“Mosaic of Christ”. Mosaic 9th Century. From Hagia Sophia, Istanbul.

“Mosaic of Christ”. Mosaic 9th Century. From Hagia Sophia, Istanbul.

It can be easy to get lost in the beauty of ancient paintings. The complexity, the color, and the shapes can be fascinating. However, it's even more incredible to learn that some of these are not paintings at all.

Rather than creating images by adding pigment to a flat surface, some artists created patterns or shapes by arranging hundreds to thousands of tiny, colored tiles. We call this art form a mosaic, a decorated surface made up of individual pieces. It's a unique art form and one which can produce incredible results.

It is a beautiful art form, but where did it come from? From what we can tell, mosaics have been around for a very long time, perhaps as long as architecture itself. The oldest mosaics we've found date to the 3rd millennium BCE, in a temple in Mesopotamia. These ancient mosaics were made of stones, shells, and ivory, most of which were locally available products. It's worth noting that similar mosaics have been found in the Americas dating at least 250 CE (and possibly before) in the Maya civilization, where the art form was developed independently.

Mosaic is the art of creating images with an assemblage of small pieces of colored glass, stone, or other materials. The earliest known examples of mosaics made of different materials were found at a temple building in Ubaid, Mesopotamia, and are dated to the second half of 3nd millennium BCE. They consist of pieces of colored stones, shells and ivory.

The most popular subject for mosaics was mythological scenes, such as the triumphs of Neptune, which are frequently found. The Orpheus myth (with animals) and the muses , sometimes with the god Apollo, are also often illustrated. Inspiration could also come from daily life, like hunting (often with dogs), agriculture, fishing, as well as arts and crafts. Amphitheater and circus games were also a much-appreciated subject for mosaics. The four seasons and the sea are also the subject of numerous mosaics. The seasons were illustrated like people, with a characteristically object to identify them.

Roman Mosaics

Mosaic art continued to flourish in Roman times. There are many sites in Europe today that still have examples of mosaic floors from Roman times. This is a testament to the durability of the material and the art. Romans also used decorative mosaics for walls, fountains and more. Smaller tesserae, (Small stones and glass), more colors and more shades were also introduced during this period. The Romans continued with the same general design and subject matter of the Greeks. They did some basic figural work but it wasn’t until the rise of Christianity that figural wall mosaics really became popular.

With the rise of Christianity there was an explosion in mosaic art. Christians adapted the wall and ceiling mosaic forms for use in churches.

“The Good Shepherd”, 5th Century. Mosaic in the Mausoleum of Gala Placida, Ravenna, Italy.

“The Good Shepherd”, 5th Century. Mosaic in the Mausoleum of Gala Placida, Ravenna, Italy.

Many of their images were representative style and mostly of a religious theme. They would often use expensive materials, such as gold and gems, to inspire their worshippers. Many of these mosaics are still in existence and viewable by the public in European churches. In the 1700”s micro mosaics became popular. These were small pictures using very small pieces of tesserae. They usually depicted scenes in Europe, were very detailed and contained several thousand tesserae per square inch.

The most famous mosaics of the Roman world were created in Africa and in Syria, the two richest provinces of the Roman Empire. Many Roman mosaics are found in Tunisian museums, most of which date from the second to the seventh century CE.

“Complex Ceiling Mosaic”. Ca. 1773. Tomb of Hafez. Shiraz, Iran

“Complex Ceiling Mosaic”. Ca. 1773. Tomb of Hafez. Shiraz, Iran

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 12th–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 Basilica of Santi Maria e Donato in Murano with a restored apse (Arch or Vault, semi-dome) 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.

Spanish Mosaics

Antoni Gaudi (1852-1926) be most famous for La Sagrada Familia , (Large unfinished Roman Catholic church in Barcelona), designed by Catalan architect but he’s also responsible for the mosaic work in Parc Güell, (A public park system composed of gardens and architectonic elements located on Carmel Hill), in Barcelona, Spain a short bus ride from the church and up a steep hill. The park, designed by Gaudi and built between 1900 and 1914, contains long, winding rows of tile-covered benches surrounding a large dirt courtyard. A mosaic dragon greets you at the bottom of the steps when you arrive. Gaudi, a man of faith, a great observer of nature, a brilliant architect, has become a universal figure of modern architecture: his contribution to this discipline entailed

“The Salamander in the Park Guell” in Barcelona, Spain. Ca. 1904 By Antoni Gaudi.

“The Salamander in the Park Guell” in Barcelona, Spain. Ca. 1904 By Antoni Gaudi.

a break of established patterns, both in mosaics, form and in systems constructive and structural of its buildings, the result of a unique, unprecedented methodology.

The 19th Century Mosaics in the United States

Modern mosaic of note is the world's largest mosaic installation located at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis, located in St. Louis, Missouri. A modern example of mosaic is the Museum of Natural History station of the New York City Subway (there are many such works of art scattered throughout the New York City subway system. Another example of mosaics in ordinary surroundings is the use of locally themed mosaics in some restrooms in the rest areas along some Texas interstate highways.

Modern Mosaics

“A Gypsy Girl”. 2nd century mosaic. Museum in Turkey.

“A Gypsy Girl”. 2nd century mosaic. Museum in Turkey.

Mosaic is in a healthy state in the early 21st century. The field is rich with new ideas and approaches, and organizations such as The Society of American Mosaic Artists exist to promote mosaic. The worldwide web gives access to a great many artists working in this medium. Mosaics have developed into a popular craft and art, and are not limited to professionals. Today's artisans and crafters work with stone, ceramics, shells, art glass, mirror, beads, and even odd items like doll parts, pearls, or photographs. While ancient mosaics tended to be architectural, modern mosaics are found covering everything from park benches and flower pots to guitars and bicycles. Items can be as small as an earring or as large as a house. Today mosaics are still a popular art form. They are used in kitchen glass tile mosaic backsplashes, craft projects, garden art, as fine art, sculpture, park benches and also in public art. With mosaics you can create beautiful art work that is durable and low maintenance.

Mosaic Art Gallery

Throughout history, mosaic art is one of the highest manifestations of aesthetics, spirituality, and luxury. With over 3000 years of history, “Mosaic Art Gallery” gives the innovative use; not only as an element of interior but adapted to modern stylistic and communicative needs.

Mosaic Art Gallery increases awareness and appreciation for the ancient art form, and create an opportunity to create mosaics within a contemporary context.

The art of mosaics is as modern as it is historical. Mosaics can be artistic, functional and beautiful. Mosaics can and should regularly be considered in interior design applications to add practical characteristics in homes and offices when a statement needs to be made.

Mosaic Art Gallery’s workshop depends on long traditions, sophisticated skills, and we create artistic mosaic mirrors to accents interiors.