1 of or relating to Moses or the laws and writings attributed to him; "Mosaic Law"
2 decorated with small pieces of colored glass or stone fitted together; "a mosaic floor"; "a tessellated pavement" [syn: tessellated]
1 art consisting of a design made of small pieces of colored stone or glass
2 viral disease in solanaceous plants (tomatoes, potatoes, tobacco) resulting in mottling and often shriveling of the leaves
3 a freeware browser
4 a pattern resembling a mosaic
5 transducer formed by the light-sensitive surface on a television camera tube
6 assembly of aerial photographs forming a composite picture
- Rhymes: -eɪɪk
- A piece of artwork created by placing colored squares (usually tiles) in a pattern so as to create a picture.
- An individual composed of two or more cell lines of different genetic or chromosomal constitution, but from the same zygote.
- A viral disease of plants.
- A composite picture made from overlapping photographs.
genetically diverse individual
Mosaic is the art of creating images with small pieces of colored glass, stone or other material. It may be a technique of decorative art, an aspect of interior decoration or of cultural and spiritual significance as in a cathedral. Small tiles or fragments of pottery (known as tesserae, diminutive tessellae) or of colored glass or clear glass backed with metal foils are used to create a pattern or picture.
Mosaics of the 4th century BC are found in the Macedonian palace-city of Aegae, and they enriched the floors of Hellenistic villas, and Roman dwellings from Britain to Dura-Europos. Splendid mosaic floors are found in Roman villas across north Africa. In Rome, Nero and his architects used mosaics to cover the surfaces of walls and ceilings in the Domus Aurea, built AD 64.
The mosaics of the Villa Romana del Casale near Piazza Armerina in Sicily are the largest collection of late Roman mosaics in the world and are protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The large villa rustica, which was probably owned by Emperor Maximian, was largely built in the early 4th century. The mosaics were covered and protected by a landslide in the 12th century for 700 years. The most important pieces are the Circus Scene, the 64 m long Great Hunting Scene, the Little Hunt, the Labours of Hercules and the famous Bikini Girls, showing girls in modern-looking bikinis. The peristyle, the imperial apartements and the thermae were also decorated with ornamental and mythological mosaics. Other important examples of Roman mosaic art in Sicily were unearthed on the Piazza Vittoria in Palermo where two houses were discovered. The most important scenes here depicted Orpheus, Alexander the Great's Hunt and the Four Seasons.
In 2000 archaeologists working in Leptis Magna, Libya uncovered a 30 ft length of five colorful mosaics created during the 1st or 2nd century. The mosaics show a warrior in combat with a deer, four young men wrestling a wild bull to the ground, and a gladiator resting in a state of fatigue, staring at his slain opponent. The mosaics decorated the walls of a cold plunge pool in a bath house within a Roman villa. The gladiator mosaic is noted by scholars as one of the finest examples of mosaic art ever seen — a "masterpiece comparable in quality with the Alexander mosaic in Pompeii."
Early Christian art
With the building of Christian basilicas in the late 4th century, wall and ceiling mosaics were adapted to Christian uses. The earliest examples, such as those of the first basilica of St. Peter and St. Paul were all destroyed, but the mosaics of Santa Constanza and Santa Pudenziana, both from the 4th century, survived. The winemaking putti in the ambulatory of Santa Constanza still follow the classical tradition (ie. feast of Bacchus). Another great Constantinian basilica, the Church of the Nativity in Betlehem partially preserved its original mosaic floor with typical Roman geometric motifs. The so-called Tomb of the Julii, near the crypt beneath St Peter's Basilica, is a fourth-century vaulted tomb with wall and ceiling mosaics that are given Christian interpretations. The former Tomb of Galerius in Thessaloniki, converted into a Christian church during the course of the 4th century, was embellished with very high artistic quality mosaics. Only fragments survived of the original decoration, especially a band depicting saints with hands raised in prayer, in front of complex architectural fantasies.
In the following century Ravenna, the capital of the Western Roman Empire, became the centre of late Roman mosaic art (see details in Ravenna section). Milan also served as the capital of the western empire in the 4th century. In the St Aquilinus Chapel of the Basilica of San Lorenzo mosaics executed in the late 4th-early 5th centuries, depict Christ with the Apostles and the Abduction of Elijah; these mosaics are outstanding for their bright colors, naturalism and adherence to the classical canons of order and proportion.
Albingaunum was the main Roman port of Liguria. The octagonal baptistry of the town was decorated in the 5th century with high quality blue and white mosaics representing the Apostles. The surviving remains are fragmentary.
A mosaic pavement depicting humans, animals and plants from the original fourth-century cathedral of Aquileia have survived in the later medieval church. This mosaic adopts pagan motifs such as the Nilotic scene but behind the traditional naturalistic content is Christian symbolism (ichthys, fisherman). The sixth-century early Christian basilicas of Sant' Eufemia and Santa Maria delle Grazie in Grado also have mosaic floors.
In the 5th century Ravenna, the capital of the Western Roman Empire, became the centre of late Roman mosaic art. The Mausoleum of Galla Placidia was decorated with mosaics of high artistic quality in 425-430. The vaults of the small, cross-shaped structure are clad with mosaics on blue background. The central motif above the crossing is a golden cross in the middle of the stary sky. Another great building established by Galla Placidia was the Church of San Giovanni Evangelista. She erected it in fulfillment of a vow that she made having escaped from a deadly storm in 425 on the sea voyage from Constantinople to Ravenna. The mosaics depicted the storm, portraits of members of the western and eastern imperial family and the bishop of Ravenna, Peter Chrysologus. They are only known from Renaissance sources because they were destroyed in 1569.
Ostrogoths kept alive the tradition in the sixth century, as the mosaics of the Arian Baptistry, Baptistry of Neon, Archiepiscopal Chapel, and the earlier phase mosaics in the Basilica of San Vitale and Basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo testify.
After 539 Ravenna was conquered by the Byzantine Empire and became the seat of the Exarchate of Ravenna. The greatest development of Christian mosaics unfolded in the second half of the 6th century. Outstanding examples of Byzantine mosaic art are the later phase mosaics in the Basilica of San Vitale and Basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo. The mosaic depicting Emperor Justinian I and Empress Theodora in the Basilica of San Vitale were executed shortly after the Byzantine conquest. The mosaics of the Basilica of Sant'Apollinare in Classe were made around 549. The anti-Arian theme is obvious in the apse mosaic of San Michele in Affricisco, executed in 545-547 (largely destroyed, the remains in Berlin).
The last example of Byzantine mosaics in Ravenna was commissioned by bishop Reparatus between 673-79 in the Basilica of Sant'Apollinare in Classe. The mosaic panel in the apse showing the bishop with Emperor Constantine IV is obviously an imitation of the Justinian panel in San Vitale.
Byzantine mosaicsMosaics were more central to Byzantine culture than to that of Western Europe. Byzantine church interiors were generally covered with golden mosaics. Mosaic art flourished in the Byzantine Empire from the 6th to the 15th century. The majority of Byzantine mosaics were destroyed without trace during wars and conquests, but the surviving remains still form a fine collection.
The buildings of Emperor Justinian like the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople and the Nea Church in Jerusalem were certainly embellished with mosaics but none of these survived. Probably the earliest example of Byzantine mosaic art can be found in the Saint Catherine's Monastery on Mount Sinai. On the upper wall Moses is shown in two panels on a landscape background. In the apse we can see the Transfiguration of Jesus on a golden background. The apse is surrounded with bands containing medallions of apostles and prophets, and two contemporary figure, "Abbot Longinos" and "John the Deacon". The mosaic was probably created in 565/6.
Important fragments survived from the mosaic floor of the Great Palace of Constantinople which was commissioned during Justinian's reign. The figures, animals, plants all are entirely classical but they are scattered before a plain background. The portrait of a moustached man, probably a Gothic chieftain, is considered the most important surviving mosaic of the Justinian age. The so-called small sekreton of the palace was built during Justin II's reign around 565-577. Some fragments survive from the mosaics of this vaulted room. The vine scroll motifs are very similar to those in the Santa Constanza and they still closely follow the Classical tradition. There are remains of floral decoration in the Panayia Acheiropoietos Church in Thessaloniki (5-6th centuries).
In the 6th century, Ravenna, the capital of Byzantine Italy, became the centre of mosaic making. Istria also boasts some important examples from this era. The Euphrasian Basilica in Parentium was built in the middle of the 6th century and decorated with mosaics depicting the Theotokos flanked by angels and saints.
Fragments remain from the mosaics of the Church of Santa Maria Formosa in Pola. These pieces were made during the 6th century by artists from Constantinople. Their pure Byzantine style is different than the contemporary Ravennate mosaics. Very few early Byzantine mosaics survived the Iconoclastic destruction of the 8th century. Among the rare examples are the 6th century Christ in majesty (or Ezekiel's Vision) mosaic in the apse of the Osios David Church in Thessaloniki that was hidden behind mortar during those dangerous times. The mosaics of the Hagios Demetrios Church, which were made between 634 and 730, also escaped destruction. Unusually almost all represent Saint Demetrius of Thessaloniki, often with suppliants before him.
In the Iconoclastic era, figural mosaics were also condemned as idolatry. The Iconoclastic churches were embellished with plain gold mosaics with only one great cross in the apse like the Hagia Irene in Constantinople (after 740). There were similar crosses in the apses of the Hagia Sophia Church in Thessaloniki and in the Church of the Dormition in Nicaea. The crosses were substituted with the image of the Theotokos in both churches after the victory of the Iconodules (787-797 and in 8-9th centuries respectively, the Dormition church was totally destroyed in 1922).
A similar Theotokos image flanked by two archangels were made for the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople in 867. The dedication inscription says: "The images which the impostors had cast down here pious emperors have again set up." In the 870s the so-called large sekreton of the Great Palace of Constantinople was decorated with the images of the four great iconodule patriarchs.
The post-Iconoclastic era was the heyday of Byzantine art with the most beautiful mosaics executed. The mosaics of the Macedonian Renaissance (867-1056) carefully mingled traditionalism with innovation. Constantinopolitan mosaics of this age followed the decoration scheme first used in Emperor Basil I's Nea Church. Not only this prototype was later totally destroyed but each surviving composition is battered so it is necessary to move from church to church to reconstruct the system.
An interesting set of Macedonian-era mosaics make up the decoration of the Hosios Loukas Monastery. In the narthex there is the Crucifixion, the Pantokrator and the Anastasis above the doors, while in the church the Theotokos (apse), Pentecost, scenes from Christ's life and ermit St Loukas (all executed before 1048). The scenes are treated with a minimum of detail and the panels are dominated with the gold setting. The Nea Moni Monastery on Chios was established by Constantine Monomachos in 1043-1056. The exceptional mosaic decoration of the dome showing probably the nine orders of the angels was destroyed in 1822 but other panels survived (Theotokos with raised hands, four evangelists with seraphim, scenes from Christ's life and an interesting Anastasis where King Salomon bears resemblance to Constantine Monomachos). In comparison with Osios Loukas Nea Moni mosaics contain more figures, detail, landscape and setting.
The Daphni Monastery houses the best preserved complex of mosaics from the early Comnenan period (ca. 1100) when the austere and hieratic manner typical for the Macedonian epoch and represented by the awesome Christ Pantocrator image inside the dome, was metamorphosing into a more intimate and delicate style, of which The Angel before St Joachim — with its pastoral backdrop, harmonious gestures and pensive lyricism — is considered a superb example.
The 9th and 10th century mosaics of the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople are truly classical Byzantine artworks. The north and south tympana beneath the dome was decorated with figures of prophets, saints and patriarchs. Above the principal door from the narthex we can see an Emperor kneeling before Christ (late 9th or early 10th century). Above the door from the soutwest vestibule to the narthex another mosaic shows the Theotokos with Iustinian and Constantine. Iustinian is offering the model of the church to Mary while Constantine is helding the model of the city in his hand. Both emperors are beardless - this is an example for conscious archaization as contemporary Byzantine rulers were bearded. A mosaic panel on the gallery shows Christ with Constantine Monomachos and Empress Zoe (1042-1055). The emperor gives a bulging money sack to Christ offering a donation for the church.
The dome of the Hagia Sophia Church in Thessaloniki is decorated with an Ascension mosaic (c. 885). The composition resembles the great baptistries in Ravenna, with apostles standing between palms and Christ in the middle. The scheme is somewhat unusual as the standard post-Iconoclastic formula for domes contained only the image of the Pantokrator.
There are very few existing mosaics from the Komnenian period but this paucity must be due to accidents of survival and gives a misleading impression. The only surviving 12th century mosaic work in Constantinople is a panel in Hagia Sophia depicting Emperor John II and Empress Eirene with the Theotokos (1122-34). The empress with her long braided hair and rosy cheeks is especially capturing. It must be a life-like portrayal because Eirene was really a redhead as her original Hungarian name, Piroska shows. The adjacent portrait of Emperor Alexios I Komnenos on a pier (from 1122) is similarly personal. The imperial mausoleum of the Komnenos dynasty, the Pantokrator Monastery was certainly decorated with great mosaics but these were later destroyed. The lack of Komnenian mosaics outside the capital is even more apparent. There is only a "Communion of the Apostles" in the apse of the cathedral of Serres.
A striking technical innovation of the Komnenian period was the production of very precious, miniature mosaic icons. In these icons the small tesserae (with sides of 1 mm or less) were set on wax or resin on a wooden panel. These products of extraordinary craftmanship were intended for private devotion. The Louvre Transfiguration is a very fine example from the late 12th century. The miniature mosaic of Christ in the Museo Nazionale at Florence illustrates the more gentle, humanistic conception of Christ which appeared in the 12th century.
The sack of Constantinople in 1204 caused the decline of mosaic art for the next five decades. After the reconquest of the city by Michael VIII Palaiologos in 1261 the Hagia Sophia was restored and a beautiful new Deesis was made on the south galery. This huge mosaic panel with figures two and a half times lifesize is really overwhelming due to its grand scale and superlative craftmanship. The Hagia Sophia Deesis is probably the most famous Byzantine mosaic in Constantinople.
The Pammakaristos Monastery was restored by Michael Glabas, an imperial official, in the late 13th century. Only the mosaic decoration of small burial chapel (Parekklesion) of Glabas survived. This domed chapel was built by his widow, Martha around 1304-08. In the miniature dome the traditional Pantokrator can be seen with twelve prophets beneath. Unusually the apse is decorated with a Deesis, probably due to the funerary function of the chapel.
The Church of the Holy Apostles in Thessaloniki was built in 1310-14. Although some vandal systematically removed the gold tesserae of the background it can be seen that the Pantokrator and the prophets in the dome follow the traditional Byzantine pattern. Many details are similar to the Pammakaristos mosaics so it is supposed that the same team of mosaicists worked in both buildings. Another building with a related mosaic decoration is the Theotokos Paregoritissa Church in Arta. The church was established by the Despot of Epirus in 1294-96. In the dome is the traditional stern Pantokrator, with prophets and cherubim below.
The greatest mosaic work of the Palaiologian Renessaince is the decoration of the Chora Church in Constantinople. Although the mosaics of the naos have not survived except three panels, the decoration of the exonarthex and the esonarthex constitute the most important full-scale mosaic cycle in Constantinople after the Hagia Sophia. They were executed around 1320 by the command of Theodore Metochites. The esonarthex has two fluted domes, specially created to provide the ideal setting for the mosaic images of the ancestors of Christ. The southern one is called the Dome of the Pantokrator while the northern one is the Dome of the Theotokos. The most important panel of the esonarthex depicts Theodor Metochites wearing a huge turban, offering the model of the church to Christ. The walls of both narthexes are decorated with mosaic cycles from the life of the Virgin and the life of Christ. These panels show the influence of the Italian trecento on Byzantine art especially the more natural settings, landscapes, figures.
The last Byzantine mosaic work was created for the Hagia Sophia, Constantinople in the middle of the 14th century. The great eastern arch of the cathedral collapsed in 1346, bringing down the third of the main dome. By 1355 not only the big Pantokrator image was restored but new mosaics were set on the eastern arch depicting the Theotokos, the Baptist and Emperor John V Palaiologos (discovered only in 1989).
In addition to the large-scale monuments several miniature mosaic icons of outstanding quality was produced for the Palaiologos court and nobles. The loveliest examples from the 14th century are Annunciation in the Victoria and Albert Museum and a mosaic diptych in the Cathedral Treasury of Florence representing the Twelve Feasts of the Church.
In the troubled years of the 15th century the fatally weakened empire could not afford luxurious mosaics. Churches were decorated with wall-paintings in this era and after the Turkish conquest.
Christian mosaic art also flourished in Late Antique and medieval Rome. Fifth century mosaics can be found over the triumphal arch and in the nave of the basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore. The 27 surviving panels of the nave are the most important mosaic cycle in Rome of this period. Two other important 5th century mosaics are lost but we know them from 17th century drawings. In the apse mosaic of Sant'Agata dei Goti (462-472, destroyed in 1589) Christ was seated on a globe with the twelve Apostles flanking him, six on either side. At Sant'Andrea in Catabarbara (468-483, destroyed in 1686) Christ appeared in the center, flanked on either side by three Apostles. Four streams flowed from the little mountain supporting Christ. The original 5th century apse mosaic of the Santa Sabina was replaced by a very similar fresco by Taddeo Zuccari in 1559. The composition probably remained unchanged: Christ flanked by male and female saints, seated on a hill while lambs drinking from a stream at its feet. All three mosaics had a similar iconography.
6th century pieces are rare in Rome but the mosaics inside the triumphal arch of the basilica of San Lorenzo fuori le mura. The Chapel of Ss. Primo e Feliciano in Santo Stefano Rotondo has very interesting and rare mosaics from the 7th century. This chapel was built by Pope Theodore I as a family burial place.
In the 7-9th centuries Rome fell under the influence of Byzantine art, noticeable on the mosaics of Santa Prassede, Santa Maria in Domnica, Sant'Agnese fuori le Mura, Santa Cecilia in Trastevere, Santi Nereo e Achilleo and the San Venanzio chapel of San Giovanni in Laterano. The great dining hall of Pope Leo III in the Lateran Palace was also decorated with mosaics. They were all destroyed later except for one example, the so-called Triclinio Leoniano of which a copy was made in the 18th century. Another great work of Pope Leo, the apse mosaic of Santa Susanna, depicted Christ with the Pope and Charlemagne on one side, and SS. Susanna and Felicity on the other. It was plastered over during a renovation in 1585.
The fragment of an eighth-century mosaic, the Epiphany is one of the very rare remaining pieces of the medieval decoration of Old St. Peter's Basilica, demolished in the late 16th century. The precious fragment is kept in the sacristy of Santa Maria in Cosmedin. It proves the high artistic quality of the destroyed St. Peter's mosaics. The last great period of Roman mosaic art was the 12-13th century when Rome developed its own distinctive artistic style, free from the strict rules of eastern tradition and with a more realistic portrayal of figures in the space. Well-known works of this period are the floral mosaics of the Basilica di San Clemente, the façade of Santa Maria in Trastevere and San Paolo fuori le Mura. The beautiful apse mosaic of Santa Maria in Trastevere (1140) depicts Christ and Mary sitting next to each other on the heavenly throne, the first example of this iconographic scheme. A similar mosaic, Christ coronating Mary, decorates the apse of Santa Maria Maggiore. It is a work of Jacopo Torriti from 1295. The mosaics of Torriti and Jacopo da Camerino in the apse of San Giovanni in Laterano from 1288-94 were thoroughly restored in 1884. The apse mosaic of San Crisogono is attributed to Pietro Cavallini, the greatest Roman painter of the 13th century. Six scenes from the life of Mary in Santa Maria in Trastevere were also executed by Cavallini in 1290. These mosaics are praised for their realistic portrayal and attempts of perspective. There is an interesting mosaic medaillon from 1210 above the gate of the church of San Tommaso in Formis showing Christ enthroned between a white and a black slave. The church belonged to the Order of the Trinitarians which was devoted to ransoming Christian slaves.
The great Navicella mosaic (1305-1313) in the atrium of the Old St. Peter's is attributed to Giotto di Bondone. The giant mosaic, commissioned by Cardinal Jacopo Stefaneschi, was originally situated on the eastern porch of the old basilica and occupied the whole wall above the entrance arcade facing the courtyard. It depicted St. Peter walking on the waters. This extraordinary work was mainly destroyed during the construction of the new St. Peter's in the 17th century. Navicella means "little ship" referring to the large boat which dominated the scene, and whose sail, filled by the storm, loomed over the horizon. Such a natural representation of a seascape was known only from ancient works of art.
The heyday of mosaic making in Sicily was the age of the independent Norman kingdom in the 12th century. The Norman kings adopted the Byzantine tradition of mosaic decoration to enhance the somewhat dubious legality of their rule. Greek masters working in Sicily developed their own style, that shows the influence of Western European and Islamic artistic tendencies. Best examples of Sicilian mosaic art are the Cappella Palatina of Roger II, the Martorana church in Palermo and the cathedrals of Cefalù and Monreale.
The Cappella Palatina clearly shows evidence for blending the eastern and western styles. The dome (1142-42) and the eastern end of the church (1143-1154) were decorated with typical Byzantine mosaics ie. Pantokrator, angels, scenes from the life of Christ. Even the inscriptions are written in Greek. The narrative scenes of the nave (Old Testament, life of Sts Peter and Paul) are resembling to the mosaics of the Old St. Peter's and St. Paul's Basilica in Rome (Latin inscriptions, 1154-66).
The Martorana church (decorated around 1143) looked originally even more Byzantine although important parts were later demolished. The dome mosaic is very similar to that of the Cappella Palatina with Christ enthroned in the middle and four bowed, elongated angels. The Greek incsriptions, decorative patterns, the evangelists in the squinches are obviously executed by the same Greek masters who worked on Capella Palatina. The mosaic depicting Roger II of Sicily, dressed in Byzantine imperial robes, receiving the crown by Christ was originally in the demolished narthex together with another panel, the Theotokos with Georgios of Antiochia, the founder of the church.
In Cefalù (1148) only the high, French Gothic presbytery was covered with mosaics: the Pantokrator on the semidome of the apse and cherubim on the vault. On the walls we can see Latin and Greek saints, with Greek inscriptions.
The Monreale mosaics constitute the largest decoration of this kind in Italy, covering 0,75 hectares with at least 100 million glass and stone tesserae. This huge work was executed between 1176 and 1186 by the order of King William II of Sicily. The iconography of the mosaics in the presbytery is similar to Cefalu while the pictures in the nave are almost the same as the narrative scenes in the Cappella Palatina. The Martorana mosaic of Roger II blessed by Christ was repeated with the figure of King William II instead of his predecessor. Another panel shows the king offering the model of the cathedral to the Theotokos.
The Cathedral of Palermo, rebuilt by Archbishop Walter in the same time (1172-85), was also decorated with mosaics but none of these survived except the 12th century image of Madonna del Tocco above the western portal.
The cathedral of Messina, consecrated in 1197, was also decorated with a great mosaic cycle, originally on par with Cefalù and Monreale, but heavily damaged and restored many times later. In the left apse of the same cathedral 14th century mosaics survived, representing the Madonna and Child between Saints Agata and Lucy, the Archangels Gabriel and Michael and Queens Eleonora and Elisabetta.
Southern Italy was also part of the Norman kingdom but great mosaics did not survive in this area except the fine mosaic pavement of the Otranto cathedral from 1166, with mosaics tied into a tree of life, mostly still preserved. The scenes depict biblical characters, warrior kings, medieval beasts, allegories of the months and working activity. Only fragments survived from the original mosaic decoration of Amalfi's Norman Cathedral. The mosaic ambos in the churches of Ravello prove that mosaic art was widespread in Southern Italy during the 11-13th centuries.
The palaces of the Norman kings were decorated with mosaics depicting animals and landscapes. The secular mosaics are seemingly more Eastern in character than the great religious cycles and show a strong Persian influence. The most notable examples are the Sala di Ruggero in the Palazzo dei Normanni, Palermo and the Sala della Fontana in the Zisa summer palace, both from the 12th century.
In parts of Italy, which were under eastern artistic influences, like Sicily and Venice, mosaic making never went out of fashion in the Middle Ages. The whole interior of the St Mark's Basilica in Venice is clad with elaborate, golden mosaics. The oldest scenes were executed by Greek masters in the late 11th century but the majority of the mosaics are works of local artists from the 12-13th centuries. The decoration of the church was finished only in the 16th century. One hundred and ten scenes of mosaics in the atrium of St Mark's were based directly on the miniatures of the Cotton Genesis, a Byzantine manuscript that was brought to Venice after the sack of Constantinople (1204). The mosaics were executed in the 1220s.
Other important Venetian mosaics can be found in the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta in Torcello from the 12th century, and in the Basilical of Santi Maria e Donato in Murano with a restored apse mosaic from the 12th century and a beautiful mosaic pavement (1140). The apse of the San Cipriano Church in Murano was decorated with an impressive golden mosaic from the early 13th century showing Christ enthroned with Mary, St John and the two patron saints, Cipriano and Cipriana. When the church was demolished in the 19th century, the mosaic was bought by Frederick William IV of Prussia. It was reassembled in the Friedenskirche of Potsdam in the 1840s.
Trieste was also an important centre of mosaic art. The mosaics in the apse of the Cathedral of San Giusto were laid by master craftsmen from Veneto in the 12-13th centuries.
The monastery of Grottaferrata founded by Greek Basilian monks and consecrated by the Pope in 1024 was decorated with Italo-Byzantine mosaics, some of which survived in the narthex and the interior. The mosaics on the triumphal arch portray the Twelve Apostles sitting beside an empty throne, evoking Christ's ascent to Heaven. It is a Byzantine work of the 12th century. There is a beautiful 11th century Deesis above the main portal.
The Abbot of Monte Cassino, Desiderius sent envoys to Constantinople some time after 1066 to hire expert Byzantine mosaicists for the decoration of the rebuilt abbey church. According to chronicler Leo of Ostia the Greek artists decorated the apse, the arch and the vestibule of the basilica. Their work was admired by contemporaries but was totally destroyed in later centuries except two fragments depicting greyhounds (now in the Monte Cassino Museum). "The abbot in his wisdom decided that great number of young monks in the monastery should be thoroughly initiated in these arts" - says the chronicler about the role of the Greeks in the revival of mosaic art in medieval Italy.
In Florence a magnificiant mosaic of the Last Judgement decorates the dome of the Battistero. The earliest mosaics, works of art of many unknown Venetian craftsmen (including probably Cimabue), date from 1225. The covering of the ceiling was probably not completed until the 14th century.
The impressive mosaic of Christ in Majesty, flanked by the Blessed Virgin and St. John the Evangelist in the apse of the cathedral of Pisa was designed by Cimabue in 1302. It evokes the Monreale mosaics in style. It survived the great fire of 1595 which destroyed most of the mediveval interior decoration.
Sometimes not only church interiors but façades were also decorated with mosaics in Italy like in the case of the St Mark's Basilica in Venice (mainly from the 17-19th centuries, but the oldest one from 1270-75, "The burial of St Mark in the first basilica"), the Cathedral of Orvieto (golden Gothic mosaics from the 14th century, many times redone) and the Basilica di San Frediano in Lucca (huge, striking golden mosaic representing the Ascension of Christ with the apostles below, designed by Berlinghiero Berlinghieri in the 13th century). The Cathedral of Spoleto is also decorated on the upper façade with a huge mosaic portraying the Blessing Christ (signed by one Solsternus from 1207).
Western and Central Europe
Beyond the Alpes the first important example of mosaic art was the decoration of the Palatine Chapel in Aachen, commissioned by Charlemagne. It was completely destroyed in a fire in 1650. A rare example of surviving Karolingian mosaics is the apsis decoration of the oratory of Germigny-des-Prés built in 805-806 by Theodulf, bishop of Orléans, a leading figure of Carolingian renaissance. This unique work of art, rediscovered only in the 19th century, had no followers.
Later fresco replaced the more labor-intensive technique of mosaic in Western-Europe, although mosaics were sometimes used as decoration on medieval cathedrals. The Royal Basilica of the Hungarian kings in Székesfehérvár (Alba Regia) had a mosaic decoration in the apse. It was probably a work of Venetian or Ravennese craftsmen, executed in the first decades of the 11th century. The mosaic was almost totally destroyed together with the basilica in the 17th century. The Golden Gate of the St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague got its name from the golden 14th century mosaic of the Last Judgement above the portal. It was executed by Venetian craftsmen.
In 2003 remains of a mosaic pavement were discovered under the ruins of the Bizere Monastery near the River Mureş in present-day Romania. The panels depict real or fantastic animal, floral, solar and geometric representations. Some archeologists supposed that it was the floor of an Orthodox church, built some time between the 10th and 11th century. Other experts claim that it was part of the later Catholic monastery on the site because it shows the signs of strong Italianate influence. The monastery was situated that time in the territory of the Kingdom of Hungary.
Renaissance and BaroqueAlthough mosaics went out of fashion and were substituted by frescoes, some of the great Renaissance artists also worked with the old technique. Raffaello's Creation of the World in the dome of the Chigi Chapel in Santa Maria del Popolo is a notable example that was executed by a Venetian craftsman, Luigi di Pace.
During the papacy of Clement VIII (1592-1605), the “Congregazione della Reverenda Fabbrica di San Pietro" was established, providing an independent organisation charged with completing the decorations in the newly-built St. Peter's Basilica. Instead of frescoes the cavernous Basilica was mainly decorated with mosaics. Among the explanations are:
- 1) The old St. Peter's Basilica had been decorated with mosaic,
as was common in churches built during the early Christian era; the
seventeenth century followed the tradition to enhance continuity.
- 2) In a church like this with high walls and few windows, mosaics were brighter and reflected more light.
- 3) Mosaics had greater intrinsic longevity than either frescoes or canvases.
- 4) Mosaics had an association with bejeweled decoration, flaunting richness.
- 2) In a church like this with high walls and few windows, mosaics were brighter and reflected more light.
The mosaics of St. Peter's often show lively Baroque compositions based on designs or canvases from like Ciro Ferri, Guido Reni, Domenichino, Carlo Maratta, and many others. Raphael is represented by a mosaic replica of this last painting, the Transfiguration. Many different artists contributed to the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century mosaics in St. Peter's, including Giovanni Battista Calandra, Fabio Cristofari (d. 1689), and Pietro Paolo Cristofari (d. 1743). Works of the Fabbrica were often used as papal gifts.
Eastern Orthodox countries
The craft has also been popular in the Eastern Orthodox countries and Russia, inherited as part of the Byzantine tradition. Yaroslav, the Grand Prince of the Kievan Rus' built a large cathedral in his capital, Kiev. The model of the church was the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, and it was also called Saint Sophia Cathedral. It was built mainly by Byzantine master craftsmen, sent by Constantine Monomachos, between 1037 and 1046. Naturally the more important surfaces in the interior were decorated with golden mosaics. In the dome we can see the traditional stern Pantokrator supported by angels. Between the 12 windows of the drum were apostles and the four evangelists on the pendentives. The apse is dominated by an orant Theotokos with a Deesis in three medallions above. Below is a Communion of the Apostles.
Prince Sviatopolk II built St. Michael's Golden-Domed Monastery in Kiev in 1108. The mosaics of the church are undoubtedly works of Byzantine artists. Although the church was destroyed by Soviet authorities, majority of the panels were preserved. Small parts of ornamental mosaic decoration from the 12th century survived in the Saint Sophia Cathedral in Novgorod but this church was largely decorated with frescoes.
Mosaics stopped being used for church decoration as early as the 12th century in the eastern Slavic countries. Later Russian churches were decorated with frescoes, similarly than orthodox churches in the Balkan.
The apse mosaic of the Gelati Monastery in Georgia from c. 1130 is probably the work of Byzantine mosaicist invited by King Demetre I. The fragmentary panel depicting the Theotokos flanked by two archangels looks thoroughly Byzantine (with Greek inscriptions).
Islamic architecture used mosaic technique to decorate religious buildings and palaces since the Arabs conquered the eastern provinces of the Byzantine Empire in the 7th century. In Syria and Egypt the Arabs were influenced by the great tradition of Roman and Early Christian mosaic art. During the reign of the Umayyad Dynasty mosaic making remained a flourishing art form in Islamic culture. Umayyad era mosaics followed Byzantine models.
The first great religious building of Islam, the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, which was built between 688-692, was decorated with glass mosaics both inside and outside. Only parts of the interior decoration survived. The rich floral motives follow the Roman traditions, and "Islamic only in the sense that the vocabulary is syncretic and does not include representation of men or animals." The most important early Islamic mosaic work is the decoration of the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, then capital of the Arab Caliphate. The mosque was built between 706 and 715. The caliph obtained 200 skilled workers from the Byzantine Emperor to decorate the building. This is evidenced by the partly Byzantine style of the decoration. The mosaics of the inner courtyard depict the Paradise with beautiful trees, flowers and small hill towns and villages in the background. The mosaics include no human figures which makes them different from the otherwise similar contemporary Constantinapolitan works. The biggest continuous section survived under the western arcade of the courtyard. This section is called "Barada Panel" after the river Barada. It is thought that the mosque used to have the largest golden mosaic in the world, at over 4.000 m². In 1893 a fire damaged the mosque extensively and many mosaics were lost, although some have been restored since.
The mosaics of the Umayyad Mosque gave inspiration to later Damascene mosaic works. The Dome of the Treasury, which stands in the mosque courtyard, is covered with fine mosaics, probably dating from 13th or 14th century restoration work. The style of them are strikingly similar to the Barada Panel. The mausoleum of Sultan Baibars, Madrassa Zahiriyah, which was built after 1277, is also decorated with a band of golden floral and architectural mosaics, running around inside the main prayer hall. Non-religious Umayyad mosaic works were mainly floor panels which decorated the palaces of the caliphs and other high-ranking officials. They were closely modelled after the mosaics of the Roman country villas, once common in the Eastern Mediterranean. The most superb example can be found in the bath house of Hisham's Palace, Palestine which was made around 744. The main panel depicts a large tree and underneath it a lion attacking a deer (right side) and two deers peacefully grazing (left side). The panel probably represents good and bad governance. Mosaics with classical geometric motifs survived in the bath area of the 8th century Umayyad palace complex in Anjar, Lebanon. At Qastal, near Amman, excavations in 2000 uncovered the earliest known Umayyad mosaics in present-day Jordan, dating probably from the caliphate of Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan (685-705). They cover much of the floor of finely decorated building that probably served as the palace of a local governor. The Qastal mosaics depict geometrical patterns, trees, animals, fruits and rosettes. Except for the open courtyard, entrance and staircases, the floors of the entire palace were covered in mosaics.
Some of the best examples of later Islamic mosaics were produced in Moorish Spain. The golden mosaics in the mihrab and the central dome of the Great Mosque in Corduba have a decidedly Byzantine character. They were made between 965 and 970 by local craftsmen, supervised by a master mosaicist from Constantinople, who was sent by the Byzantine Emperor to the Umayyad Caliph of Spain. The decoration is composed of colourful floral arabesques and wide bands of Arab calligraphy. The mosaics were purported to evoke the glamour of the Great Mosque in Damascus, which was lost for the Umayyad family.
Mosaics generally went out of fashion in the Islamic world after the 8th century but a similar effect was reached by the use of geometric tilework, known as zillij in North Africa and qashani further east.
Modern mosaicsA modern example of mosaic is the Museum of Natural History station of the New York Subway. Some modern mosaics are the work of modernisme style architects Antoni Gaudí and Josep Maria Jujol, for example the mosaics in the Park Güell in Barcelona.
Mosaic TerminologyMosaic is an art form which uses small pieces of materials placed together to create a unified whole. The materials commonly used are glass, ceramic, marble, pebble, mirror, shells and china.
The term for each piece of material is Tessera (plural: tesserae). The term for the spaces in between where the grout goes is the Interstices. Andamento is the word used to describe the movement and flow of Tesserae. The 'opus', the Latin for ‘work’, is the way in which the pieces are cut and placed varies and is known.
- Opus Tessellatum: Tesserae laid in regular straight lines like bricks.
- Opus Regulatum: Vertical and horizontal lines in regular grid.
- Opus Vermiculatum: Flowing lines of tesserae wriggling over the surface.
- Opus Musivum: Vermiculatum used totally over image and background.
- Opus Palladianum: Irregular fitting shapes like crazy paving.
Mosaic techniqueThere are three main methods: the direct method, the indirect method and the double indirect method.
Direct methodThe direct method of mosaic construction involves directly placing (gluing) the individual tesserae onto the supporting surface. This method is well suited to surfaces that have a three-dimensional quality, such as vases.
The direct method suits small projects that are transportable. Another advantage of the direct method is that the resulting mosaic is progressively visible, allowing for any adjustments to tile colors placement.
The disadvantage of the direct method is that the artist must work directly at the chosen surface, which is often not practical for long periods of time. It is unsuitable for large scale projects. Also, it is difficult to control the evenness of the finished surface. This is of particular importance when creating a functional surface such as a floor or a table top.
A modern version of the direct method, sometimes called "double direct," is to work directly onto fiberglass mesh. The mosaic can then be constructed with the design visible on the surface and transported to its final location. Large work can be done in this way, with the mosaic being cut up for shipping and then reassembled for installation. It enables the artist to work in comfort in a studio rather than at the site of installation.
Indirect methodThe indirect method of applying tesserae is often used for very large projects, projects with repetitive elements or for areas needing site specific shapes. Tiles are applied face-down to a backing paper using an adhesive, and later transferred onto walls, floors or craft projects. This method is most useful for extremely large projects as it gives the maker time to rework areas. Mosaic murals, benches and tabletops are some of the items usually made using the indirect method, as it results in a smoother and more even surface.
Double indirect method
The double indirect method can be used when it is important to see the work during the creation process as it will appear when completed. The tesserae are placed face-up on a medium (often adhesive-backed paper or sticky plastic) as it will appear when installed. When the mosaic is complete, a similar medium is placed atop it. The piece is then turned over, the original underlying material is removed, and the piece is installed as in the indirect method described above. In comparison to the indirect method, this is a fussy system to use and leads to a significant probability of damaging the work.
The best way to arrange variously shaped tiles on a surface can lead to complicated mathematical problems - see tessellation for details. Roger Penrose is a British mathematician who has worked with tiling problems - see Penrose tilings.
The artist M. C. Escher was influenced by Moorish mosaics to begin his investigations into tessellation.
A mosaic in digital imaging is a plurality of non-overlapping images, arranged in some tessellation. A photomosaic is a picture made up of various other pictures (pioneered by Joseph Francis), in which each "pixel" is another picture, when examined closely.
A tile mosaic is a digital image made up of individual tiles, arranged in a non-overlapping fashion, e.g. to make a static image on a shower room or bathing pool floor, by breaking the image down into square pixels formed from ceramic tiles (a typical size is 1 inch by 1 inch, as for example, on the floor of the University of Toronto pool, though sometimes larger tiles such as 2 by 2 inch are used). These digital images are coarse in resolution and often simply express text, such as the depth of the pool in various places, but some such digital images are used to show a sunset or other beach theme.
- Early Christian and Byzantine art(for the section of Byzantium and Sicily)
Other mosaic books
- The Art of Mosaic - The Encyclopaedia of Projects, Techniques and Designs Sarah Kelly Search Press
- Mosaic Techniques and Traditions Sonia King Sterling Publishing Co
- The Art of Mosaic Design JoAnn Locktov & Leslie Plummer Clagett Quarry Books
- The Art of Mosaic Caroline Suter & Celia Gregory Anness Publishing Limited
- The Complete Pebble Mosaic Handbook Maggy Howarth Frances Lincoln
- Ravenna- Art & History Giuseppe Bovini Longo Publisher
- Ancient Mosaics Roger Ling British Museum Press
- Mosaics – Inspiration & 24 Original Projects Kaffe Fassett & Candace Bahouth Ebury Press
- Decorative Mosaics Elaine M. Goodwin Letts Contemporary Crafts
- The Mosaic Book Peggy Vance & Celia Goodrick-Clarke Conran Octopus
- Making Mosaics- Design, Techniques & Projects LeslieDierks Sterling/Lark
- Antonio Gaudi-Master Architect Juan Bassegoda Nonell Abbeville Press
- Stylish & simple Mosaic Emma Biggs & Tessa Hunkin Aurim
- The Los Angeles Watts Towers Goldstone & Goldstone Thames & Hudson
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