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.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

“Mosaic” (2021). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia. Available at <https://bit.ly/3weVNfL>. [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.

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