on Park Avenue.
The Helen in question is Helen Fioratti, an art dealer who owns a European antique gallery and lives in Manhattan. She told The New York Times in 2017 that she and her husband, Italian Il Tempo newspaper reporter Nereo Fioratti, bought the work in good faith from an Italian noble family in the 1960s, and there is no reason to suspect that they are not legally owned by Mosaic. By. Once Fiorattis brought the mosaic home to their Park Avenue apartment, they fixed it to a base and turned it into a coffee table.
"This is an innocent purchase," Fioratti told the New York Times in 2017. "This is our favorite thing. We have owned it for 45 years."
However, according to the New York Times, the prosecutor of the Manhattan District Attorney's Office stated that there is evidence that the mosaic was stolen from the Nemi Museum. In September 2017, they confiscated the mosaic and returned it to the Italian government.
60 Minutes' request for comment on Fioratti was not answered when this article went to press.
Del Buffalo told 60 Minutes that he sympathized with Fiorati. "I'm very sorry for her, but I can't do anything about it, because I know I missed the best part of the Nemi museum in centuries, experienced war, experienced a fire, and then an Italian art dealer , I can finally return to the museum," he said. "This is the only thing I think I should do."
After being thoroughly cleaned to remove all traces of his previous life as the owner of coffee, tea and occasional vases, the mosaic was exhibited at the Roman Ship Museum in Nemi in March this year.
At the same time, Del Buffalo produced a convincing mosaic replica. He told 60 Minutes that he wanted to make a copy for Fioratti to get him back to her apartment on Park Avenue because, as he explained, "I think my soul will feel better."
The video above was produced by Andy Court, Brit McCandless Farmer and Will Croxton. It was edited by Wilk Rockston.
Copyright © 2021 CBS Interactive Inc. All rights reserved.