Mosaics: Smaller Pieces for the Bigger Picture

– Written by Alan Tathanhlong

I sometimes imagine about how mosaics fit into the modern world of art today. The modern world features many mosaics as a popular craft, as modern mosaics tend to cover


Erokism, 2006, ©CC BY 2.0

things such as park benches and bicycles. Modern artists use a variety of objects, such as stones, art glass, and even photographs or bottle caps! One example of mosaics in popular culture is the Calçada Portuguesa, which is a two-toned mosaic pavement in Portugal.Street art is also another example in popular culture, as well as a novel reinvention and expansion of mosaic artwork. One example of a street artist that makes mosaics is Space Invader from France. His work is modeled on the crude pixellation of 1970s–1980s 8-bit video games, such as his mosaics on the Hollywood Sign. In the popular world of art today, there are many famous examples of modern mosaics, such as Space Invader’s mosaics and Lynn Adamo’s Navy Pier.

Other people, however, may believe that historical mosaics fit more closely with the world of art than in modern times. The history of mosaics started with a temple building in Abra, Mesopotamia, and its earliest known examples of mosaics made of different materials,


Charnes, August 2016, ©CC BY-NC 2.0

which were dated to the second half of 3rd millennium BC. Mosaics with patterns and pictures became widespread in classical times, both in Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome. Afterwards, early Christian basilicas from the 4th century were decorated with wall and ceiling mosaics, and mosaic art flourished in the Byzantine Empire from the 6th to the 15th centuries; that tradition was adopted by the Norman kingdom in Sicily in the 12th century, eastern-influenced Venice, and the Rus’ in Ukraine. Mosaic fell out of fashion in the Renaissance, though artists like Raphael continued to practice the old technique. In historical references, there are many ancient examples of these works of art ranging from Greek and Roman, Christian, and Jewish mosaics.  Many of these Roman and Greek mosaic examples include the 4th-century BC mosaic of The Beauty of Durrës in Durrës, Albania, and the Stag Hunt Mosaic at Pella, ancient Macedonia in the late 4th century BC. Examples of Christian mosaics in history include the Tomb of the Juiii,  a 4th-century vaulted tomb with wall and ceiling mosaics that are Christian interpretations; The Good Shepherd mosaic in the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, Ravenna; and the surviving apse mosaic of the Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio, which depicts Christ enthroned between Saint Gervasius and Saint Protasius and angels before a golden background. Finally, Jewish zodiac mosaics were most common in synagogues, including the Beit Alfa synagogue and the Severus synagogue.

Nevertheless, if I combine my thoughts with theirs the final result could figure out how different histories of mosaics are intertwined with each other. For instance, people may ask, “What is a mosaic in the first place?” A mosaic is traditionally a piece of art made by


Gayles, February 2016, ©CC BY 2.0

assembling small pieces of various materials. Common materials such as square pieces of stone, shells, and glass are used in this form of art; however, modern mosaic artists sometimes use odd materials including old china plates, typewriter keys, dice, old watches, and even bones! In order for a mosaic artist to craft his art with his desired materials however, have a choice of three methods: the direct method, the indirect method, and the double indirect method. The direct method  involves directly placing or gluing the individual pieces of the desired material onto a supporting surface, and is suitable for transportable, small projects. On the other hand, the indirect method is performed by applying pieces of a desired material face-down to a backing paper using an adhesive, and later transferred onto walls, floors or craft projects. Finally, the double indirect method, which is rather a variation of the indirect method, is when pieces are placed onto a medium. After that is completed, the piece then turned over, the original underlying material is carefully removed, and the piece is installed as in the indirect method.

The final product from our thoughts can infer that mosaics are connected with all parts of the world of art, with some extent to some other fields. For example,  digital imaging


Tsevis, 2011, ©CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

involves a series of non-overlapping images, arranged in some tessellation. A photomosaic, in relation, is a picture made up of various other pictures , in which each “pixel” is another picture, when examined closely. Another field that relates to mosaics is when rather than being assembled by hand, mosaics designed using computer aided design (CAD) software can be assembled by a robot. Finally, the field of mathematics relates solely to the mosaic design, as it involves symmetry and tessellations. Symmetry, which is a kind of balance in which the corresponding parts are not necessarily alike but only similar, allows the mosaic to be balanced; on the other hand, tessellations are the tilings of one or more geometric shapes with no overlaps and no gaps.

Now, I know that mosaics are incorporated with other diverse fields to create magnificent


Benenson, 2010, ©CC BY 2.0

masterpieces at any period in time. For example, Tsevis’s mosaic of Barack Obama involves the field of digital imaging, since the photomosaic includes photographs of Obama supporters and voters. Some other mosaic examples that is related to the field of mathematics and tessellations  are the 1915 mosaics in the Chapel of Saint Andrew. However, mosaic artists are not the only ones who can create these masterpieces; rather, children of all ages can make these works of arts too! The benefits that come from children making mosaics include creativity, problem-solving, perception, imagination, and self-expression. Along with mosaics, some other art forms related to this could be pixel art, cross-stitching, and interior/exterior designing.


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