Category Archives: LETTER M

Mudejar in Spain, “the Style Allowed to Remain”

Decorative style in Spanish architecture and art that evolved from a fusion of Islamic and Christian (Romanesque and Gothic) elements. It was created either by Muslims working for Christians, or of Christians imitating Islamic forms (Lucie-Smith 2003:143). The term Mudejars (mudéjares) also “refers to the group of [Moors] who remained in Iberia in the late medieval period despite the Christian reconquest” (‘Mudéjar’ 2022); they were permitted to stay as much as their style of art. Those were mainly skillful craftsmen who greatly contributed to the creation of the new style ‘(Mudéjar’, 2021).

The Mudejar style appeared in the twelfth century and lasted until the seventeenth century (‘Mudéjar’, 2021). Its greatest heyday took place in the Gothic period of Spain, especially between the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries (Ibid.). Among its characteristic features are the richness of ornamental decorations made of stucco, wood and brick, with which the surfaces of palaces and churches/cathedrals were covered so that their walls still resemble embroidered or woven draperies (Ibid.). Yet, like in the Islamic art, depictions of human or animal figures were avoided (Ibid.). Arches typical of Moorish architecture were used, like horseshoe, polylobed and lambrequin (muqarnas) arches (Ibid.). The rooms were covered with coffered ceilings and stalactite vaults (Ibid.). Azulejos were also widely applied. For more information see: Shapes of the Architectural Oasis of Al-Andalus.

Featured image: Royal Alcázar of Seville: a beautifully ornamented head pillar and the ceiling with a wooden mosaic. Copyright©Archaeotravel.


‘Mudéjar’, 2021, in Wikipedia. Wolna Encyclopedia. Available at <>. [Accessed 18th September, 2022].

‘Mudéjar’ (2022), in Google Arts & Culture (Wikipedia). Available at <>. [Accessed 18th September, 2022].

Lucie-Smith, E. (2003). The Thames & Hudson Dictionary of Art Terms. London: Thames & Hudson World of Art, p. 143.

Decorative Technique of Mosaics Classified as Monumental Painting

French: mosaïque; Italian: mosaico; quadro – mosaic-style painting, showing geometric and floral motifs.

A mosaic consists in arranging a pattern composed of small, various shapes of coloured stones, glass and ceramics on a properly prepared substrate, for example, of fresh lime mortar, cement or mastic. The individual mosaic tiles are called tesserae. The mosaic gives an effect similar to painting and it is distinguished by remarkable durability. Due to such a characteristic, it has been used mainly as an architectural decoration. On the other side, the mosaic has also been widely used in products of decorating handicraft, such as in the case of ancient Mesopotamian artifacts, where a mosaic of shell, red limestone and lapis lazuli was inlaid in bitumen applied on wooden hollow boxes (e.g. the Standard of Ur and lyres from the Royal Tombs of Ur, circa 2600 BC.). A technique similar to a mosaic is a marble inlay, known as the Florentine mosaic.

Standard of Ur (the side representing ‘War”) is catching visitors’ attention by its intensively vivid colours. The British Museum, Room 56. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

The mosaic was known in ancient times, mainly in Asia Minor and the Mediterranean Basin but was fully developed and flourished in the first century AD., in Rome, where its three techniques were usually applied. Opus barbaricum was composed of natural, coloured stones of various shapes, used to create various patterns, mainly geometric or floral, depending to a large extent on the shape of the stones. Opus tesselatum was, in turn, made either of stones, or faience or glass, where cubes (1 cm3) were cut out, then precisely ground and arranged in patterns. The third technique was known as opus vermiculatum, which consisted of a variety of materials in terms of colour and shape (triangles, hexagons, cylinders, etc.), selected depending on the theme of a given composition.

Mosaic patterns were usually laid in the artist’s workshop, then transferred to their final destination and applied to the base, usually consisting of limestone, fine quartz sand, clay and oil.

The Holy City of Jerusalem in the sixth century. Madaba Mosaic Map in the early Byzantine church of Saint George in Madaba, Jordan. Copyright©Archaeotravel.

Coloured mosaics are also known to pre-Columbian cultures, used, for example, in decorating funerary masks (e.g. burial mask of jadeite belonging to the Mayan king, Pakal, and to the Red Queen from the Temple XIII). In Europe, the mosaic technique was adopted from ancient Rome by early Christian art to decorate the exterior and interior of sacred buildings. The second reviving period of the mosaic art took place in Byzantine art, in the sixth century AD. The most famous example from this period is the so-called Madaba Mosaic Map in the early Byzantine church of Saint George in Madaba, Jordan. Then the technique reached Russia, where it developed in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. In other European countries, apart from Italy, the mosaic did not play a major role. However, it was often used in architecture by Islamic art, especially in Persia.

The renewed interest in mosaic dates back to the nineteenth century, and in the twentieth century monumental mosaics, mainly of ceramic, were used in the decoration of representative buildings.

Featured image: Roman mosaic of Ulysses, from Carthage, 2nd century AD, now in the Bardo Museum, Tunisia. Photo by Giorces derivative work: Habib M’henni and Dyolf77 (2010). Public domain. {{PD-US}}. Colours intensified. Photo and caption source: “Mosaic” (2021). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia.


“Mosaic” (2021). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia. Available at <>. [Accessed 10th June, 2021].

PWN (2007). Słownik terminologiczny sztuk pięknych, p. 267. Kubalska-Sulkiewicz K., Bielska-Łach M., Manteuffel-Szarota A. eds. Wydanie piąte. Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Naukowe PWN.

Matzevah – a Traditional Form of a Jewish tombstone

Jewish tombstone in the form of a vertically positioned rectangular stone or wooden slab, and from the nineteenth century also made of cast iron, topped with a straight line, triangle, semicircle or two segments of a circle, decorated with a bas-relief in the upper part and covered with an inscription (epitaph) at the bottom. The Hebrew epitaph was placed on the eastern side of the slab, as both, the tomb and the tombstone were oriented to the east. The stone slab was placed on the grave, on the headboard or in the legs of the deceased. It was often supported from the back by a stone block with a rectangular or semicircular cross-section, very rarely decorated.

Matzevot at the Cemetery in Warsaw at Okopowa Street. Photo by Grzegorz Petka (2008). Public domain. Image cropped. Colours intensified. Photo source: “Macewa” (2021). In: Wikipedia. Wolna Encyklopedia.

The reliefs in the upper part of the tombstone are not only decorative, but also symbolic; from the sixteenth century on, above the epitaph but under the top of the matzeva, there were usually sculpted symbols referring to the name of the deceased, their profession, character features, or sadness, mourning and death. Some of the decorative motifs on the matzevot are intended for representatives of traditional groups of the Jewish community, e.g. for a person from a priestly family (kohena) – those were hands folded in prayer, for a descendant of a Levite family, a cup, for a scholar or a rabbi – a Torah crown or a book for a woman, a lamp-stand, for the descendants of the tribe of Judah, a lion. Over time, the matzevot were given an increasingly complex architectural form, with cornices, columns, and recesses, and its height increased, sometimes reaching four meters.

Matzevah derived from the distant past, when it first meant sacred pillars in Canaanite sanctuaries, and then boulders, placed in memory of some important event; placed in cemeteries by Ashkenazi Jews.

Such a tombstone was adopted in Poland; the oldest one preserved there dates back to 1203 and is now at a Jewish cemetery in Wrocław (Poland), at Ślężna Street. The form of the matzevot is also recalled by erratic boulders placed on graves in Jewish cemeteries in north-eastern Poland. When in the early nineteenth century’s Poland, the administrative authorities of the partitioning powers ordered Jews to take surnames, Jewish traditionalists placed an appropriate entry containing this name on the reverse, unfinished side of the matzeva. In the areas associated with German culture, from the mid-nineteenth century, it was customary to place an epitaph in Hebrew on one side of the matzevah, and in German on the other. Similar records can also be found in Jewish cemeteries in large cities of central Poland, on the graves of assimilated Jews.

Featured image: Matzevot at the old Jewish cemetery in Wrocław. Photo by Barbara Maliszewska (2010). CC BY-SA 3.0 pl. Image cropped. Colours intensified. Photo source: “Macewa” (2021). In: Wikipedia. Wolna Encyklopedia.


“Macewa” (2021). In: Wikipedia. Wolna Encyklopedia. Available at <>. [Accessed 14th February, 2021].

Jagielski J. (2021). “Mazewa”. In: Portal DELET. Available at <>. [Accessed 14th February, 2021].

PWN (2007). Słownik terminologiczny sztuk pięknych, p. 244. Kubalska-Sulkiewicz K., Bielska-Łach M., Manteuffel-Szarota A. eds. Wydanie piąte. Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Naukowe PWN.