For centuries, people have adorned the walls of churches and castles with intricate and beautiful mosaic tiles. For whatever reason, they had the desire to create an excellent work of art that comes from tiny little pieces of stones, shells, and other materials.
The accounts from history books and historians believed that everything started with shell, stone, and ivory materials in ancient Mesopotamia about 3,500 years ago. These mosaic tiles have been used for thousands of years, and they are still popular even now. Today, it has been continued by various artists all around the world, where larger creations are more prominent. Different portraits are more common, and they are in postage stamps, photos, postcards, and books. Here is some history of mosaic art that you may want to know about.
Roman and Greek Empire
In 200 BC, the Roman empire popularized mosaics that fortunes could be made by creating them. They were manufactured with tiny “tesserae” or pre-made and uniform pieces of ceramic, stone, or glass. The art is made of irregular pieces of ceramic, glass, colored stones, and others and they are held in place with mortar or plaster.
They are very particularly common as wall and floor decorations in the Ancient World of the Romans. Today, this has been used in many hobby crafts, pavements, murals, artwork, and industrial constructions, but they were different in the 4th century BC.
Pebbles that were identified from the Bronze Age had been found in the Tiryns. The art pieces dating back to the 4th century BC were also discovered in the Aegae, a town in Macedonia. The figural styles common in Greeks were believed to have been formed during the 3rd century. Then there are the mythological subjects that show people pursuing wealth or hunting animals. They were very popular with their geometric designs and act as centerpieces in many homes.
There were scenes of leftover food from feasts and doves that drank from bowls. Both themes have been adapted and copied by the Romans. They applied these in Hellenistic villas and Roman dwellings in Europe. Most of the recorded names of the Roman mosaic creators are Greek, and it was believed that these talented craftsmen were slaves.
The start of the building of the basilicas did not start until the late 4th century, and the mosaic was thought to be perfect for Christian use. Some of the earlier creations did not survive, but the mosaics of Santa Pudenziana and Santa Costanza are still in existence. Get more info about Santa Costanza at this link: https://www.britannica.com/place/Santa-Costanza.
There is still the wall mosaic in the mausoleum and ambulatory of Santa Costanza. It depicts a feast and the classical wine tradition that represents Bacchus. This was the symbol of change and transformation, and it was thought to be appropriate for a mausoleum.
In another great basilica, the Church of Nativity applied the Roman geometric motifs on the floors, which were partially preserved, which is in Bethlehem. The crypt in St. Peter’s Basilica called the Tomb of Julii is a 4th century vaulted ceiling that were thought to have Christian symbols. Some of these churches have high-quality art in them, but only the fragments have survived. Most of them show a band of saints praying in front of a complicated architecture that usually exists in the creator’s imagination.
During the following centuries, the capital of the Western Roman Empire, Ravenna, became the center of mosaic art. It served as the capital of the whole of the Western Empire in the 4th century. The most notable is the Basilica of San Lorenzo, specifically in the St. Aquilinus Chapel, which shows many mosaics depicting the St. Elijah and Christ with his apostles. They were known for their unique and beautiful colors with a natural look. They were also in proportion and adhered to the classical canons of the time.
Some of the surviving apse mosaics are located in the Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio, where it showed Jesus Christ enthroned between Saint Protasius and Saint Gervasius. They were surrounded by a golden background that is believed to date back from the fifth century, although they required many restorations later on. An area in the basilica called the baptistery had gold-leaf tesserae in massive quantities after excavation was made on the site.
Another chapel of the Sant’Ambrogio called the shrine of San Vittore in Ciel d’Oro had almost all of its surfaces covered in mosaics in the 5th century. The golden dome depicted the image of Saint Victor, and other saints were shown on a blue background. The low spandrels gave rise to the symbols of Evangelists.
Early Medieval Rome
In Rome, it was known that Christian mosaics were also becoming popular, but it gradually declined when the conditions became worse in the Early Middle Ages. In the 5th century, the mosaics were evident in the arch of Santa Maria Maggiore, where about 27 surviving panels were found. Two other essential creations were lost in the 5th century, but historians knew what they looked like from books and drawings done in the 17th century.
There is also the apse mosaic of Sant’Agata dei Goti, where Christ was depicted as seated on globes and flanked by his twelve apostles. Six are on both sides of him, but this was destroyed in 1589. Streams on four sides flowed from a mountain that support Christ. The theme remained unchanged when Taddeo Zuccari made a similar fresco in 1559 that showed Christ is flanked by saints while seated on a hill. It depicted lambs that are drinking from a single stream located at the bottom.
The mosaic culture was more popular in central Byzantine compared to almost half of Western Europe. The churches were generally covered with golden creations of mosaics, and they flourished in the empire from the 6th to 15th centuries. The majority were destroyed during conquests and wars, but a significant number had survived to form an excellent collection.
The buildings, including the Church of Nativity, Hagia Sophia, and the Nea Church, were embellished with mosaics. Learn more about Hagia Sophia in this link. However, none of them survived. The important fragments were recovered at the floors of the Great Palace of Constantinople, and it was believed to be commissioned at the time of Justinian’s reign. It depicted plants, animals, and other figures classically, but they were scattered in plain backgrounds.
There is also the portrait of the mustached man, and it’s one of the more important surviving collections in the Justinian age. This man was thought to be a Gothic chieftain, and some of the fragments are still in the palace vaults. The vine scroll motifs are like Santa Costanza’s, and other floral depictions are known in some churches.
Ravenna was the center of mosaic making in the 6th century, and it boasts many notable examples at this time. Artists from Constantinople made the art at the Church of Santa Maria Formosa, and they have a mix of Ravennate mosaics with a Byzantine style.
One of the authentic works of art in Constantinople is the Hagia Sophia. These south and north tympana were decorated with patriarchs, saints, and prophets. On its principal narthex is an Emperor kneeling before Christ, believed to be made in the 10th century. Just above the door shows an art depicting Theotokos with Justinian and Constantine. The dome has various decorations, including the Ascension. This composition is similar to that of the baptistery in Ravenna, where Christ is in the middle, and the apostles stand between some of the palm trees.
There are others in Western Asian art, Jewish, Orthodox countries, Baroque, and Renaissance. But one thing is for sure, mosaics are still present today, and many crafters can work with art glass, shells, stones, ceramics, beads, and even pearls to create a wonderful image. Today, parks, homes, and bicycles are covered with them, and individual creators can combine the pieces together and create a unique design without any restrictions.