Of course, we have also discussed multiple examples of Roman mosaic art, such as The Unswept Floor, 2nd century CE.
The word "mosaic" derives from the Greek: "patient work, worthy of the Muses". Artists used small tiles or fragments of pottery known as tesserae to create mosaics depicting various subjects. Generally speaking, these mosaics consisted of thousands of tesserae.
As far as Roman artifacts go, there are more examples of mosaics than any other construction. Not only that, but the mosaics are generally in good shape, since they were on floors instead of walls or roofs that can easily collapse. The mosaics were not just like modern day carpet, but they served to communicate something about the family who lived in the building. In fact, in large towns, shops had pattern books (like wallpaper books today) from which shoppers could buy a variety of designs “off the shelf.” Only the wealthy or elite could afford to commission personalized designs.
Here are a few more examples of Roman mosaics:
This is a ferocious dog on a hall floor, to 'guard' the house. CAVE CANEM means "Beware of the dog".
Roman mosaic of marine life.
More examples here.
It was during the Byzantine era that mosaic art reached its highest level of quality. They used marble, natural stones, colored glass, even gold and silver to create colorful designs in vaults, domes, temples, and palaces. Most mosaics done during this time period were inspired by the Christian religion that was dominant during this period.
How are these mosaics made? There are a variety of techniques that have been developed depending on the type of mosaic being made. Check them out here.
Watch this short video, which has images and narration describing the process.
Here are a few examples of Byzantine/Christain mosaic work. We will see more work like this in class this week.
Jesus, above, is shown dressed as a Roman soldier but wearing royal purple and gold. He is "trampling" the devil (snake) as well as Rome (the lion), and is holding the scriptures which read "I am the way, the truth and the life."
The combination of the glass and gold tiles (set at slight angles) would create a dizzying effect when hit by natural light (from a clerestory) or candlelight.
"Christ as the Good Shepherd," mosaic from the mausoleum of Galla Placidia, c.425-450. Some devices of Roman illusionism are still being used -- shadows, tonality of forms, spatial depth.
Detail of mosaic work.
Detail of mosaic work.
The closest thing we have to these mosaics in the U.S. is the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis, MO.