Tuesday, January 9, 2007

What is a mosaic?

Kali Stanger
Honors Program in Rome - Winter 2007

A mosaic is the art of decoration using small pieces of colored glass, stone, or other material to create a pattern or design. Mosaics are created for the technique of decorative art, as aspect of interior decoration, or for cultural and spiritual significance. The small tiles are usually a centimeter by a centimeter and they are shaped almost like a tooth, which make them extremely durable and sturdy. These are known as tesserae and are backed with metal foils.

Mosaics date back 4,000 years or more. The first mosaics were created with terracotta cones pushed point-first into a background to create the design. Pebble pavements were created in the 8th century using different colored stones which were intended to be patterned decoration. The Greeks were the ones who initially thought to use mosaics as an art form. Christian basilicas started using mosaics more commonly to cover walls and ceiling in the late 4th century. The greatest development of Christian mosaics became apparent in the Byzantine Empire including Ravenna, Sicily, and Venice. Ravenna is world-widely known for the artistic mosaic heritage.

There are three different techniques one can choose to use when creating a mosaic. The first is the direct method. This includes gluing each tesserae separately onto the surface by hand. This is usually done with 3-dimensional objects, such as a vase. The advantage of this method is that one can see the work at hand and make adjustment before it is set in stone. The disadvantages include that the artist must work directly at the chosen surface, it is difficult to control evenness, and the artist must be in the same spot for long periods of time.

The second technique is the indirect method. In this method, the tiles are applied upside down to an adhesive or sticky piece of heavy duty paper and later transferred to walls, floors, and other craft projects. This is usually done on simple, geometric patterns, or larger projects because you can do this easily in sections.

The third technique used to create a mosaic is the double indirect method. In order to use this method, one must place all the tessarae face up on a sticky piece of paper, sometimes called a medium, exactly how you want it to appear. The second step is to place a second medium on top. Then you turn the piece over and the first medium is removed. Then you follow the steps of the indirect method. This method is also completed in sections. The later two methods are often used when making big projects such as murals, which are usually transported off-site.