Monday, October 22, 2007

Mosaics

In class, we have looked at a variety of examples of ancient mosaic art. The earliest example we have discussed was from Uruk, Mesopotamia where small clay cones were embedded into walls and columns to create decorative patterns.
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.
The closest thing we have to these mosaics in the U.S. is the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis, MO.

15 comments:

bigbadteacher said...

Link for a more readable time line...
http://www.maat.com.au/images/1timeline.2.jpg

livefish said...

These are beautiful and it's really interesting how they made these and just the variety with them but what upsets me is the one with Jesus dressed as a Roman soldier. People over the centuries depict him as this military man when he was here to love and just kind of bugs me that they would make him so violent like. Anyways! :)

It's pretty interesting where these come from....all over the world. And each one is unique in it's own way. It's interesting how they use these as well. Such as Worship, house hold use, and even a warning sign(pretty funny).

http://www.galenfrysinger.com/roman_byzantine_mosaics.htm

nwalker said...

Some of the first were found in Chaldean architecture, 2 thousand years B.C., where some columns were covered with mosaics, small cones of clay were actually embedded in the structure of the column. The Egyptians were the first to discover the fusion of glass, and to create a industry which led to the decorations of their ships.
http://www.frammentiart.com/Mosaic-history.asp

retroclide said...

livefish...
The way you are interpreting the mosaic of Christ as a Roman soldier is different from they way it's supposed to be seen. Christ is dressed as a soldier because is he has conquered sin and death. He is triumphant over Satan. Think of the hymn Onward, Christian Soldiers and the biblical verse the hymn comes from, "You shall endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ," II Timothy 2:3.
He's wearing purple, also. Roman soldiers didn't wear purple. The purple signifies his kingship of heaven. This mosiaic is an example of Christology from above. Check out this website. It's a fairly good intro to Christology...http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christology

Marc said...

I was interested to see more early depictions of Christ. Many of these don't seem all that similar to the standard image I am used to today. Not sure when the beard became standard issue, but it wasn't on any of the representations I saw even on this post. The imagery used now is also more understandable to the non-Christian community. A change of pace since the early images of Christian art were arcane and meant to be intelligible only to the initiated.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Early_Christian_art

exquisitedesign said...

I always found mosaics hard to create because the pieces had to be the right colors and cut in the right shapes and sizes to actually fit together to make an appealing piece of work. I took a picture for my brother of the fish mosaic that was on the blog, but I don't remember where I saw it. Anyways, a lot of mosaics were created in that time to decorate floors and walls of houses in places such as Pompeii and Rome. Some of the mosaics first started as black and white images, then later turned into monochromatic or natural images. I find it neat how they were able to get the glass/stone/marble, etc. in the exact colors needed to create mosaics that almost look like paintings.

This website kind of focuses on Greece, but it does reference to Roman mosaics as well:

http://www.greekmosaics.com/History.htm

Also, a lot of depictions of Christ, as seen on the blog, were made in that time including recreations of The Last Supper in mosaic form.

Luke said...

Wow, incredible detail in the Roman mosaic of marine life. It must of taken forever for the designer to collect all the marine life to copy from, arrange and inscribe. I dont like the mosaic of Jesus as well because of the way his body is outlined. It gives the pop-out-at-you effect but to me it looks almost cartoonist. And Jesus doesn't have purple hair! jk & I cant tell what the mosaic in the Chilgrove Vallley is supposed to be. It looks like half of it exploded. I am fascinated with mosaics because it is very time consuming to cut and fit in each little piece into the entire project...It's like the grandest puzzles of puzzles to work/make. The mosaic under the cathedral floor is ugly though lol

aydin1107 said...

I looked through a lot of the pictures of the Cathedral Basilica, and I was really impressed. I can't believe something like that exsists here in the United States. The detail through the whole building is amazing, and the mosaics were quite good. I wish there would be more places like this here.

James A. said...

Either mosaics are really good or really bad because they are so difficult to make correctly. There is all the pieces, colors and angles you have to worry about and if your pieces arent small enough it becomes very cartoonish to me.

Its interesting how people from all over the world felt the need to create mosaics and use them on ceilings, floors, walls etc..

kaitlin said...

I have a huge appreciation for how artistic and talented these people were. It is so amazing that they were able to use their abilities to create such intricate pictures and symbols. I liked how they would be able to pick out designs and things like wall paper. It gave me a better idea of how it would have been very popular and common in their society.

It is so great that each mosaic is very detailed. It gives a really cool representation of the talent that these people had. I looked up some of the designs that were used on the website below.
http://www.thejoyofshards.co.uk/history/index.shtml

VictorVonDoom said...

Oh man! its really cool to see how these pictures are made! Each is an individual colored stone of some sort, thats some serious dedication. I can hardly get off my butt to post in these each week let alone to place millions of colored stones to make a very beautiful piece!It's also neat how they were used to decorate the inside of houses...why cant we have these today? It would be really neat to walk into someones house and see a huge mosaic of them or some other scene hanging on the wall....

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mosaics

bigbadteacher said...

this post has been graded

Anonymous said...

Retroclide, though Christ dressed as a Roman Soldier was based on metaphor it was also deeply linked to Roman notions of masculinity based on military virtues. Remember it was created in a world where potential converts believed that real men fought in battle..internal or external. We have numerous examples in Late Antique literature of non-Christians condemning Christianity because of the unmanliness of Christ. For example, A seventh century Muslim soldier asks surrendering Eastern Romans, How is Christ going to protect you when he could not even protect himself from the Jews? Seen in this context, it is important to rember that Saint's Lives and relics only develope after the Roman Empire's acceptance of Christianity in the fourth-century, and in part reflect a desire to creat heroes that fit into a model that could be accepted by potential converts.

Anonymous said...

Gals
You have got to see this. Obama playing on XBox. Funniest video ever. http://bit.ly/bllhx1

Karin W said...

I am looking for a better copy of the timeline file. Can you help me? I tried the maat link but the file is no longer there. Thanks
Karin