Mosaic Art

Mosaic art is formed by the assembly of many small multi-colored pieces of materials like stone, glass, ceramics, or other materials. Collectively these materials are combined to form an image or pattern. The practice of creating mosaic art began in Mesopotamia and popularly continues today. The earliest-known examples of mosaic art date from the third century B.C. These first mosaic works relied on stone, ivory, and shells to exact a design.

Mosaic art could be said to be one of the cornerstones of classical art or the art of antiquity. By the fourth century B.C. mosaic art could be found within Hellenistic homes, Macedonian palaces, and Roman villas from the British Isles to Northern Africa. Roman emperors often favored the mosaic tradition to adorn both walls and ceilings of their palaces or other important buildings. A famous site from the Roman world showcasing ancient mosaic art exists at Villa Romana del Casale in Sicily and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. These mosaics of antiquity depict hunting scenes, mythological scenes, or just examples of beautiful women.

During the fifth century A.D. Ravenna became the center of Christian mosaic art. Surviving examples from this period depict Jesus, the Apostles, and Biblical prophets. The Ostrogoths also notably practiced mosaic art during the sixth century in Ravenna. Today, famous mosaic work from the fifth century can be viewed at the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome.

Mosaic art took center stage in Byzantine culture. Mosaic art typically covered the interiors of churches and basilicas. Though they have not survived, the Emperor Justinian famously covered Constantinople’s Hagia Sophia with mosaic art comprised of precious materials. Mosaic art is often associated with the icons of the Byzantine era; a famous example of an early Byzantine mosaic icon is St. Demetrios (in Hagios Demetrios Basilica of Thessaloniki).

Although mosaic art continued in the Middle Ages, it was largely replaced by frescoes during the Renaissance. Still, the mosaic art style persisted despite its lessened popularity. Mosaic art is also important to Islamic art traditions. Jerusalem’s Dome of the Rock, for example, was decorated with glass in the mosaic style between 688 and 692. Persian artists created skillful patterns that were unique to their culture also. One of the most famous Islamic masterpieces can be found at the Isfahan Shah Mosque which dates to the seventeenth century.

Today artists still employ the mosaic tradition to create art. The popular style can be found in modern art galleries as well as in people’s homes and gardens. Artists employ different techniques to create their mosaic designs. These methods are known as direct, indirect, and double indirect. The direct method involves the gluing of tesserae (small pieces) directly onto a medium like a vase. Artists using the indirect method glue the tesserae face-down to a swatch of paper (usually adhesive backed) and glue the swatch to another medium. The double indirect method is when the tesserae are glued face up to adhesive backed paper. Whatever method employed, the resulting mosaic artwork is a continuation of an influential art form that dates far into the ancient past.