Ancient Roman Mosaic Spent 50 Years As A Coffee Table In A NYC Apartment

A priceless Roman mosaic that once belonged to a ship used by Emperor Caligula has been used for nearly 50 years as a coffee table in an apartment in New York City.

Photo: 60 Minutes/ Youtube

In New York in 2013, Dario Del Bufalo was giving a talk and signing copies of his book, Porphyry. The book has an image of the long-lost mosaic, which was once part of a floor on one of two massive “party ships” belonging to Caligula to float on a lake near Rome. After the assassination of Caligula, the ships were sunk. The mosaic and other antiques were salvaged from the lake in the 1930s and kept in a lakeside museum. In 1944, as the Nazis left Italy, ships and other treasures were burnt.

Del Bufalo overheard a man and a woman say that the woman had the mosaic they were looking at on the page.

“There was a lady with a young man with a strange hat who came to the table,” Del Bufalo said. “And he said to her, ‘What a beautiful book. Oh, Helen, look, it’s your mosaic. And she said, ‘Yeah, that’s my mosaic.’ “


The woman in question was Helen Fioratti, art dealer and gallery owner. According to an interview she gave in 2017, she and her husband bought the mosaic from an Italian noble family in the 60s. Back in New York, they made it into a coffee table.

“It was an innocent purchase,” Fioratti said. “It was our favorite thing and we had it for 45 years.”

According to the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, evidence suggests the mosaic was stolen, possibly during World War II. Back in Italy, the mosaic was exhibited at the Museum of Roman Ships in Nemi in March This year.

“I felt really sorry for her,” Del Bufalo said of Fioratti, “but I couldn’t do anything different, knowing that my museum in Nemi is missing the best part that has stood the centuries, the war, a fire, then by an Italian art dealer, and finally able to return to the museum.