The Dying Slave

The large-scale mosaic artwork is divided into nine columns and when seen from a specific vantage point, the columns line up revealing the complete image of The Dying Slave. Located at the junction of two prominent pedestrian footpaths, the site specific artwork is visible as one approaches from either direction and lures visitors from the estate to the Spier Hotel, and vice versa. Measuring 4,2 metres in height, the work has a strong graphic impact similar to a billboard in the landscape and the staggered placement of the columns invites visitors to interact and circulate through the artwork. Cianfanelli based the design of the artwork on Michelangelo’s well-known figure of a male slave in the ecstatic throes of dying. Mirror images of The Dying Slave are installed back-to-back, one a ‘positive’ image and the other a ‘negative’ or photographic inversion of the same image.

The Dying Slave showcases 225 000 pieces of hand cut tesserae – over 1500kg of material – through a wide palette of natural material including limestone, marble, granite, pebbles, with bright splashes of colour realised in industrial glass, porcelain, hand crafted ceramic elements and Venetian glass. Ten mosaic artists worked for five months, tallying 998 hours to complete the work. Built up in panels roughly sized 1sqm each, the artwork was crated to the Stellenbosch site in fragments and installed piece by piece by a team of four artists to ensure a seamless application.

“It has been a privilege and a treat to have my design translated into the traditional craft of detailed stone and glass mosaic on a massive scale. Having made many large mosaics during my career, I really appreciate the work and challenges involved, as well as the potential for incorporating mosaic into contemporary art and design.”

– Marco Cianfanelli

View the artwork mini-site here, which enables a 360 degree viewing of the piece.

Artist Biography

Marco Cianfanelli (1970-) obtained a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Fine Arts from the University of Witwatersrand in 1992. He has taken part in numerous solo and group exhibitions in South Africa and abroad, and won the prestigious Absa Atelier Award in 2002. This culminated in a residency at the Cité des Arts in Paris, and an Ampersand Fellowship in New York. Fiercely committed to testing the possibilities for artistic intervention in the public realm and engaging with other professionals from diverse fields, he has been involved in a wide range of projects involving art, architecture and public space. As a public artist, he designed the steel sculpture and mosaic artworks that currently adorn the Hollard Street Mall in downtown Johannesburg, MTN’s head office and the fountain installation at the University of Johannesburg’s new art centre. His work can be found in public and private collections in South Africa (Spier, Absa, Anglo Gold Ashanti, Didata, Bloemfontein Art Museum and the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy collections), Europe and the United States.


Artist: Marco Cianfanelli

Date: 2012

Location: Spier, Stellenbosch, South Africa

Size: Nine columns – 4,2 x 0,6 x 0,3m each


© 2009-2017 Spier Arts Academy in association with Spier