Mosaics – Pieces of Art

Late roman mosaics at Villa Romana La Olmeda (Palencia, Spain)

Late roman mosaics at Villa Romana La Olmeda (Palencia, Spain)

Mosaic art uses small pieces of material, placed together to form a pattern or image. These pieces are called tessera and usually consist of glass, stone, ceramics, mirror, or shells. The space (or interstices) between the tesserae are then filled with grout to solidify the artwork. There are several different techniques used to create mosaic art:

Opus regulatum: the tesserae create a grid where the pieces align both horizontally and vertically.
Opus tessellatum: the tesserae created a horizontal or a vertical alignment, but not both.
Opus vermiculatum: the tesserae follow the edge of a particular shape highlighting the shape.
Opus musivum: similar to Opus vermiculatum but extends throughout the entire background.
Opus palladianum: the tesserae are irregular shaped and unevenly placed.
Opus sectile: a single tessera creates a major shape.
Opus classicum: a combination of vermiculatum, tessellatum and regulatum.
Opus circumactum: the tesserae are set up in semicircle or fan shapes that overlap.
Micromosaic: the tesserae are extremely small, used in jewelry or Italian panels.

Cone mosaic courtyard from Uruk in Mesopotamia 3000 BC

Cone mosaic courtyard
(Uruk in Mesopotamia 3000 BC)

There are three main techniques to laying mosaics. The Direct method, used where surfaces have a three-dimensional quality, is when the tesserae are glued directly to a support piece and then grouted. The Indirect method, which is mainly used for larger or vertical surfaces, is when the tesserae are placed upside-down on an adhesive-backed paper and then transferred to the structure. The Double Indirect method is used when seeing the design is important. The tesserae are placed face-up on an adhesive or sticky surface, then after the design is complete, another adhesive surface is placed on the facing-side and then carefully removing the one below. This is the most difficult of the three techniques.

The history of Mosaic art is rich and examples from various cultures can be found in almost every place on earth. The oldest examples of Mosaic art date back to Mesopotamia, approx 2900 BC and incorporated colored stones, shells and ivory. The first glazed tiles appearing sometime around 1500 BC. The Greeks, the Romans, the Byzantines, the Italians, the British, all embellished the art form, each bringing their own style and materials. Mosaics went from functional household use to panel and wall art, sometimes covering the entire inside of buildings.

The Wine-Bottle Cork Art by Albanian artist Saimir Strati

The Wine-Bottle Cork Art
(Albanian artist Saimir Strati)

Mosaic art is still in use today, its contemporary design often adding a unique and artistic feel to a functional area. The process has become more sophisticated, using more mechanical means to create the materials, but the art itself is just as beautiful as its historical counterparts. Working with mosaics now, one can only be amazed at how ancient artists created what the amazing work that they did, with such antiquated tools.