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Irano-Roman floor mosaic detail from the palace of Shapur I at Bishapur.
cone mosaic courtyard from Uruk in Mesopotamia 3000 B.C.
Fur mosaic with portrait of Emperor Franz Joseph

Mosaic is the art of creating images with an assemblage of small pieces of colored glass, stone, or other materials. It may be a technique of decorative art, an aspect of interior decoration, or of cultural and spiritual significance as in a cathedral. Small pieces, normally roughly cubic, of stone or glass of different colors, known as tesserae, (diminutive tessellae), are used to create a pattern or picture.


History of the Mosaic

Roman mosaic of Ulysses, from Carthage. Now in the Bardo Museum, Tunisia
Cave canem mosaics ('Beware of the dog') were a popular motif for the thresholds of Roman villas
A small part of The Great Pavement, a Roman mosaic laid in AD 325 at Woodchester, Gloucestershire, England.

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 2nd millennium BC. They consist of pieces of colored stones, shells and ivory. Excavations at Susa and Choqa Zanbil show evidence of the first glazed tiles, dating from around 1500 BC.[1] However, mosaic patterns were not used until the times of Sassanid Empire and Roman influence.

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 places such as Carthage, and can still be seen in the extensive collection in Bardo Museum in Tunis, Tunisia. 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 situ in the world, and are protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The large villa rustica, which was probably owned by Emperor Maximian, was built largely in the early 4th century. The mosaics were covered and protected for 700 years by a landslide that occurred in the 12th century. 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 women exercising in modern-looking bikinis. The peristyle, the imperial apartments 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 there depicted Orpheus, Alexander the Great's Hunt and the Four Seasons.

Mosaics of girls in bikinis at the Villa Romana

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."

Christian mosaic

Early Christian art

With the building of Christian basilicas in the late 4th century, wall and ceiling mosaics were adopted for Christian uses. The earliest examples of Christian basilicas have not survived, but the mosaics of Santa Constanza and Santa Pudenziana, both from the 4th century, still exist. The winemaking putti in the ambulatory of Santa Constanza still follow the classical tradition in that they represent the feast of Bacchus, which symbolizes transformation or change, and are thus appropriate for a mausoleum, the original function of this building. In another great Constantinian basilica, the Church of the Nativity in Betlehem the original mosaic floor with typical Roman geometric motifs is partially preserved. 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 survive 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 center 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 and 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. The surviving apse mosaic of the Basilica of Sant'Ambrogio, which shows Christ enthroned between Saint Gervasius and Saint Protasius and angels before a golden background date back to the 5th and to the 8th century, although it was restored many times later. The baptistery of the basilica, which was demolished in the 15th century, had a vault covered with gold-leaf tesserae, large quantities of which were found when the site was excavated. In the small shrine of San Vittore in ciel d'oro, now a chapel of Sant'Ambrogio, every surface is covered with mosaics from the second half of the 5th century. Saint Victor is depicted in the center of the golden dome, while figures of saints are shown on the walls before a blue background. The low spandrels give space for the symbols of the four.

Albingaunum was the main Roman port of Liguria. The octagonal baptistery 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 has 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 such as the ichthys. The sixth-century early Christian basilicas of Sant' Eufemia it:Basilica di Sant'Eufemia (Grado) 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 center 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.


The mosaic pavement of the Vrina Plain basilica of Butrint, Albania appear to pre-date that of the Baptistery by almost a generation, dating to the last quarter of the 5th or the first years of the 6th century AD. The mosaic displays a variety of motifs including sea-creatures, birds, terrestrial beasts, fruits, flowers, trees and abstracts – designed to depict a terrestrial paradise of God’s creation. Superimposed on this scheme are two large tablets, tabulae ansatae, carrying inscriptions. A variety of fish, a crab, a lobster, shrimps, mushrooms, flowers, a stag and two cruciform designs surround the smaller of the two inscriptions, which reads: In fulfilment of the vow (prayer) of those whose names God knows. This anonymous dedicatory inscription is a public demonstration of the benefactors’ humility and an acknowledgement of God’s omniscience.

The abundant variety of natural life depicted in the Butrint mosaics celebrates the richness of God’s creation; some elements also have specific connotations. The kantharos vase and vine refer to the eucharist, the symbol of the sacrifice of Christ leading to salvation. Peacocks are symbols of paradise and resurrection; shown eating or drinking from the vase they indicate the route to eternal life. Deer or stags were commonly used as images of the faithful aspiring to Christ: ‘like a hart desires the water brook, so my souls longs for thee, O God.’ Water-birds and fish and other sea-creatures can indicate baptism as well as the members of the Church who are christened.

Butrint is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Late Antique and Early Medieval Rome

Christian mosaic art also flourished in Rome, gradually declining as conditions became more difficult in the Early Middle Ages. 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 belong to this era. 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.

A floor mosaic excavated at the Great Palace of Constantinople, dated to the reign of Justinian I

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. Pope Paschal I (817-824) embellished the church of Santo Stefano del Cacco with an apsidal mosaic which depicted the pope with a model of the church (destroyed in 1607).

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.

Byzantine mosaics

Mosaics 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 great buildings of Emperor Justinian like the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, the Nea Church in Jerusalem and the rebuilt Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem were certainly embellished with mosaics but none of these survived.

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 Panagia Acheiropoietos Church in Thessaloniki (5-6th centuries).

In the 6th century, Ravenna, the capital of Byzantine Italy, became the center 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 from the contemporary Ravennate mosaics.

A pre-Iconoclastic depiction of St. Demetrios at the Aghios Demetrios Basilica.

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 Ekklesia. 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.

Detail of mosaic from Nea Moni Monastery

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.

Another great undertaking by Constantine Monomachos was the restoration of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem between 1042 and 1048. Nothing survived of the mosaics which covered the walls and the dome of the edifice but the Russian abbot Daniel, who visited Jerusalem in 1106-1107 left a description: "Lively mosaics of the holy prophets are under the ceiling, over the tribune. The altar is surmounted by a mosaic image of Christ. In the main altar one can see the mosaic of the Exhaltation of Adam. In the apse the Ascension of Christ. The Annunciation occupies the two pillars next to the altar."[2]

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 southwest vestibule to the narthex another mosaic shows the Theotokos with Justinian and Constantine. Justinian I is offering the model of the church to Mary while Constantine is holding a 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 as 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.

Mosaic of Christ Pantocrator from Hagia Sophia from the Deesis mosaic.

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 craftsmanship. 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 the 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 Palaeologan renaissance in art 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 Theodore 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.

Rome in the High Middle Ages

Apse mosaic in the Santa Maria Maggiore

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, the Coronation of the Virgin, 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 center 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.

Medieval Italy

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

Carolingian mosaic in Germigny-des-Prés

Beyond the Alps 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 Carolingian mosaics is the apse semi-dome decoration of the oratory of Germigny-des-Prés built in 805-806 by Theodulf, bishop of Orléans, a leading figure of the Carolingian renaissance. This unique work of art, rediscovered only in the 19th century, had no followers.

Only scant remains prove that mosaics were still used in the Early Middle Ages. The Abbey of Saint-Martial in Limoges, originally an important place of pilgrimage, was totally demolished during the French Revolution except its crypt which was rediscovered in the 1960s. A mosaic panel was unearthed which was dated to the 9th century. It uses somewhat incongruously cubes of gilded glass and deep green marble, probably taken from antique pavements. This could also be the case with the early 9th century mosaic found under the cathedral of Saint-Quentin, where antique motifs are copied but using only simple colours. The mosaics in the Cathedral of Saint-Jean at Lyon have been dated to the 11th century because they employ the same non-antique simple colours. More fragments were found on the site of Saint-Croix at Poitiers which might be from the 6th or 9th century.

Close up of the bottom left corner of the picture above. Click the picture to see the individual tesserae

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.

A “painting” made from tesserae in St Peter's Basilica, Vatican State, Italy

The Crusaders in the Holy Land also adopted mosaic decoration under local Byzantine influence. During their 12th-century reconstruction of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem they complemented the existing Byzantine mosaics with new ones. Almost nothing of them survived except the "Ascension of Christ" in the Latin Chapel (now confusingly surrounded by many 20th-century mosaics). More substantial fragments were preserved from the 12th-century mosaic decoration of the Church of the Nativity in Betlehem. The mosaics in the nave are arranged in five horizontal bands with the figures of the ancestors of Christ, Councils of the Church and angels. In the apses the Annunciation, the Nativity, Adoration of the Magi and Dormition of the Blessed Virgin can be seen. The program of redecoration of the church was completed in 1169 as a unique collaboration of the Byzantine emperor, the king of Jerusalem and the Latin Church.[3]

In 2003, the 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 Baroque

Although mosaics went out of fashion and were substituted by frescoes, some of the great Renaissance artists also worked with the old technique. Raffael'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.

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).[4] Works of the Fabbrica were often used as papal gifts.

The Christian East

The eastern provinces of the Eastern Roman and later the Byzantine Empires inherited a strong artistic tradition from the Late Antiquity. Similarly to Italy and Constantinople churches and important secular buildings in Syria and Egypt were decorated with elaborate mosaic panels between the 5th and 8th centuries. The great majority of these works of art were later destroyed but archeological excavations unearthed many surviving examples.

The single most important piece of Byzantine Christian mosaic art in the East is the Madaba Map, made between 542 and 570 as the floor of the church of Saint George at Madaba, Jordan. It was rediscovered in 1894. The Madaba Map is the oldest surviving cartographic depiction of the Holy Land. It depicts an area from Lebanon in the north to the Nile Delta in the south, and from the Mediterranean Sea in the west to the Eastern Desert. The largest and most detailed element of the topographic depiction is Jerusalem, at the center of the map. The map is enriched with many naturalistic features, like animals, fishing boats, bridges and palm trees.

One of the earliest examples of Byzantine mosaic art in the region can be found on Mount Nebo, an important place of pilgrimage in the Byzantine era where Moses died. Among the many 6th-century mosaics in the church complex (discovered after 1933) the most interesting one is located in the baptistery. The intact floor mosaic covers an area of 9 x 3 m and was laid down in 530. It depicts hunting and pastoral scenes with rich Middle Eastern flora and fauna.

Mosaic floor from the church on Mount Nebo (baptistery, 530)

The Church of Sts. Lot and Procopius was founded in 567 in Nebo village under Mount Nebo (now Khirbet Mukhayyat). Its floor mosaic depicts everyday activities like grape harvest. Another two spectacular mosaics were discovered in the ruined Church of Preacher John nearby. One of the mosaics was placed above the other one which was completely covered and unknown until the modern restoration. The figures on the older mosaic have thus escaped the iconoclasts.[5]

The town of Madaba remained an important center of mosaic making during the 5-8th centuries. In the Church of the Apostles the middle of the main panel Thalassa, goddess of the sea, can be seen surrounded by fishes and other sea creatures. Native Middle Eastern birds, mammals, plants and fruits were also added.[6]

The Transfiguration of Jesus in the Saint Catherine's Monastery

Important Justinian era mosaics decorated the Saint Catherine's Monastery on Mount Sinai. Generally wall mosaics have not survived in the region because of the destruction of buildings but the St. Catherine's Monastery is exceptional. 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.

Jerusalem with its many holy places probably had the highest concentration of mosaic-covered churches but very few of them survived the subsequent waves of destructions. The present remains do not do justice to the original richness of the city. The most important is the so-called "Armenian Mosaic" which was discovered in 1894 near the Damascus Gate. It depicts a vine with many branches and grape clusters, which springs from a vase. Populating the vine's branches are peacocks, ducks, storks, pigeons, an eagle, a partridge, and a parrot in a cage. The inscription reads: "For the memory and salvation of all those Armenians whose name the Lord knows." The symbolism of the mosaic indicates that the room was used to remember the dead as a mortuary chapel.

An exceptionally well preserved, carpet-like mosaic floor was uncovered in 1949 in Bethany, the early Byzantine church of the Lazarium which was built between 333 and 390. Because of its purely geometrical pattern, the church floor is to be grouped with other mosaics of the time in Palestine and neighboring areas, especially the Constantinian mosaics in the central nave at Bethlehem.[7] A second church was built above the older one during the 6th century with another more simple geometric mosaic floor.

Detail from the mosaic floor of the Byzantine church of in Masada. The monastic community lived here in the 5-7th centuries.

The monastic communities of the Judean Desert also decorated their monasteries with mosaic floors. The Monastery of Martyrius was founded in the end of the 5th century and it was re-discovered in 1982-85. The most important work of art here is the intact geometric mosaic floor of the refectory although the severely damaged church floor was similarly rich.[8] The mosaics in the church of the nearby Monastery of Euthymius are of later date (discovered in 1930). They were laid down in the Umayyad era, after a devastating earthquake in 659. Two six pointed stars and a red chalice are the most important surviving features.

Detail from the mosaic floor of the Petra Church

Mosaic art also flourished in Christian Petra where three Byzantine churches were discovered. The most important one was uncovered in 1990. It is known that the walls were also covered with golden glass mosaics but only the floor panels survived as usual. The mosaic of the seasons in the southern aisle is from this first building period from the middle of the 5th century. In the first half of the 6th century the mosaics of the northern aisle and the eastern end of the southern aisle were installed. They depict native as well as exotic or mythological animals, and personifications of the Seasons, Ocean, Earth and Wisdom.[9]

The Arab conquest of the Middle East in the 7th century did not break off the art of mosaic making. Arabs learned and accepted the craft as their own and carried on the classical tradition. During the Umayyad era Christianity retained its importance, churches were built and repaired and some of the most important mosaics of the Christian East were made during the 8th century when the region was under Islamic rule.

The mosaics of the Church of St Stephen in ancient Kastron Mefaa (now Umm ar-Rasas) were made in 785 (discovered after 1986). The perfectly preserved mosaic floor is the largest one in Jordan. On the central panel hunting and fishing scenes are depicted while another panel illustrates the most important cities of the region. The frame of the mosaic is especially decorative. Six mosaic masters signed the work: Staurachios from Esbus, Euremios, Elias, Constantinus, Germanus and Abdela. It overlays another, damaged, mosaic floor of the earlier (587) "Church of Bishop Sergius." Another four churches were excavated nearby with traces of mosaic decoration.

The last great mosaics in Madaba were made in 767 in the Church of the Virgin Mary (discovered in 1887). It is a masterpiece of the geometric style with a Greek inscription in the central medallion.

With the fall of the Umayyad dynasty in 750 the Middle East went through deep cultural changes. No great mosaics were made after the end of the 8th century and the majority of churches gradually fell into disrepair and were eventually destroyed. The tradition of mosaic making died out among the Christians and also in the Islamic community.

Orthodox countries

Early 12th-century Kievan mosaic depicting St. Demetrius.

The craft has also been popular in early medieval 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.

Apse mosaic "Glory of the Theotokos" in Gelati, Georgia. c. 1125-1130.

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). The use of mosaic in Gelati was a demonstration of the imperial ambition of the Bagrationids. The mosaic covered church could competed in magnificence with the churches of Constantinople. Gelati is the only monumental mosaic which survived in Georgia but fragments prove that the early churches of Pitsunda és Tsromi were also decorated with mosaic as well as other, lesser known sites. The destroyed 6th century mosaic floors in the Pitsunda Cathedral have been inspired by Roman prototypes. In Tsromi the tesserae are still visible on the walls of the 7th century church but only faint lines hint about the original scheme. Its central figure was Christ standing and displaying a scroll with Georgian text.

Jewish mosaics

Zodiac wheel on the floor of the synagogue in Sepphoris

Under Roman and Byzantine influence Jews also decorated their synagogues with classical floor mosaics. Many interesting examples were discovered in Galilee and the Judean Desert.

The remains of a 6th-century synagogue have been uncovered in Sepphoris, which was an important centre of Jewish culture between the 3-7th centuries and a multicultural town inhabited by Jews, Christians and pagans. The mosaic reflects an interesting fusion of Jewish and pagan beliefs. In the center of the floor the zodiac wheel was depicted. Helios sits in the middle, in his sun chariot, and each zodiac is matched with a Jewish month. Along the sides of the mosaic are strips depicting Biblical scenes, such as the binding of Isaac, as well as traditional rituals, including a burnt sacrifice and the offering of fruits and grains.

Another zodiac mosaic decorated the floor of the Beit Alfa synagogue which was built during the reign of Justin I (518-27). It is regarded one of the most important mosaics discovered in Israel. Each of its three panels depicts a scene - the Holy Ark, the zodiac, and the story of the sacrifice of Isaac. In the center of the zodiac is Helios, the sun god, in his chariot. The four women in the corners of the mosaic represent the four seasons.

A third superbly preserved zodiac mosaic was discovered in the Severus synagogue in the ancient resort town of Hammat Tiberias. In the center of the 4th century mosaic the Sun god, Helios sits in his chariot holding the celestial sphere and a whip. Nine of the 12 signs of the zodiac survived intact. Another panel shows the Ark of Covenant and Jewish cultic objects used in the Temple at Jerusalem.

In 1936 a synagogue was excavated in Jericho which was named Shalom Al Israel synagogue after an inscription on its mosaic floor ("Peace on Israel"). It appears to have been in use from the 5th to 8th centuries and contained a big mosaic on the floor with drawings of the Ark of the Covenant, the Menorah, a Shofar and a Lulav. Nearby in Naaran, there is another synagogue (discovered in 1918) from the 6th century that also has a mosaic floor. Most of its figurative features were defaced by ultra-religious Jews, reflecting the controversiality of figurative art in synagogue decoration.

The synagogue in Eshtemoa (As-Samu) was built around the 4th century. The mosaic floor is decorated with only floral and geometric patterns. The synagogue in Khirbet Susiya (excavated in 1971-72, founded in the end of the 4th century) has three mosaic panels, the eastern one depicting a Torah shrine, two menorahs, a lulav and an etrog with columns, deer and rams. The central panel is geometric while the western one is seriously damaged but it has been suggested that it depicted Daniel in the lion’s den. The Roman synagogue in Ein Gedi was remodelled in the Byzantine era and a more elaborate mosaic floor was laid down above the older white panels. The usual geometric design was enriched with birds in the center. It includes the names of the signs of the zodiac and important figures from the Jewish past but not their images suggesting that it served a rather conservative community.

The ban on figurative depiction was not taken so seriously by the Jews living in Byzantine Gaza. In 1966 remains of a synagogue were found in the ancient harbour area. Its mosaic floor depicts King David as Orpheus, identified by his name in Hebrew letters. Near him were lion cubs, a giraffe and a snake listening to him playing a lyre. A further portion of the floor was divided by medallions formed by vine leaves, each of which contains an animal: a lioness suckling her cub, a giraffe, peacocks, panthers, bears, a zebra and so on. The floor was paved in 508/509. Its is very similar to that of the synagogue at Maon (Menois) and the Christian church at Shellal, suggesting that the same artist most probably worked at all three places.

The House of Leontius in Bet She'an (excavated in 1964-72) is a rare example of a synagogue which was part of an inn. It was built in the Byzantine period. The colorful mosaic floor of the synagogue room had an outer stripe decorated with flowers and birds, around medallions with animals, created by vine trellises emerging from an amphora. The central medallion enclosed a menorah (candelabrum) beneath the word shalom (peace).

A 5th-century building in Huldah may be a Samaritan synagogue. Its mosaic floor contains typical Jewish symbols (menorah, lulav, etrog) but the inscriptions are Greek. Another Samaritan synagogue with a mosaic floor was located in Bet She'an (excavated in 1960). The floor had only decorative motifs and an aedicule (shrine) with cultic symbols. The ban on human or animal images was more strictly observed by the Samaritans than their Jewish neighbours in the same town (see above). The mosaic was laid by the same masters who made the floor of the Beit Alfa synagogue. One of the inscriptions was written in Samaritan script.

In 2003, a synagogue dating from the fifth or sixth century A.D. was uncovered in the coastal Ionian town of Saranda, Albania. It was the first time remains of an early synagogue have been found in that area, and the history of its excavation is also noteworthy. Albanian archaeologists first discovered remains 20 years earlier and thought them to be from a house of worship, but prohibition of religion under the tight Communist rule at the time prevented them from exploring it further. Mosaic finds at the site suggested a Jewish past, leading to a joint project began between Albanian archaeologists from the Institute of Archaeology in Albania and the Hebrew University Institute of Archaeology. The team found exceptional mosaics depicting items associated with Jewish holidays, including a menorah, ram's horn, and citron tree. Mosaics in the basilica of the synagogue show the facade of what resembles a Torah, animals, trees, and other biblical symbols. The structure measures 20 by 24 m. and was probably last used in the sixth century A.D. as a church.

Middle Eastern and Islamic art

Pre-Islamic Arabia

In South Arabia two mosaic works were excavated in a Qatabanian from the late 3rd century AD, those two plates formed geometric and grapevines formation reflecting the traditions of that culture. In the Ghassanid era religious mosaic art flourished in their territory, so far five churches with mosaic were recorded from that era, two built by Ghassanid rulers and the other three by the Christian Arab community who wrote their names and dedications.

Pre-islamic Persia

Floor pavement representing female dancers, Shapur palace, Bishapur.

Tilework had been known there for about two thousand years when cultural exchange between Sassanid Empire and Romans influenced Persian artists to create mosaic patterns. Shapur I decorated his palace with tile compositions depicting dancers, musicians, courtesans, etc. This was the only significant example of figurative Persian mosaic, which became phohibited after Arab conquest and arrival of Islam.

Islamic art


Islamic architecture used mosaic technique to decorate religious buildings and palaces since the. During the reign of the Umayyad Dynasty mosaic making remained a flourishing art form in Islamic culture and it is continued in the art of (Azulejo) in various parts of the Arab world.

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."[10]

Islamic mosaics inside the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem (c. 690)
The Umayyad mosaics of Hisham's Palace closely followed classical traditions

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 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.[11]

Non-religious Umayyad mosaic works were mainly floor panels which decorated the palaces of the caliphs and other high-ranking officials. They were closely modeled 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. The luxurious desert residence of Al-Walid II in Qasr al-Hallabat (in present-day Jordan) was also decorated with floor mosaics that show a high level of technical skill. The best preserved panel at Hallabat is divided by a Tree of Life flanked by "good" animals on one side and "bad" animals on the other. Among the Hallabat representations are vine scrolls, grapes, pomegranates, oryx, wolves, hares, a leopard, pairs of partridges, fish, bulls, ostriches, rabbits, rams, goats, lions and a snake. 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 a 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.[12]

Golden mosaics in the dome of the Great Mosque in Corduba (965-970)

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 colorful 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.[13]

Mosaics similar to Roman ones generally went out of fashion in the Islamic world after the 8th century. Similar effect was reached by the use of geometric tilework, where the dominant types are zillij in North Africa and Qashani further east.

Ceiling brickwork and tiled inscriptions in Jame mosque of Yazd.
Phoenix on the portal of Nadir Divan-Beghi Madrasah, Bukhara, Uzbekistan
A sculptural modern mosaic.

Early Islamic mosaics in Persia consist mainly of geometric decorations in mosques and mausoleums, made of glazed brick. Typical turquoise tile becomes popular in 10-11th century and is used mostly for Kufic inscriptions on mosque walls. Seyed Mosque in Isfahan (1122 AD), Dome of Maraqeh (1147 AD) and the Jame Mosque of Gonabad (1212 AD) are finest examples.[1] The dome of Jame' Atiq Mosque of Qazvin is also dated to this period.

Golden age of Persian mosaic begins with Timurid Empire. Single color tiles were cut into small pieces and assembled by pouring liquid plaster between them. After hardening these panels were assembled on the walls of buildings. But the mosaic was not limited to flat areas. Jame Mosque in Yazd (1324-1365 AD) and Goharshad Mosque (1418 AD) are prominent examples of brick and tile mosaics of interiors and external surfaces of domes.[1] Islamic buildings in Bukhara (16-17th century) also exhibit very sophisticated floral ornaments.

Mihrabs, being focus points of mosques, were usually the places where most sophisticated tilework was placed. XIV century mihrab at Madrasa Imami in Isfahan is an outstanding example of aesthetic union between the islamic calligrapher's art and abstract ornament. The pointed arch, framing the mihrab's niche, bears an inscription in Kufic script used in ninth-century Qur'an.[14]

One of the most known architectural masterpieces of Iran is the Shah Mosque in Isfahan, dated on XVII century. It's dome is a prime example of tile mosaic and it's winter praying hall houses one of the finest ensembles of cuerda seca tiles in the world. Wide variety of tiles had to be manufactured in order to cover complex forms of the hall with consistent mosaic patterns. The result was a technological triumph as well as a dazzling display of abstract ornament.[14]

Glass tiles modern mosaic (detail).

During Safavid period mosaic ornaments vere often replaced by haft rang (seven colors) technique. Pictures were painted on plain rectangle tiles, glazed and fired afterwards. Besides the economical reasons, seven colors method gave more freedom to artists and was less time-consuming. It was popular until Qajar period when the palette of colors was extended by yellow and orange.[1]

Modern mosaics

Noted Nineteenth Century mosaics include those by Edward Burne-Jones at St Pauls within the Walls in Rome.[15] A 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. Today, among of the leading figures of the mosaic world are Emma Biggs (UK), Marcelo de Melo (Brazil), Sonia King (USA) and Saimir Strati (Albania).

Mosaic terminology

A mosaic showing opus palladianum (white background on upper right and blue shards in circle, lower right). Opus vermiculatum is demonstrated by the single narrow lines of tiles around the edge of each circle. The red tiles in the small full circle demonstrate opus tessellatum by forming horizontal but not vertical rows.

Mosaic is an art form which uses small pieces of materials placed together to create a unified whole. The materials commonly used are marble or other stone, glass, pottery, mirror or foil-backed glass, or shells.

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.

Common techniques include:[16]

  • Opus regulatum: A grid; all tesserae align both vertically and horizontally.
  • Opus tessellatum: Tesserae form vertical or horizontal rows, but not both.
  • Opus vermiculatum: One or more lines of tesserae follow the edge of a special shape (letters or a major central graphic).
  • Opus musivum: Vermiculatum extends throughout the entire background.
  • Opus palladianum: Instead of forming rows, tesserae are irregularly shaped. Also known as "crazy paving".
  • Opus sectile: A major shape (e.g. heart, letter, cat) is formed by a single tessera, as later in pietra dura.
  • Opus classicum: When vermiculatum is combined with tessellatum or regulatum.
  • Opus circumactum: Tesserae are laid in overlapping semicircles or fan shapes.
  • Micromosaic: using very small tesserae, in Byzantine icons and Italian panels for jewellery from the Renaissance on.

Three techniques

There are three main methods: the direct method, the indirect method and the double indirect method.

Direct method

A 'Direct Method' mosaic courtyard made from irregular pebbles and stone strips, Li Jiang, Yunnan, PRC (China)

The 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. This was used for the historic European wall and ceiling mosaics, following underdrawings of the main outlines on the wall below, which are often revealed again when the mosaic falls away.

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 today considered 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 method

Assembling a mosaic at the Sagrada Família, Barcelona

The 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, sticky plastic or soft lime or putty) 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 carefully removed, and the piece is installed as in the indirect method described above. In comparison to the indirect method, this is a complex system to use and requires great skill on the part of the operator, to avoid damaging the work. Its greatest advantage lies in the possibility of the operator directly controlling the final result of the work, which is important e.g. when the human figure is involved.


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.

Digital imaging

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.

Recent developments in digital image processing have lead to the ability to design physical tile mosaics using computer aided design (CAD) software. The software typically takes as inputs a source bitmap and a palette of colored tiles. The software makes a best-fit match of the tiles to the source image.

Robotic manufacturing

With high cost of labor in developed countries, production automation has become increasingly popular. Rather than being assembled by hand, mosaics designed using computer aided design (CAD) software can be assembled by robot. Production can be greater than 10 times faster with higher accuracy. But these "computer" mosaics have a different look than hand-made "artisanal" mosaics. With robotic production, colored tiles are loaded into buffers, and then the robot picks and places tiles individually according to a command file from the design software.


  1. ^ a b c d Iran: Visual Arts: history of Iranian Tile, Iran Chamber Society
  2. ^ The Holy Sepulchre - The great destruction of 1009
  3. ^
  4. ^ DiFederico, F. R. (1983), The mosaics of Saint Peter's Decorating the New Basilica, University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, pp. 3–26.
  5. ^ al Mukhayat
  6. ^ The mosaics of Jordan
  7. ^ Bethany in Byzantine times I
  8. ^ The Monastery of Martyrius
  9. ^ Petra Church - Mosaic Floors - Petra, Jordan « Mosaic Art Source
  10. ^ Jerusalem, Israel. Retrieved on April 12, 2008.
  11. ^ Zahiriyya Madrasa and Mausoleum of Sultan al-Zahir Baybars
  12. ^ Saudi Aramco World : Mosaic Country
  13. ^ Marianne Barrucand - Achim Bednorz: Moorish Architecture in Andalusia, Taschen, 2002, p. 84
  14. ^ a b Fred S. Kleiner. Gardner's Art Through The Ages, A Global History. p. 357. ISBN 9780495410591. 
  15. ^ Photos of Burne-Jones mosaics in Rome at The Victorian Web
  16. ^


  • Lowden, John. Early Christian and Byzantine art. Phaidon. (for the section of Byzantium and Sicily)
  • Efthalia Rentetzi, stylistic relationships between the mosaic flooring of s. Maria delle Grazie and s. Eufemia in Grado.An unknown picture of a fish, in [1], Art on web, punti di vista sull'arte.
  • Efthalia Rentetzi, Un frammento inedito di S. Eufemia a Grado. Il pavimento musivo del Salutatorium", in: [2], Arte Cristiana, n. 850 (Gennaio - Febbraio 2009), V.XCVII, pp. 51–52.
  • Efthalia Rentetzi, Le influenze mediobizantine nei mosaici dell’arcone della Passione della Basilica marciana, in “Arte|Documento”, vol. XIV, (2000), pp. 50–53.

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
  • Mosaics in Roman Britain: Stories in Stone - Patricia Witts Tempus
  • 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

Further reading

External links

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

MOSAIC (corresponding to Lat. opus musivum, from Gr. µova-€ ov, an artificial grotto often decorated with mosaics; the word is only found in the sense of mosaic in late Greek, which generally uses Ikn oXayfµa), the fitting together of many, generally small, pieces of marble, opaque glass, coloured clays, or other substances, so as to form a pattern.

Table of contents

Ancient Mosaic

The earliest existing specimens of mosaic belong to one of the less important branches of the art - namely, the ornamentation on a small scale of jewellery, ivory thrones, and other furniture, or more rarely of some elaborate architectural ornament. Most of this sort of mosaic resembles in execution what are called cloisonné enamels. In the Louvre and in the British Museum are preserved some very beautiful ivory carvings in low relief, some from Nineveh and others from Egypt, in which figures of deities, ornaments formed of the lotus and papyrus plants and royal cartouches are enriched by small pieces of glass or lapis-lazuli and other gem-like stones, which are let into holes made in the ivory. Each minute piece is separated from the next by a thin wall or cloison of ivory, about as thick as cardboard, which thus forms a white outline and sets off the brilliance of the coloured stones.

Excavations at Tel-el-Yehudia in Lower Egypt have brought to light some mosaics on a larger scale, but treated in the same way. These are caps of columns, wall tiles, and other objects, either of white limestone or earthenware, in which designs, chiefly some forms of the papyrus, are formed by bits of glass or enamelled earthenware, let into a sinking in the tile or column. This form of mosaic was employed by the Greeks: the Erechtheum at Athens, built in the middle of the 5th century B.e., had the bases of some of its white marble columns ornamented with a plait-like design, in which pieces of coloured glass were inserted to emphasize. the main lines of the pattern.

Another, quite different, sort of mosaic was known to the Egyptians of the Ptolemaic and Roman periods. This is made entirely of glass and is extremely minute. The finest known specimen is in the British Museum: it is a small tablet about in. square, apparently the bezel of a ring, on which is represented the sacred hawk - every feather on the bird's wing being produced with a great number of colours and tints, each quite distinct, and so minute that a strong magnifying glass is required to distinguish its details, The way in which this mosaic was produced is extremely ingenious. Numbers of long sticks of various-coloured glass were arranged in such a way that their ends produced the figure of the hawk; other sticks of blue glass were placed all round so as to form the ground. The whole bundle of sticks of glass when looked at endwise now presented the figure of the hawk with a blue background, immensely larger than it afterwards became. The bundle was then heated till the sticks melted together, and the whole thick rod, softened by fire, was drawn out to a greatly diminished thickness. A slice of the rod was then cut off and its faces polished - the design, much reduced in size, of course being equally visible at both sides of the slice; and thus the microscopic minuteness of the mosaic was produced with astonishing delicacy and refinement; many slices, each showing the same mosaic, could be cut from the same rod.

Far more important was the use of mosaic on a large scale, either for pavements or for walls and vaulted ceilings. We are told by Pliny (H. N. xxxvi. 184) that the practice of decorating pavements " after the fashion of painting " was due to the Greeks, and there is no reason to doubt the truth of this statement, although no mosaic pavement discovered in Greece can be dated with certainty to a period preceding the Roman occupation. This is true even of the pavement in the temple of Zeus I at Olympia (fig. 1; Olympia, Baudenkmiiler, vol. ii. pl. cv.).

The simplest classification of mosaics is that of Gauckler (Daremberg and Saglio, Dictionnaire des antiquites, s.v. " Musivum Opus "), who distinguishes the following: a. Opus tessellatum, consisting of cubes of marble or stone, regularly disposed in simple patterns. This was largely used for pavements, especially in Roman times.

b. Opus vermiculatum, consisting of cubes (not always regularly shaped) generally of coloured marble' or more precious FIG. I. - Greek Pavement from the Temple of Zeus at Olympia.

materials, when these were obtainable, disposed so as to obtain a pictorial effect. The art of mosaic is mainly concerned with this branch of work.

c. Opus musivum, properly applied to the mosaic decoration of walls and vaulted ceilings (camerae), in which cubes of glass or enamel were used. The glass was rendered opaque by the addition of oxide of tin, and coloured with other metallic oxides; when melted it was cast into flat slabs, generally about 2 in. thick, and then broken into small cubes.

d. Opus sectile, a species of marqueterie in marble or other coloured materials used to produce pictures and patterns. Under the later empire a particular variety of this, called opus alexandrinum 2 mainly composed of porphyry, red and green,' was much in use.

Judging from the description given by Vitruvius (vii. I), and an examination of numerous specimens of Roman tessellated mosaics, the process of manufacture was the following. The earth was first carefully rammed down to a firm and even surface; on this was laid a thick bed of stones, dry rubbish, and lime, called " rudus," from 6 to 9 in. deep, and above this another layer, 4 to 6 in. thick, called " nucleus," of one part of lime to three of pounded brick, mixed with water; on this, while still soft, the pattern could be sketched out with a wooden or metal point, and the tesserae or small bits of marble stuck into it, with their smoothest side uppermost. Lime, pounded white marble, and water were then mixed to the consistency of cream, forming a very hard-setting cement, called marmoratum. This cement, while fluid, was poured over the marble surface, and well brushed into all the interstices between the tesserae. When the concrete and cement were both set, the surface of the pavement was rubbed down and polished.

The usual Roman pavement was made of pieces of marble, averaging from half to a quarter of an inch square, but rather 1 In the less prosperous provinces of the empire, such as Britain, these costly materials could not be obtained, and native sandstone, &c., was used.

The biographer of Severus Alexander (Hist. Aug., c. 2 5, 7) attributes the invention of opus alexandrinum to that emperor; but this is clearly a false derivation. This technique was doubtless invented at Alexandria.

This latter is often, but wrongly, called serpentine.

irregular in shape. A few other, but quite exceptional, kinds of mosaic pavements have been found, such as that at the Isola Farnese, 9 m. from Rome, made of tile-like slabs of green glass, and a fine " sectile " pavement on the Palatine Hill, made of various-shaped pieces of glass, in black, white, and deep yellow. In some cases - e.g. in the " House of the Faun " at Pompeii - glass tesserae in small quantities have been mixed with the marble ones, for the sake of greater brilliance of colour.

Few countries are richer than England in remains of Roman mosaics; the great pavements of York, Woodchester, Cirencester, and many other places are as elaborate in design and as skilfully executed as any that now exist even in Rome itself. In whatever country these mosaics are found, their style and method of treatment are always much the same; the materials only of which the tesserae are made vary according to the stone or marble supplied by each country. In England, for instance, limestone or chalk often takes the place of the white marble so common in Italian and North African mosaics; while, instead of red marble, a fine sort of burnt clay or red sandstone is generally used; other makeshifts had to be resorted to, and many of the Romano-British mosaics are made entirely without marble. It is perhaps partly owing to the great wealth of Northern Africa in marbles of many colours and of varying shades that the finest of all Roman mosaics have been found in Algeria and Tunis, especially those from Carthage, some of which have been brought to the British Museum. See Archaeologia, xxxviii. 202.

The range of colour in the marble tesserae is very great, and is made use of with wonderful taste and skill: there are three or four different shades of red, and an equal number of yellows and greens, the last colour in all its tints being almost peculiar to this part of Africa, and one of the most pleasant and harmonious in almost any combination. Deep black, browns and FIG. 2. - Part of a Persian's Head from the Battle of Issus; full size.

bluish-greys are also abundant. The mosaics from Carthage are no less excellent in design than in the richness and beauty of their materials. Large spaces are filled by grand sweeping curves of acanthus and other leaves, drawn with wonderful boldness and freedom of hand, and varied with great wealth of invention. Without the use of very small tesserae, much richness of effect is given by gradations of tints, suggesting light and .InntYf MTV1TRtiITiTVtTTY1TTMiT1111t1tiMt'rtv?,  ? C -.9.@i ° ..., i??? ?,?

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???°,??\???? ? ? tun ? p ??nl?uaaall???U? ? IIII' 11:1l: shade, without a painful attempt to represent actual relief. The colours of the marbles used here and elsewhere by the Romans are so quiet and harmonious that it would have been almost impossible to produce with them a harsh or glaring design, and when used with the skill and strong artistic feeling of the mosaic workers at Carthage the result is a real masterpiece cf decorative design.

The finest of the later examples in Rome is that which decorates the vault of the ambulatory of the circular church of S. Costanza, built by Constantine the Great, outside the walls of Rome. This very interesting mosaic might from its style and materials have been executed in the 1st century, and is equal in beauty to any work of the kind in Italy. It shows no trace whatever of the Byzantine influence which, in the next century, introduced into Italy a novel style of mosaic, in materials of the most glittering splendour. Survivals of this classical style of mosaic are found in North Africa and the East. At Kabr-Hiram, near Tyre, Renan discovered among the ruins of a small three-apsed Christian church of the 4th century A.D. a fine mosaic pavement, covering the nave and aisles, thoroughly classical in style. A very similar mosaic, of about the same date, was discovered at Nebi Yunas, near Sidon.

Medieval Mosaics

These may be divided into four principal classes: (r) those used to decorate walls and vaults, made of glass cubes; (2) those for pavements, made of marble, partly in large shaped pieces, and partly in small tesserae; (3) glass in small pieces, either rectangular or triangular, used to enrich marble pulpits, columns, and other architectural features; (4) wood mosaics.

i. In the Byzantine period the glass cube mosaic was exclu sively employed in mural decoration. At first natural colouring was used, and backgrounds, if not in local colour, were generally blue; but the use of gold, both for backgrounds and for the high lights on drapery, &c., gradually prevailed. Owing to the intense conservatism of Byzantine art, no regular stages of progression can be traced in this class of mosaic. Some of the 5th-century mosaics at Ravenna are, in every way, as fine as those of the 12th, and it was not till the end of the 13th century that any important change in style took place. The mosaics of the 9th century are inferior in drawing and general treatment to those both of the earlier and later time, while in Italy at least this art was almost entirely extinct during the 10th and rrth centuries. Extreme splendour of colour and jewel-like brilliance combined with the most stately grandeur of form are the main characteristics of this sort of decoration.

A " majesty," or colossal central figure of Christ with saints standing on each side, is the most frequent motive. In many cases, especially in the 5th and 6th centuries, Christ was represented as a lamb, to whom the twelve apostles, in the form of sheep, are paying adoration. Christ, the Good Shepherd, is sometimes depicted as a beardless youth, seated among a circle of sheep - the treatment of the motive being obviously taken from Pagan representations of Orpheus playing to the beasts. The tomb of Galla Placidia has a good example of this subject, with much of the old Roman grace in the drawing and composition. Frequently the Virgin Mary, or the patron saint of the church, occupies the central space in the apse, with ranges of other saints on each side.

The " Doom," or Last Judgment, is a favourite subject for domes and sanctuary arches; the Florence baptistery has one of the grandest mosaic pictures of this subject, executed in the 13th century. The earlier baptisteries usually have the scene of Christ's baptism - the river Jordan being sometimes personified in a very classical manner, as an old man with flowing beard, holding an urn from which a stream pours forth. S. Vitale at Ravenna has in the sanctuary a very interesting representation of Justinian and his empress Theodora (see fig. 3), attended by a numerous suite of courtiers a. nd ladies; these mosaics are certainly of the 6th century, and may be contemporary with Justinian, though the fact that he and Theodora are each represented with a circular nimbus appears to indicate that they were not then alive.

In mosaics of the best periods the treatment of the forms and draperies is broad and simple, a just amount of relief being expressed by delicate gradations of tints. In mosaics of the 9th century the drawing is very awkward, and the folds of the robes are rudely expressed in outline, with no suggestion of light and shade.

A further application of this work was to the decoration of broad bands over the columns of the nave, as at S. Maria Maggiore in Rome, 4th century, and in the two churches of S. Apollinare at Ravenna, 6th century. In some cases almost the whole interior of the church was encrusted in this magnificent way, as at Monreale Cathedral, the Capella Palatina of Palermo, and S. Mark's at Venice.

In these churches the mosaics cover soffits and angles entirely, and give the effect of a mass of solid gold and colour producing the utmost conceivable splendour of decoration.' In many cases vaulted ceilings were covered with these mosaics, as the tomb of Galla Placidia, A.D. 450, and the two baptisteries at Ravenna, 5th and 6th centuries. For exteriors, the large use of mosaic was usually confined to the west facade, as at S. Miniato, Florence; S. Maria Maggiore, Rome; and S. Mark's, FIG. 3. - Mosaic of Theodora and Attendants, from S. Vitale, Ravenna; over life size.

Venice. In almost all cases the figures are represented on a gold ground, and gold is freely used in the dresses and ornaments - rich jewels and embroidery being represented in gold, silver, sparkling reds, blues and other colours, so as to give the utmost splendour of effect to the figures and their drapery.

The revival of the art of painting in Italy and the introduction of fresco work in the r4th century gave the deathblow to the ' Unfortunately the world-wide fame of S. Mark's and the other great churches of Italy has subjected these extraordinary works to the fatal process of " restoration," and wherever any sign of decay in the cement backing (the tesserae themselves are quite indestructible) has given the least excuse the " restorers " have destroyed whole masses of ancient work, and supplied its place with worthless modern copies. The mosaics of the S. Mark's baptistery, and of the apses at S. Miniato, at Pisa, and many other places have in this way been wantonly renewed in recent times.

true art of wall-mosaics. Though at first the simple and archaic style of Cimabue and his pupils Jacopo da Turrita, Giotto, and Taddeo Gaddi was equally applicable to painting or mosaic, yet soon the development of art into greater realism and complexity required a method of expression unfettered by the necessities and canons of mosaic work. Pietro Cavallini, a Roman artist, was one of the last who worked according to the old traditions. His mosaic of the birth of the Virgin in S. Maria in Cosmedin, Rome, executed about the middle of the 14th century, is not without merit, though his superior knowledge of form has only caused his composition to be somewhat feeble and insipid compared with the works of the earlier artists. Even in the 15th century a few good mosaics were produced at Venice and elsewhere. The mosaics from Titian's pictures on the west end of S. Mark's at Venice, Raphael's in the Chigi Chapel in S. Maria del Popolo, and many large pictures in S. Peter's in Rome are the most striking examples of these.

The following list, in chronological order, comprises a selection from among the most important glass wall-mosaics during the period when mosaic-working was a real art.' 4th Century. S. Costanza.

S. Maria Maggiore - square columns of the nave.

S. Pudenziana.

S. Giovanni in Laterano - chapel of SS. Rufina e Seconda.

S. Restituta - baptistery.

5th Century. Orthodox Baptistery - vault.

Tomb of Galla Placidia - vault, 450. Archbishop's Chapel - vault.

S. Paolo fuori le mura - triumphal arch.

S. Maria Maggiore - square pictures over nave columns, and triumphal arch (?).

S. Sabina - figures on west wall.

S. Ambrogio, Chapel of S. Satiro - vault. Cathedral - apse.



6th Century. Arian Baptistery - vault.

S. Apollinare Nuovo - apse and nave, with 9thcentury additions.

S. Vitale - apse and whole sanctuary, c. 547. S. Apollinare in Classe - apse and nave, 549. SS. Cosmas and Damian - apse.

S. Lorenzo, Chapel of S. Aquilinus - vault. S. Sophia - walls and vault, c. 550.

Church of St George - apse, &c.; and S. Sophia - dome and apse.

S. Sophia - apse.

7th Century. S. Agnese fuori le mura - apse, 626.

S. Teodoro.

S. Stefano Rotondo.

S. Venanzio, baptistery of Lateran.

" Dome of the Rock " - arches of ambulatory, 688.

8th Century. Baptistery of S. Giovanni in Laterano.

SS. Nereus and Achilles.

Mosque of Al-Aksa - on dome.

Chapel of the Transfiguration.

gth Century. S. Cecilia in Trastevere - apse.

S. Marco - apse.

S. Maria della Navicella - apse, and " Chapel of the Column." S. Prassede - triumphal arch.

S. Ambrogio - apse, 832.

loth Century. Cordova. Mihrab (sanctuary) of Mosque.

11th Century. Jerusalem. " Dome of the Rock " - base of cupola, 1027. Constantinople. Church of S. Saviour - walls and domes. 12th Century. Venice. S. Mark's - narthex, apse and walls of nave and aisles.

1 It must be remembered that the earlier mosaics have in most cases suffered much from restoration.


apse. Cathedral - apse. Cathedral - apse. Cathedral - apse.

Capella Palatina, begun 1132 - the whole walls. Church of La Martorana - vault. Cathedral - the whole walls, 1170-1190.

Church of the Nativity, 1169.


apse, 1148.

S. Clemente - apse.

S. Francesca Romana - apse.

S. Maria in Trastevere - apse.

13th Century. Baptistery vault, begun c. 1225 by Fra Jacopo. S. Miniato - apse and west front.

S. Paolo fuori le mura - apse.

S. Clemente - triumphal arch, 1297.

S. Giovanni in Laterano - apse by Jacopo da Turrita, 1290.

S. Maria Maggiore - apse and west end by Jacopo da Turrita and Taddeo Gaddi.

S. Maria in Trastevere - apse by Pietro Cavallini, 1291.

14th Century. Florence. Baptistery, finished by Andrea Tafi.

Pisa. Cathedral - east apse by Cimabue, 1302, north and south apses by his pupils.

Rome. S. Peter's - navicella, in atrium by Giotto.

S. Maria in Cosmedin - on walls by Pietro Cavallini, c. 1340.

Venice. SS. Giovanni e Paolo - in arch over effigy of Doge Morosini.

The Byzantine origin of these great wall-mosaics, wherever they are found, is amply proved both by internal and documentary evidence. The gorgeous mosaics of S. Sophia and S. Saviour's in Constantinople, 6th century, and the later ones in the monasteries of Mount Athos, at Salonica and at Daphne near Athens, are identical in style with those of Italy of the same date. Moreover, the even more beautiful mosaic work in the " Dome of the Rock " at Jerusalem, 7th and 11th centuries, and that in the sanctuary of the great mosque of Cordova, of the 10th century, are known to be the work of Byzantine artists, in spite of their thoroughly Oriental design. The same is the case with the rarer mosaics of Germany,. such as those in S. Gereon at Cologne and at Parenzo.

A very remarkable, almost unique, specimen of Byzantine mosaic is now preserved in the " Opera del Duomo," Florence. This is a diptych of the 11th century, of extremely minute, almost microscopic work, in tesserae of glass and metal, perhaps the only example of tesserae made of solid metal. It has figures of saints and inscriptions, each tessera being scarcely larger than a pin's head. This beautiful diptych originally belonged to the imperial chapel in Constantinople, and was brought to Florence in the 14th century.

2. The second medieval class, mosaic pavements, though of great beauty, are of less artistic importance. This so-called opus alexandrinum is very common throughout Italy and in the East, and came to greatest perfection in the 13th century. It is made partly of small marble tesserae forming the main lines of the pattern, and partly of large pieces used as a ground FIG. 4. - Marble Mosaic at Monreale Cathedral.

or matrix. It is generally designed in large flowing bands which interlace and enclose circles, often of one stone sliced from a column. The finest example is that at S. Mark's, Venice, of the 12th century. The materials are mainly white marble, with green and red porphyry, and sometimes glass.

Capua. Torcello. Murano. Salerno. Palermo. Monreale. Bethlehem. Cefalu. Rome. ' Florence. Rome. Rome. Naples. Ravenna. Rome. Milan. Fundi. Nola. Ravenna. Rome. Milan. Constantinople. Thessalonica. Trebizond. Rome. Jerusalem. Rome. Jerusalem. Mount Sinai. Rome. Milan. panels over the Besides the countless churches in Italy possessing these beautiful pavements, such as S. Lorenzo, S. Marco, S. Maria Maggiore, and S. Maria in Trastevere, in Rome, there are in England, in the Chapel of the Confessor, and in front of the high altar at Westminster, very fine specimens of this work, executed about 1 268 by a Roman artist called Odericus, who was brought to England by Abbot Ware, on the occasion of a visit made by the latter to Rome. Another English example is the mosaic pavement in front of the shrine of Becket at Canterbury; this is probably the work of an Englishman, though the materials are foreign, as it is partly inlaid with bronze, a peculiarity never found in Italy. Palermo and Monreale are especially rich in examples of sectile mosaic, used both for pavements and walls - in the latter case generally for the lower part of the walls the upper part being covered with the glass mosaics. Fig. 4 gives a specimen of this mosaic from Monreale cathedral. Its chief characteristic is the absence of curved lines, so largely used in the splendid opus Alexandrinum of Italy, arising from the fact that this class of Oriental design was mainly used for the delicate panelling in wood on their pulpits, doors, &c. - wood being a material quite unsuited for the production of large curves.

3. Glass mosaic, used to ornament ambones, pulpits, tombs, bishops' thrones, baldacchini columns, architraves, and other marble objects, is chiefly Italian. The designs, when it is used to enrich flat surfaces, such as panels or architraves, areverysimilar to those of the pavements last described. The white marble is used as a matrix, in which sinkings are made to hold the glass tesserae; twisted columns are frequently ornamented with a spiral band of this glass mosaic, or flutings are suggested by parallel bands on straight columns. The cloisters of S. Giovanni in Laterano and S. Paolo fuori le mura have splendid examples of these enriched shafts and architraves.

This style of work was largely employed from the 6th to the 14th centuries. One family in Italy, the Cosmati, during the whole of the 13th century, was especially' skilled in this craft. The pulpit in S. Maria in Ara Coeli, Rome, is one of the finest specimens (see fig. 5), as are also the ambones in S. Clemente and S. Lorenzo, and that in Salerno cathedral. The tomb of Henry III. (1291), and the shrine of the Confessor (1269) at Westminster are the only examples of this work in England. They were executed by " Petrus civis Romanus," probably a pupil of the Cosmati.

In India, especially during the 17th century, many Mahommedan buildings were decorated with fine marble inlay of the class now called " Florentine." This is sectile mosaic, formed by shaped pieces of various coloured marbles let into a marble matrix. A great deal of the Indian mosaic of this sort was executed by Italian workmen; the finest examples are at Agra, such as the Taj Mahal.

4. Mosaics in wood are largely used in Mahommedan buildings, especially from the 14th to the 17th centuries. The finest specimens of this work are at Cairo and Damascus, and are used chiefly to decorate the magnificent pulpits and other woodwork in the mosques. The patterns are very delicate and complicated, worked in inlay of small pieces of various coloured woods, often further enriched by bits of mother-of-pearl and minutely carved ivory. This art was also practised largely by the Copts of Egypt, and much used by them to ornament the magnificent iconostases and other screens in their churches.

Another application of wood to mosaic work, called " intarsiatura," was very common in Italy, especially in Tuscany and Lombardy, during the i 5th and early 16th centuries. Its chief use was for the decoration of the stalls and lecterns in the church choirs. Very small bits of various coloured woods were used to produce geometrical patterns, while figure subjects, views of buildings with strong perspective effects, and even landscapes, were very skilfully produced by an inlay of larger pieces. Ambrogio Borgognone, Raphael, and other great painters, often drew the designs for this sort of work. The mosaic figures in the panels of the stalls at the Certosa near Pavia were by Borgognone, and are extremely beautiful. The stalls in Siena cathedral and in S. Pietro de' Casinensi at Perugia, the latter from Raphael's designs, are among the finest works of this sort, which are very numerous in Italy. It has also been used on a smaller scale to ornament furniture, and especially the " Cassoni," or large trousseau coffers, on which the most costly and elaborate decorations were often lavished.


- Classical. An excellent account of the subject, with full references, is given by Gauckler in Daremberg and Saglio, Dictionnaire des antiquites, s.v. " Musivum opus "; the translations there given of the loci classici of Pliny are, however, inaccurate. Amongst earlier works the following are important: G. Ciampini, Vetera monumenta (1690-1699); A. Furietti, De musivis (1752); S. Lysons, Roman Antiquities of Woodchester (1797) and Reliquiae britannico-romanae (1813); F. Mazois, Ruines de Pompei (1812-1838); Real museo borbonico (1824-1857); F. Artaud, Histoire de la peinture en mosaique (1835); Monumentos arquitectonicos de Espana (1859-1883); Wilmowsky, Riimische Mosaiken aus Trier and dessen Umgegend (1888).


Theophilus, Diversarum artium schedula, ii. 15; S. Kensington Museum Art Inventory, pt. i. (1870); Renan, Mission de Phenicie (1875); Garrucci, Arte cristiana (1872-1882), vol. iv.; De Rossi, Musaici cristiani di Roma (1876-1894); Parker, Archaeology of Rome, and Mosaic Pictures in Rome and Ravenna (1866); Barbet de Jouy, Les Mosaiques chretiennes de Rome (1857); Gravina, Duomo di Monreale, Palermo (1859 seq.); Serradifalco, Monreale ed altre chiese siculo-normanne (1838); Salazaro, Mon. dell' arte merid. d'Italia (1882); M. D. Wyatt, Geometrical Mosaics of the Middle Ages (1849); Salzenberg, Alt-christliche Baudenkmale von Constantinopel (1854); Pulgher, Eglises byzantines de Constantinople (1883); Texier and Pullan, Byzantine Architecture (1864); Quast, Alt-christliche Bauwerke von Ravenna (1842);- J. P. Richter, Die Mosaiken von Ravenna (1878); M. de Vogue, Eglises de la terre sainte (1860); Milanesi, Del Arte del vetro pel musaico (16th century, reprinted at Bologna in 1864); Rohault de Fleury, Monuments de Pise (1866); J. Kreutz, Basilica di S. Marco, Venezia (1843); Gaily Knight, Ecclesiastical Architecture of Italy (1842-1844); C. G. Fossati, Aya Sophia (1852); A. N. Didron, " La peinture en mosaique," Gaz. des B. Arts, xi. 442; Gerspach, La Mosatique (1883); A. L. Frothingham, " Les mosaiques de Grottaferrata," Gaz. arch. (1883); E. Miintz, La Mosaique chretienne pendant les premiers siecles (1893); G. Clausse, Basiliques et mosaiques chretiennes (1893); Ainalov, Mosaiken des IV. u. V. Jahrhunderts (1895); P. Saccardo, Les Mosaiques de Saint Marc d Venise (1896); A. A. Pavlovsky, Iconographie de la chapelle palatine (1895); Di Marzo, Delle Belle arti in Sicilia; Sangiorgi, Il Battistero della basilica Ursiana di Ravenna (1900); J. Kurth, Die Mosaiken der christlichen Aera, I. Die Mosaiken von Ravenna (1902); J. P. Richter and A. C. Taylor, The Golden Age of Classic Christian Art (1904; on the mosaics of S. Maria Maggiore, which the authors assign to the 2nd or 3rd century A.D.; some excellent reproductions are given); Schmitt and Kluge, " Kachrie Djami " (Bulletin de l'institut imperiale russe a Constantinople, xi., 1906; text in Russian).


Hessemer, Arabische and alt-italienische Bauverzierungen (1853); Prisse d'Avennes, L' Art arabe (1874-1880); Prangey, Mosquee de Cordoue (1830); Owen Jones, Alhambra (1842); De Vogue, Temple de Jerusalem (1864); Texier, Asie Mineure (1862) and L'Armenie et la Perse (1842-1852); Bourgoin, Les Arts arabes (1868); Coste, Monuments modernes de la Perse (1867); Flandin and Coste, Voyage en Perse (1843-1854); Gayet, L' Art arabe (1893).

Wood Mosaic-Tarsia

Omati del coro di S. Pietro Cassinense di Perugia (1830); Caffi, various works on Rafaello de Brescia and other intarsiatori (1851); Tarsie ed intagli di S. Lorenzo in Genova (1878); and Scherer, Technik and Geschichte der Intarsia (1891).

(J. H. M.; H. S. J.)



1.1" --??; ?ilil' Inif  ?- i ?I. l i :... l 0 1 [[Immo„ W]]?kluAvoli t, FIG. 5. - Part of Marble Pulpit with glass mosaic, church of Ara Coeli, Rome.

ll_ Modern Mosaic. - The art of mosaic for mural decoration has never been deeply implanted in the artistic sensibilities of the north of Europe, nor has it been employed much either in France, or Germany, or England. It ceased to be generally adopted in Italy when fresco, oil and tempera painting came into vogue. Gothic architecture is ill-suited to its robust claims as a decorative art; and the incoming fashion for the latest and least interesting development of classical architecture, " Palladian," divorced not only it, but mural painting also, from all architectural schemes. To be properly consequent and effective, buildings, ecclesiastical or public, should be constructed with the intention of being covered almost entirely by mosaics, which demand rich environment, marble or other colour; mosaic is essentially a colour medium. It is therefore scarcely surprising that when mural decoration became preeminently pictorial, and gestures and expression grew complicated, elaborate, and naturalistic, an art limited in its powers of presenting such manifestation of realistic design was relegated into the limbo of obscurity.

There are no instances of the use of mosaic in England after the Roman occupation. The Normans, who derived it from the Greeks and Saracens, and adopted it in Sicily, did not import it either to France or England. Although English churches, and French also, were highly decorated with polychromy from early times up to the r 6th century, there is no evidence of mosaic ever having been used. The revival of a school of mosaicists in Rome during the 17th century, employed in the decoration of St Peter's, and here and there sparsely engaged in other churches, led to the idea which Wren would have carried into effect, namely, making use of mosaic for the cathedral of St Paul's in London; but his scheme, if it was ever really entertained, was not carried out, as we all know; and the art, which might have become the fashion in England, remained an exotic. Even late into the years of the r9th century mosaic decoration was regarded by classical purists as a barbarous art, and the glorious decorations in that material to be seen in Sicily, Italy, Greece, Asia Minor and Russia were disregarded as works of high art. They were in many cases cut out to provide room for extravagant and vulgar designs in fresco or tempera, unmeaning, undecorative, and wholly abominable as decoration. Those Roman mosaics over the altars in St Peter's, being copies of celebrated oil pictures, while they cannot be denied excellence as such and marvellous dexterity, reveal the worst possible taste, for they attempt to represent adequately, in cubes, touches of the brush which were spontaneous, fluid, thick and thin, and as sensitive and spontaneous as the finger pressure on the violin string, so accurate that the least deviation from absolute position produces discord.

The restrictions on mosaic are many, and some are obvious. In the first place, mosaic is not suited for a small scale of design. It is true that in the Opera del Duomo in Florence there is a miniature mosaic (executed in the r 2th century) of extraordinary beauty, which must have taken a lifetime to execute; but still this remains a curiosity, a bit of craftsmanship rather than a great work of art. There is also a copy of Mr Holman Hunt's " Finding the Saviour in the Temple," executed for Clifton College by assistants in Messrs Powell's establishment in Whitefriars, London; it is admirably done, no doubt, but it is a long way behind the original, which is a design wholly ill adapted to mosaic. There are several other instances, notably one by Mr H. Holiday of " The Last Supper," where mosaic has been employed to translate a beautiful design which would have been more satisfactorily executed either in oil or water colours. The primal and most obvious limitation is in matters of detail - detail as regards a multiplicity of forms, many gradations either of colour or tone and naturalistic accidents. In this respect good mosaic is like good basso relievo; it is accomplished by firmly pronounced outlines, unconfused masses, large planes unbroken up by small adjuncts, and generalized and conventionalized forms and simple colour. So all small curves, as well as small tints, should be eliminated, because it is not in the nature of the material to do them justice. One can scarcely conceive a choice less happy for mosaic than the centre group taken out of the upper portion of the Disputa fresco in the Vatican by Raphael, yet this florid piece of work, so facile in creation, was chosen to be executed on the eastern wall of the morning chapel in St Paul's.

It is useless to illustrate the many similar mistakes that have been made. They were made in some of the earlier work in the choir of St Paul's. The best example of mosaic on a small scale is in Ravenna, the tomb of Galla Placidia; the best upon a large scale is the great Christ at the east end of the cathedral at Monreale. These two works absolutely justify the means to the end. Interesting are the designs made by Sir Edward BurneJones for the mosaics for the American church in Rome, but the execution and colour are alike monotonous. The cathedral of Chester contains a series of mosaic pictures designed by Mr Clayton. The Guards' chapel in St James's is adorned likewise by the same artist, under the direction of the late Sir Arthur Blomfield. In the chapel for the school at Giggleswick are mosaics designed by T. G. Jackson, R.A., admirably and broadly treated in true mosaic character; these were executed in situ, and not, according to the modern habit, upon paper, away from their environment and by a foreign firm. Those mosaic pictures which are placed in niches in the great gallery of South Kensington Museum are failures qud mosaic, though the designs in many instances are fine, notably those by Lord Leighton and Val Prinsep; but their execution is uninteresting, because the cubes are laid so flatly and so evenly that they suggest an oil picture appliqué upon a flat ground.

Messrs Powell have been employed on several occasions to decorate churches with mosaic. This firm has adopted the old style, and rejected the new one initiated by Dr Salviati of Venice. If we observe the surface of a fine Greek mosaic, such as that of Andrea Tafi in the Baptistery of Florence, or the few remains of unrestored mosaic in St Mark's, Venice, or indeed other works scattered over Italy, we shall see that it is rough, not smooth; that the cubes are irregular in shape; that there is always a space of the ground colour left, red or white, and visible between each cube. In modern mosaic, with rare exceptions, restoration or other, the cubes have been jammed up closely together, and the surface is as smooth as a piece of paper; thereby is engendered a mechanical and uninteresting surface, over which light plays with monotony, and hence that brilliant and scintillating effect so essentially the character of true mosaic is absent. This defect - and it is a grave one - is evident in the works in mosaic more or less recently set up in Paris, notably in the apse of the Pantheon, the east end of the Madeleine, and the vaulting of the great staircase of the Louvre. Those in the apse are finely designed, but scarcely look like mosaic, those in the Madeleine still less so, and the last not at all.

The artist who designs for this material must set aside all the principles he has learned to estimate in paint, either of oil or tempera. As an instance of a painter, pre-eminently delicate in his colour and tone, failing as a mosaic designer we may quote Cimabue, whose beautiful designs in the cathedral at Pisa would have been far more effective had the artist painted them upon the wall with the medium in the requirements of which he was so great a master. The same criticism may apply to the mosaics in recent years set up on the west front of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence. The very first principles which go to make a fine picture are just those which should be avoided in mosaic - elaborate modelling, delicate transitions of light and shade and picturesque effects of dark and light, materialistic resemblance indeed. The designer for mosaic should ever bear in mind his material, and in his designs for it he should accentuate those characteristics which belong essentially and specifically to mosaic and to no other technique. If he is a painter, he must forget his lessons in that art and take up with new ones - those which teach broad masses of colour obtained in lines. He will find that effects gained by a technique employed in oil colour look bald and ridiculous when translated into mosaic. Watercolour and pastel are by far the best media for cartoons to be copied in mosaic. We do not know how these were executed in ancient days; probably the design was drawn on the wall, and there were no cartoons. The master not only invented, but he was the master-workman also, and that is how it should be. The probability is that the custom of drawing the design upon the wall practised by the early frescanti was the survival of a method adopted by the mosaicists, just as their method repeated that of Roman and Greek wall-painters. Of course this direct method leads to a large style, a style harmonizing with environment, scale, &c.; the tendency is to draw large in a large building, to draw small in a small one. Anyhow, this is quite certain, that all the fine Byzantine and 13th century mosaics, as well as wall paintings, were executed in situ and not away, as was the usual custom in England and elsewhere until recently.

Mr Harry Powell has permitted the writer to make use of some of his reflections upon the mosaicist's art in the following notes. The mosaicist should not separate the artistic from the technical details of his craft. He must study not only the decorative effect, form, colour and spacing of his design, but the surface to be covered as well as the materials with which he builds.


Good brick-work, the mortar joints slightly cut back, affords the best foundation for mosaic. The hollow and sharpedged joints provide a key for the cement into which the cubes will be set, and they diminish the risk of sagging, a not uncommon event if the cement is not welded to the wall by being well pressed into the joints. If the mosaic is to be applied on stone, the stone must be notched and well roughened to provide support. Whether the surface is brick or stone, it must be well saturated with boiled oil to prevent suction, because if too much suction takes place the powder only of the cement will remain and the cubes will drop out.


A cement suitable for mosaic is one which retains its tenacity, which can be applied in layers, which sets slowly, and which is not liable to change colour after long exposure. These conditions are best met by an oil cement. One consisting of equal weights of white oxide of zinc and carbonate of zinc, mixed with double boiled oil and containing small proportions of wax, gold size and slacked lime gives good results. This cement can either be white or red, white where greyness of tone is desirable, red where a richer effect is desirable. It is generally mixed with a small portion of oxide of iron or oxide of manganese, which prevents the whiteness of the joints from rendering adjacent tints grey from a distance.

Atmospheric Corrosion

As the atmosphere of modern towns is more corrosive than that of medieval Venice or medieval Rome, it is important that, in choosing the cement and the materials to be imbedded in it, the mosaicist should be certain that they are impervious to atmospheric impurities.


Although marble, mother of pearl, and other substances have been, and are still, occasionally used, the predominant material in ancient as well as modern mosaics is glass. When prepared with due regard to the continuing proportions of its ingredients, glass is impervious to the action of ordinary acids, and is practically indestructible. It can be made to assume almost every shade and tint of colour (see Glass). There are many kinds of glass, but for mosaic work either a potash-lead or a soda-lime glass is usually employed. Both of these glasses can be rendered opaque by mixing with the ingredients either oxide of tin or a mixture of felspar and fluorspar. Glass rendered opaque by the admixture of felspar and fluorspar has a bright, vitreous, easily cleaned surface, and readily develops brilliant colours.

Production of Colours. - Colours are obtained by mixing and melting with the ingredients of the opaque glass small proportions of certain metallic oxides. Oxide of chalk gives a purple blue; oxide of copper gives a peacock blue; oxide of copper with oxide of iron gives a green; oxide of copper mixed with oxide of iron and a strong reducing agent gives a red; oxide of chromium a green; oxide of nickel a purple; oxide of uranium a yellow; and oxide of manganese a violet - or a black if a larger quantity of oxide is used.

Manufacture of Glass Slabs

The mixtures, in a state of powder, are shovelled into crucibles standing round the grate of a furnace, and when fusion is complete the viscous glass can be coiled upon the heated end of an iron rod and removed for use, very much in the way that thick treacle may be coiled round the bowl of a spoon. A mass of molten glass, thus collected, is allowed to fall upon a flat iron table, and is pressed into a slab about 6 in. square and in. thick. The slabs are removed to an oven, where they are allowed to cool slowly, and when cool are removed and broken by a hammer or a miniature guillotine into tesserae or cubes The fractured edge of the tesserae is used for the surface of the mosaic.

Gold and Silver Slabs

The tesserae containing gold or silver leaf are as impervious to surface corrosions from the effects of atmosphere as the solid colours. The process of manufacturing a gold or silver slab for mosaic work is to spread the metallic leaf on a very thin tray of transparent glass, about 5 in. in diameter, and after it has been heated to press upon the surface of the leaf a mass of molten glass, so as to create cohesion between the molten glass and the glass tray through the pores of the metallic leaf. The slabs thus formed contain gold, silver or platinum leaf hermetically imprisoned between two layers of glass. The slabs are cut up into tesserae or cubes by means of a diamond or glass-cutter's wheel. Only one surface can be used for mosaic work.

Tinted Metals

By using coloured glass for the thin glass trays which form the surface of the metallic slabs a variety of tinted metallic effects are obtained. Moreover, if the glass which is to form the background is coloured, and if the slab after it has been cooled is strongly reheated, the leaf becomes sufficiently disintegrated to allow the colour of the background to show through, with the result that the colour effect of the metallic leaf is modified.

Palette and Tools

The palette of the mosaic worker is a shallow box with many partitions, each division containing differentcoloured tesserae. The only tools required are clippers, for shaping the tesserae, and a pointed awl for pricking through the cartoon into the cement the outlines of the design. Although the process and tools are simple, it requires prolonged training of mind, hand, eye and fingers to enable a workman to create in mosaic a living representation as distinguished from a lifeless copy of the master craftsman's design.

Drawing directly on the Wall. Curved Surfaces

If the mosaicist desires to draw his cartoon directly upon the wall, a necessary procedure where curved surfaces are presented, he goes to work in the following manner. He causes a model to be made to scale of a dome, semi-dome or spandrel and upon it he draws his design with a brush in strong red pigment, having previously squared up the whole surface to scale. This done, he causes the dome, semi-dome or spandrel to be covered over with thick brown paper. This being attached to the wall with white lead sufficient only to give temporary adhesion, the brown paper is squared up to the scale of the small sketch; each square being relatively numbered. The master then sets his pupils to work to draw mechanically and copy accurately from the small design on to the full-sized dome, semi-dome or spandrel. This done, the master follows on, correcting with charcoal or brush until the whole design is developed in strong outline. Having made a slightly coloured sketch, the master with the aid of his pupils proceeds to mix all the tints in water-colour, adding colla di pesce or fish glue, and a little honey to prevent cracking. He then applies every tint separately, keeping each distinct, and above all minding that the local colours of all half-tints are different from the colour of all shadows. This done, he dips his brush in black and draws all the outlines, the thickness of which depends upon the distance which will intervene between his work and the spectator; in order that the black may not appear cold from a distance, he will add to one side of the line, a red line, thicker or thinner than the black, according to the effect he wishes to produce. It is sometimes effective to add upon the other side of the black line a green line, so that the purple effect of the black and red shall be modified.


We now come to the great question of colour and how to obtain it simply, and so that from a distance a blurred and woolly effect is not obtained. There should be a marked and sharp definition between all tints; they should not be fused; they should look sharply defined, as the squares upon a chessboard, and appear crude and brutal. The work which looks least refined near at hand looks more finished at a distance. Red and blue lines alternately laid, either more red or more blue as the purple is intended to tend towards red or blue, make the best purple. Green is best made with yellow and blue lines, the masses being separated by red lines, and the shadows of green should be red or blue: if red, they should be outlined with blue; if blue, with red. Red should be treated flatly, shaded with a deeper red, which should be of a warmer tone than the lights. Blue should be shaded with blue or red; and it is well to mix green tesserae with the blue in the lights, and again green tesserae with the blue or red shades to modify crudity. Pure white should be very sparingly used: it expands greatly at a distance. The best white is that which is of the tone of Naples yellow. Whenever it is necessary to use pure white, either a yellow or pink line should be set on one side of it.

It is impossible to keep the flesh too simple. The local colour, i.e. a red orange, is the staple colour. Features should be drawn in strong red or burnt sienna, or a rich brown. The outlines of limbs or the contours of faces should be made first with a green line, a little darker than the local tints, then a red line darker still, then a black or brown line. White draperies are capable of being treated with endless variety. Their shadows may be green, red, blue, grey or yellow. If the white drapery is to take a neutral tone when seen from a distance, all these tints should be employed, because when mixed those positive colours appear neutral when seen from afar.

Gold drapery has a fine effect. Bright gold expands to four times the width of the line, so that the lines of gold should be thin. It may be that the gold drapery is to appear greenish; when that is desirable the folds should be drawn in green outlined with red. All deep shades should be treated with red and hot browns. As gold expands so considerably, a larger interval should be left between the tesserae than between any other colour, even white. Each tessera should have a thin space of the ground colour round it. The tesserae should never be jammed: it is that which causes so many modern mosaics to look like oil-cloth or chromo-lithographs.

The Finished Cartoon

The finished cartoon, having been coloured in lines, should look exactly like the finished mosaic as regards effect; and the master, in leaking his cartoon, should always bear in mind that he is designing for mosaic, and not making a finished picture. The cartoon, when complete, is taken off the wall and cut up in pieces. Each piece is then carefully traced. The space upon the wall corresponding to each section is then covered with cement, but only upon that portion of the space which can be ,worked in mosaic in a day. The mosaic worker then applies the portion of the tracing upon the wet cement, and with a sharp point he pricks through the paper upon the lines thereon drawn; on removing the tracing he will find indents within the surface of the cement, which give him his cue to all the forms. Setting up the coloured design by his side, he takes the tesserae, which exactly correspond in colour and tone with those on the drawing, and begins his work, commencing from the outline and working inwards towards the centre, the lightest portion being left to the last. Here comes in the real test whether the craftsman is capable or the reverse. This is soon judged by the master, who will put the work in and out until he is satisfied with the result. Unless the master has himself gone through the drudgery of laying the cubes he can be no teacher. He must be a craftsman as well as a designer, and must know by experience and practice in a very difficult craft what the material can do with ease and what it is not called upon to do by reason of its inherent limitations. If he has not so trained himself he is certain to pictorialize what he should conventionalize; and, moreover, he will set technical difficulties in the way which are impossible to overcome. He must aim at the greatest simplicity without dullness, at producing the greatest effect by the simplest means, and to do that he must know his material or fail. (W. B. RI.)

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Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

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Mosaic (uncountable)

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Simple English

and shows Alexander the Great.]] 

.]] Mosaic is the art of decorating a surface with pictures and patterns made of little pieces of stone, glass or tiles of different colours. Mosaics can be used indoors on walls, floors and ceilings. Mosaics are sometimes used outdoors on pavements.


Making mosaics

Mosaics are made by setting coloured pieces into "mortar" (cement) which sets hard and holds the pieces in place. Some mosaics are made of round pebbles, and have only two or three colours. Other mosaics are made of marble. Many mosaics, particularly in Italy, are made of terracotta tiles. (Terracotta is "fired" clay that has been baked in an oven.) Terracotta tiles come in many colours and can be used for colourful pictures as well as patterns.

Some tiles look as if they are made of pure gold. These tiles are actually made of glass and have a very thin "leaf" of gold stuck to one side. The side with the gold gets put into the mortar. Then the gold can be seen through the glass, but cannot be scratched off.


Mosaics often last for a very long time. There are still plenty of mosaics which were made by the Ancient Romans. They can be seen in Italy, England, France, as well as other countries that were once part of the Roman Empire.

Many beautiful mosaics date from the Early Christian and Byzantine eras, from about 300 AD to 1400, in Italy, Greece,and other countries. The mosaics in churches usually have pictures which tell Bible stories.

Mosaics were a popular way to decorate churches in Italy in the Medieval period. They were not popular in England, France, Germany and countries of Northern Europe because they preferred to use stained glass windows as decoration. In Italy, the most famous church with its interior decorated with mosaics is St. Mark's Basilica, Venice. At Westminster Cathedral in London, (which is built in an Italian style) the mosaic decoration which was started more than 100 years ago is still continuing, bit by bit. Many of the mosaics at St. Mark's and Westminster Cathedral have gold backgrounds.

Nowadays mosaics are still used in all sorts of ways. Mosaics are most often used to brighten up public places in cities. Modern mosaics are made of all sorts of materials: mosaic tiles, bathroom tiles, broken roof tiles, broken dishes, broken mirrors, bits of metal and old bricks.


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