2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Art

Detail of mosaic from Herculaneum depicting Amphitrite
Detail of mosaic from Herculaneum depicting Amphitrite
A small part of The Great Pavement, a Roman mosaic laid in AD 325 at Woodchester, Gloucestershire, England.
A small part of The Great Pavement, a Roman mosaic laid in AD 325 at Woodchester, Gloucestershire, England.
Cave canem mosaics ('beware of the dog') were a popular motif for the threshold of Roman villas.
Cave canem mosaics ('beware of the dog') were a popular motif for the threshold of Roman villas.
Early 12th-century Kievan mosaic depicting St. Demetrius.
Early 12th-century Kievan mosaic depicting St. Demetrius.
Located in Tustin, California, this contemporary opalescent glass mosaic by David Ascalon depicts events from the Old Testament.
Located in Tustin, California, this contemporary opalescent glass mosaic by David Ascalon depicts events from the Old Testament.

Mosaic is the art of decoration with small pieces of colored glass, stone or other material. It may be a technique of decorative art, an aspect of interior decoration or of cultural and spiritual significance as in a cathedral. Small tiles or fragments of pottery (known as tesserae, diminutive tessellae) or of colored glass or clear glass backed with metal foils are used to create a pattern or picture.


Mosaics were used across the ancient world for domestic interior decoration. Mosaics of the 4th century BC are found in the Macedonian palace-city of Aegae, and they enriched the floors of Hellenistic villas, and Roman dwellings from Britain to Dura-Europas. Splendid mosaic floors distinguished luxurious Roman villas across north Africa. In Rome, Nero and his architects used mosaics to cover the surfaces of walls and ceilings in the Domus Aurea, built AD 64.

Early Christian art

With the building of Christian basilicas in the late 4th century, wall and ceiling mosaics were adapted to Christian uses. The earliest examples, such as those of the first basilica of St. Peter and St. Paul were all destroyed, but the mosaics of Santa Constanza and Santa Pudenziana, both from the 4th century, survived. The winemaking putti in the ambulatory of Santa Constanza still follow the classical tradition (ie. feast of Bacchus). The so-called Tomb of the Julii, near the crypt beneath St Peter's Basilica, is a fourth-century vaulted tomb with wall and ceiling mosaics that are given Christian interpretations. The former Tomb of Galerius in Thessaloniki, converted into a Christian church during the course of the 4th century, was embellished with very high artistic quality mosaics. Only fragments survived of the original decoration, especially a band depicting saints with hands raised in prayer, in front of complex architectural phantasies.

In the following century Ravenna, the capital of the Western Roman Empire, became the centre of late Roman mosaic art (see details in Ravenna section). Milan also served as the capital of the western empire in the 4th century. In the St Aquilinus Chapel of the Basilica of San Lorenzo mosaics executed in the late 4th-early 5th centuries, depict Christ with the Apostles and the Abduction of Elijah; these mosaics are outstanding for their bright colors, naturalism and adherence to the classical canons of order and proportion.

Albingaunum was the main Roman port of Liguria. The octogonal baptistry of the town was decorated in the 5th century with high quality blue and white mosaics representing the Apostles. The surviving remains are fragmentary.

A beautiful mosaic pavement depicting humans, animals and plants from the original fourth-century cathedral of Aquileia have survived in the later medieval church. This mosaic adopts pagan motifs such as the Nilotic scene but behind the traditional naturalistic content is Christian symbolism (ichthys, fisherman). The sixth-century early Christian basilicas of Sant' Eufemia and Santa Maria delle Grazie in Grado also boast magnificent mosaic floors.


In the 5th century Ravenna, the capital of the Western Roman Empire, became the centre of late Roman mosaic art. The Mausoleum of Galla Placidia was decorated with mosaics of high artistic quality in 425-430. The vaults of the small, cross-shaped structure are clad with mosaics on blue background. The central motif above the crossing - the golden cross in the middle of the stary sky - especially capturing. Another great building established by Galla Placidia was the Church of San Giovanni Evangelista. She erected it in fulfillement of a vow that she made when escaped from a deadly storm in 425 on the sea voyage from Constantinople to Ravenna. The mosaics depicted the storm, portraits of members of the western and eastern imperial family and the bishop of Ravenna, Peter Chrysologus. They were probably the most beautiful late Roman works of art in Ravenna, but we know them only from Renaissance sources because they were destroyed in 1569.

Ostrogoths kept alive the tradition in the sixth century, as the mosaics of the Arian Baptistry, Baptistry of Neon, Archiepiscopal Chapel, and the earlier phase mosaics in the Basilica of San Vitale and Basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo testify.

After 539 Ravenna was conquered by the Byzantine Empire and became the seat of the Exarchate of Ravenna. The greatest development of Christian mosaics unfolded in the second half of the 6th century. Outstanding examples of Byzantine mosaic art are the later phase mosaics in the Basilica of San Vitale and Basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo. The mosaic depicting Emperor Justinian I and Empress Theodora in the Basilica of San Vitale were executed shortly after the Byzantine conquest. The mosaics of the Basilica of Sant'Apollinare in Classe were made around 549. The anti-Arian theme is obvious in the apse mosaic of San Michele in Affricisco, executed in 545-547 (largely destroyed, the remains in Berlin).

The last example of Byzantine mosaics in Ravenna was commissioned by bishop Reparatus between 673-79 in the Basilica of Sant'Apollinare in Classe. The mosaic panel in the apse showing the bishop with Emperor Constantine IV is obviously an imitation of the Justinian panel in San Vitale.

Ravenna is still known world-wide as the Capital of Mosaic on account of its unique artistic heritage.

Byzantine mosaics

Mosaic Icon of Christ Pantocrator from Hagia Sophia.
Mosaic Icon of Christ Pantocrator from Hagia Sophia.

Mosaics played a more important role in Byzantine art as in Western-Europe. Byzantine church interiors were generally covered with golden mosaics. Mosaic art flourished in the Byzantine Empire from the 6th to the 15th century. The majority of Byzantine mosaics were destroyed without trace during the long Christian-Muslim wars but surviving remains still form a beautiful collection.

The buildings of Emperor Justinian like the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople and the Nea Church in Jerusalem were certainly embellished with great mosaics but none of these survived. Probably the earliest example of Byzantine mosaic art can be found in the Saint Catherine's Monastery on Mount Sinai. On the upper wall Moses is shown in two panels on a landscape background. In the apse we can see the Transfiguration of Jesus on a golden background. The apse is surrounded with bands containing medallions of apostles and prophets, and two contemporary figure, "Abbot Longinos" and "John the Deacon". The mosaic was probably created in 565/6.

The so-called small sekretonof the Great Palace of Constantinople was built in 565-577. Some fragments survived from the mosaics of the vaulted room. The vine scroll motives are very similar to those in the Santa Constanza and they still follow the Classical tradition. There are remains of floral decoration in the Panayia Acheiropoietos Church in Thessaloniki (5-6th centuries).

In the 6th century Ravenna, the capital of Byzantine Italy, became the centre of mosaic making (see details in Ravenna section). Istria also boasts some important examples from this era. The Euphrasian Basilica in Parentium was built in the middle of the 6th century and decorated with outstanding mosaics depicting the Theotokos flanked by angels and saints. It is a typical Ravennate work of art.

Interesting fragments remained from the mosaics of the Church of Santa Maria Formosa in Pola. These high quality pieces were made during the 6th century by artists from Constantinople. Their pure Byzantine style is different than the contemporary Ravennate mosaics.

Very few early Bzyantine mosaics survived the Iconoclastic destruction of the 8th century. Among the rare examples are the 6th century Christ in majesty (or Ezekiel's Vision) mosaic in the apse of the Osios David Church in Thessaloniki that was hidden behind mortar during the times of danger. The early 7th century Hagios Demetrios Church also escaped destruction.

In the Iconoclastic era figural mosaics were also condemned as idolatry. The Iconoclastic churches were embellished with plain gold mosaics with only one great cross in the apse like the Hagia Irene in Constantinople (after 740). There were similar crosses in the apses of the Hagia Sophia Church in Thessaloniki and in the Church of the Dormition in Nicaea. The crosses were substituted with the image of the Theotokos in both churches after the victory of the Iconodules (787-797 and in 8-9th centuries respectively, the Dormition church was totally destroyed in 1922).

One of floor mosaics excavated at the Great Palace of Constantinople, dated to the reign of Justinian I.
One of floor mosaics excavated at the Great Palace of Constantinople, dated to the reign of Justinian I.

A similar Theotokos image flanked by two archangels were made for the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople in 867. The dedication inscription says: "The images which the impostors had cast down here pious emperors have again set up." In the 870s the so-called large sekreton of the Great Palace of Constantinople was decorated with the images of the four great iconodule patriarchs.

The post-Iconoclastic era was the heyday of Byzantine art with the most beautiful mosaics executed. The mosaics of the Macedonian Renaissance (867-1056) carefully mingled traditionalism with innovation. The 9th and 10th century mosaics of the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople are truly classical Byzantine artworks. The north and south tympana beneath the dome was decorated with figures of prophets, saints and patriarchs. Above the principal door from the narthex we can see an Emperor kneeling before Christ (late 9th or early 10th century). Above the door from the soutwest vestibule to the narthex another mosaic shows the Theotokos with Iustinian and Constantine. Iustinian is offering the model of the church to Mary while Constantine is helding the model of the city in his hand. Both emperors are beardless - this is an example for conscious archaization as contemporary Byzantine rulers were bearded. A mosaic panel on the gallery shows Christ with Constantine Monomachos and Empress Zoe (1042-1055). The emperor gives a bulging money sack to Christ offering a donation for the church.

Another great mosaics of the Macedonian renaissance in the church of St Mary of the Pharos and the Nea Church were totally destroyed together with the buildings themselves. The dome of the Hagia Sophia Church in Thessaloniki is decorated with an Ascension mosaic (c. 885). The composition resembles to the great baptistries in Ravenna with apostles standing between palms and Christ in the middle. The scheme is somewhat unusual as the standard post-Iconoclastic formula for domes contained only the image of the Pantokrator.

An interesting set of Macedonian era mosaics make up the decoration of the Hosios Loukas Monastery. In the nartex we can see the Crucifixion, the Pantokrator and the Anastasis above the doors, while in the church the Theotokos (apse), Pentecost, scenes from Christ's life and ermit St Loukas (all executed before 1048). The scenes are treated with a minimum of detail and the panels are dominated with the gold setting.

The Nea Moni Monastery on Chios was established by Constantine Monomachos in 1043-1056. The exceptional mosaic decoration of the dome showing probably the nine orders of the angels was destroyed in 1822 but other interesting panels survived (Theotokos with raised hands, four evangelists with seraphim, scenes from Christ's life and an interesting Anastasis where King Salomon bears resemblance to Constantine Monomachos). In comparison with Osios Loukas Nea Moni mosaics contain more figures, detail, landscape and setting.

The Daphni Monastery houses the best preserved complex of mosaics from the early Comnenan period (ca. 1100) when the austere and hieratic manner typical for the Macedonian epoch and represented by the Christ Pantocrator image inside the dome, was metamorphosing into a more intimate and delicate style, of which The Angel before St Joachim — with its pastoral backdrop, harmonious gestures and pensive lyricism — is considered a superb example.

There are very few existing mosaics from the Komnenian period but this paucity must be due to accidents of survival and gives a misleading impression. The only surviving 12th century mosaic work in Constantinople is a panel in Hagia Sophia depicting Emperor John II and Empress Eirene with the Theotokos (1122-34). The empress with her long braided hair and rosy cheeks is especially capturing. It must be a life-like portrayal because Eirene was really a redhead as her original Hungarian name, Piroska shows. The imperial mausoleum of the Komnenos dynasty, the Pantokrator Monastery was certainly decorated with great mosaics but these were later destroyed. The lack of Komnenian mosaics outside the capital is even more apparent. There is only a "Communion of the Apostles" in the apse of the cathedral of Serres.

A striking technical innovation of the Komnenian period was the production of very precious, miniature mosaic icons. In these icons the small tesserae (with sides of 1 mm or less) were set on wax or resin on a wooden panel. These products of extraordinary craftmanship were intended for private devotion. The Louvre Transfiguration is a very fine example from the late 12th century.

The sack of Constantinople in 1204 caused the decline of mosaic art for the next five decades. After the reconquest of the city by Michael VIII Palaiologos in 1261 the Hagia Sophia was restored and a beautiful new Deesis was made on the south galery. This huge mosaic panel with figures two and a half times lifesize is really overwhelming due to its grand scale and superlative craftmanship. The Hagia Sophia Deesis is probably the most famous Byzantine mosaic in Constantinople.

The Pammakaristos Monastery was restored by Michael Glabas, an imperial official, in the late 13th century. Only the mosaic decoration of small burial chapel of Glabas survived. This domed chapel was built by his widow, Martha around 1304-08. In the miniature dome we can see the traditional Pantokrator with twelve prophets beneath. Unusually the apse is decorated with a Deesis, probably due to the funerary function of the chapel.

The Church of the Holy Apostles in Thessaloniki was built in 1310-14. Although some vandal systematically removed the gold tesserae of the background it can be seen that the Pantokrator and the prophets in the dome follow the traditional Byzantine pattern. Many details are similar to the Pammakaristos mosaics so we can suppose that the same team of mosaicists worked in both buildings. Another building with a related mosaic decoration is the Theotokos Paregoritissa Church in Arta. The church was established by the Despot of Epirus in 1294-96. In the dome we can see the traditional stern Pantokrator, with prophets and cherubim below.

The greatest mosaic work of the Palaiologian Renessaince is the decoration of the Chora Church in Constantinople. Although the mosaics of the naos haven't survived except three panels, the decoration of the exonarthex and the esonarthex constitute the most important full-scale mosaic cycle in Constantinople after the Hagia Sophia. They were executed around 1320 by the command of Theodore Metochites. The esonarthex has two fluted domes, specially created to provide the ideal setting for the mosaic images of the ancestors of Christ. The southern one is called the Dome of the Pantokrator while the northern one is the Dome of the Theotokos. The most important panel of the esonarthex depicts Theodor Metochites wearing a huge turban, offering the model of the church to Christ. The walls of both narthexes are decorated with mosaic cycles from the life of the Virgin and the life of Christ. These panels show the influence of the Italian trecento on Byzantine art especially the more natural settings, landscapes, figures.

The last Byzantine mosaic work was created for the Hagia Sophia, Constantinople in the middle of the 14th century. The great eastern arch of the cathedral collapsed in 1346, bringing down the third of the main dome. By 1355 not only the big Pantokrator image was restored but new mosaics were set on the eastern arch depicting the Theotokos, the Baptist and Emperor John V Palaiologos (discovered only in 1989).

Medieval Rome

Christian mosaic art also flourished in Late Antique and medieval Rome. 5th century mosaics can be found over the triumphal arch and in the nave of the basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore. The 27 surviving panels of the nave are the most important mosaic cycle in Rome of this period. 6th century pieces are really rare in Rome but we should mention the mosaics inside the triumphal arch of the basilica of San Lorenzo fuori le mura. The Chapel of Ss. Primo e Feliciano in Santo Stefano Rotondo has very interesting and rare mosaics from the 7th century. This chapel was built by by Pope Theodore I as a family burial place.

In the 7-9th centuries Rome fell under the influence of Byzantine art, noticeable on the mosaics of Santa Prassede, Santa Maria in Domnica, Sant'Agnese fuori le Mura, Santa Cecilia in Trastevere and the San Venanzio chapel of San Giovanni in Laterano. The great dining hall of Pope Leo III in the Lateran Palace was also decorated with mosaics. They were all destroyed later except one interesting example, the so-called Triclinio Leoniano about which a copy was made in the 18th century.

The last great period of Roman mosaic art was the 12-13th century when Rome developed their own distinct artistic style, free from the strict rules of eastern tradition and with a more realistic portrayal of figures in space. The most well-known works of this period are the floral mosaics of the Basilica di San Clemente, the façade of Santa Maria in Trastevere and San Paolo fuori le Mura. The beautiful apse mosaic of Santa Maria in Trastevere (1140) depicts Christ and Mary sitting next to each other on the heavenly throne, the first example of this iconographic scheme. A similar mosaic, Christ coronating Mary, decorates the apse of Santa Maria Maggiore. It is a work of Jacopo Torriti from 1295. The mosaics of Torriti and Jacopo da Camerino in the apse of San Giovanni in Laterano from 1288-94 were thoroughly restored in 1884. The apse mosaic of San Crisogono is attributed to Pietro Cavallini, the greatest Roman painter of the 13th century. Six scenes from the life of Mary in Santa Maria in Trastevere were also executed by Cavallini in 1290. These mosaics are praised for their realistic portrayal and attempts of perspective.

The great Navicella mosaic (1305-1313) in the atrium of the Old St. Peter's is attributed to Giotto di Bondone. The giant mosaic, commissioned by Cardinal Jacopo Stefaneschi, was originally situated on the eastern porch of the old basilica and occupied the whole wall above the entrance arcade facing the courtyard. It depicted St. Peter walking on the waters. This extraordinary work was mainly destroyed during the construction of the new St. Peter's in the 17th century. Navicella means "little ship" referring to the large boat which dominated the scene, and whose sail, filled by the storm, loomed over the horizon. Such a natural representation of a seascape was known only from ancient works of art.


In Sicily the heyday of mosaic making was the age of the independent Norman kingdom in the 12th century. The Norman kings adopted the Byzantine tradition of mosaic decoration to enhance the somewhat dubious legality of their rule. Greek masters working in Sicily developed their own style, that shows the influence of Western European and Islam artistic tendencies. Best examples of Sicilian mosaic art are the Cappella Palatina of Roger II, the Martorana church in Palermo and the cathedrals of Cefalù and Monreale.

The Cappella Palatina clearly shows evidence for blending the eastern and western styles. The dome (1142-42) and the eastern end of the church (1143-1154) were decorated with typical Byzantine mosaics ie. Pantokrator, angels, scenes from the life of Christ. Even the inscriptions are written in Greek. The narrative scenes of the nave (Old Testament, life of Sts Peter and Paul) are resembling to the mosaics of the Old St. Peter's and St. Paul's Basilica in Rome (Latin inscriptions, 1154-66).

The Martorana church (decorated around 1143) looked originally even more Byzantine although important parts were later demolished. The dome mosaic is very similar to that of the Cappella Palatina with Christ enthroned in the middle and four bowed, elongated angels. The Greek incsriptions, decorative patterns, the evangelists in the squinches are obviously executed by the same Greek masters who worked on Capella Palatina. The mosaic depicting Roger II of Sicily, dressed in Byzantine imperial robes, receiving the crown by Christ was originally in the demolished narthex together with another panel, the Theotokos with Georgios of Antiochia, the founder of the church.

In Cefalù (1148) only the high, French Gothic presbitery was covered with mosaics: the Pantokrator on the semidome of the apse and cherubim on the vault. On the walls we can see Latin and Greek saints, with Greek inscriptions.

The Monreale mosaics constitute the largest decoration of this kind in Italy, covering 0,75 hectares with at least 100 million glass and stone tesserae. This huge work was executed between 1176 and 1186 by the order of King William II of Sicily. The iconography of the mosaics in the presbytery is similar to Cefalu while the pictures in the nave are almost the same as the narrative scenes in the Cappella Palatina. The Martorana mosaic of Roger II blessed by Christ was repeated with the figure of King William II instead of his predecessor. Another panel shows the king offering the model of the cathedral to the Theotokos.

The Cathedral of Palermo, rebuilt by Archbishop Walter in the same time (1172-85), was certainly decorated with mosaics but none of these survived. Southern Italy was also part of the Norman kingdom but great mosaics didn't survived in this area except the fine mosaic pavement of the Otranto cathedral from 1166, with interesting representations of the months, Old Testament subjects and others.

Medieval Italy

In parts of Italy, which were under eastern artistic influences, like Sicily and Venice, mosaic making never went out of fashion in the Middle Ages. The whole interior of the St Mark's Basilica in Venice is clad with elaborate, golden mosaics. The oldest scenes were executed by Greek masters in the late 11th century but the majority of the mosaics are works of local artists from the 12-13th centuries. The decoration of the church was finished only in the 16th century. 110 scenes of mosaics in the atrium of St Mark's were based directly on the miniatures of the Cotton Genesis, a Byzantine manuscript that was brought to Venice after the sack of Constantinople (1204). The mosaics were executed in the 1220s. Other important Venetian mosaics can be found in the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta in Torcello from the 12th century, and in the Basilical of Santi Maria e Donato in Murano with a restored apse mosaic from the 12th century and a beautiful mosaic pavement (1140).

Trieste was also an important centre of mosaic art. The mosaics in the apse of the Cathedral of San Giusto were laid by master craftsmen from Veneto in the 12-13th centuries.

The Abbot of Monte Cassino, Desiderius sent envoys to Constantinople some time after 1066 to hire expert Byzantine mosaicists for the decoration of the rebuilt abbey church. According to chronicler Leo of Ostia the Greek artists decorated the apse, the arch and the vestibule of the basilica. Their work was admired by contemporaries but was totally destroyed in later centuries except two fragments depicting greyhounds (now in the Monte Cassino Museum). "The abbot in his wisdom decided that great number of young monks in the monastery should be thoroughly initiated in these arts" - says the chronicler about the role of the Greeks in the revival of mosaic art in medieval Italy.

In Florence a magnificiant mosaic of the Last Judgement decorates the dome of the Battistero. The earliest mosaics, works of art of many unknown Venetian craftsmen (including probably Cimabue), date from 1225. The covering of the ceiling was probably not completed until the 14th century.

The impressive mosaic of Christ in Majesty, flanked by the Blessed Virgin and St. John the Evangelist in the apse of the cathedral of Pisa was designed by Cimabue in 1302. It evokes the Monreale mosaics in style. It survived the great fire of 1595 which destroyed most of the mediveval interior decoration.

Sometimes not only church interiors but façades were also decorated with mosaics in Italy like in the case of the St Mark's Basilica in Venice (mainly from the 17-19th centuries, but the oldest one from 1270-75, "The burial of St Mark in the first basilica"), the Cathedral of Orvieto (golden Gothic mosaics from the 14th century, many times redone) and the Basilica di San Frediano in Lucca (huge, striking golden mosaic representing the Ascension of Christ with the apostles below, designed by Berlinghiero Berlinghieri in the 13th century).

Western and Central Europe

Beyond the Alpes the first important example of mosaic art was the decoration of the Palatine Chapel in Aachen, commissioned by Charlemagne. It was completely destroyed in a fire in 1650. A rare example of surviving Karolingian mosaics is the apsis decoration of the oratory of Germigny-des-Prés built by Theodulf in 805-806, bishop of Orléans, a leading figure of Carolingian renaissance. This unique work of art, rediscovered only in the 19th century, had no followers.

Later fresco replaced the more labor-intensive technique of mosaic in Western-Europe, although mosaics were sometimes used as decoration on medieval cathedrals. The Royal Basilica of the Hungarian kings in Székesfehérvár (Alba Regia) had a mosaic decoration in the apse. It was probably a work of Venetian or Ravennese craftsmen, executed in the first decades of the 11th century. The mosaic was almost totally destroyed together with the basilica in the 17th century. The Golden Gate of the St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague got its name from the golden 14th century mosaic of the Last Judgement above the portal. It was executed by Venetian craftsmen.

In 2003 remains of a mosaic pavement were discovered under the ruins of the Bizere Monastery near the River Mureş in present-day Romania. The panels, beautifully crafted, are depicting real or fantastic animal, floral, solar and geometric representations. Some archeologists supposed that it was the floor of an Orthodox church, built some time between the 10th and 11th century. Other experts claim that it was part of the later Catholic monastery on the site because it shows the signs of strong Italianate influence. The monastery was situated that time in the territory of the Kingdom of Hungary.

Renaissance and Baroque

Although mosaics went out of fashion and were substituted by frescoes that time, some of the great Renaissance artists also worked with the old technique. Raffaello's "Creation of the World" in the dome of the Chigi Chapel in Santa Maria del Popolo is a notable example that was executed by a Venetian craftsman, Luigi di Pace.

In the 17th century, the papacy established a Fabbrica to embellish the then new and cavernous St. Peter's Basilica with mosaics. There are few frescoes or canvases in the cavernous Basilica. Among the explanations are:

1) The old St. Peter's basilica had been decorated with mosaic, as was common in churches built during the Byzantine domination; the seventeenth century only followed the tradition to enhance continuity.
2) In a temple like this with high walls and few windows, mosaics were brighter and reflected more light.
3) Mosaics had greater intrinsic longevity than either frescoes or canvases in the era lacking internal climate control.

The mosaics of St. Peter's often show lively Baroque compositions based on designs or canvases from like Ciro Ferri, Guido Reni, Domenichino, Carlo Maratta, and many others. Raphael is represented by a mosaic replica of this last painting, the Transfiguration. Many of these mosaics were completed by the Pier Paolo Cristofari. Often works of the Fabbrica were used as papal gifts.

Eastern Orthodox countries

The craft has also been popular in the Eastern Orthodox countries and Russia, inherited as part of the Byzantine tradition. Yaroslav, the Grand Prince of the Kievan Rus' built a large cathedral in his capital, Kiev. The model of the church was the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, and it was also called Saint Sophia Cathedral. It was built mainly by Byzantine master craftsmen, sent by Constantine Monomachos, between 1037 and 1046. Naturally the more important surfaces in the interior were decorated with golden mosaics. In the dome we can see the traditional stern Pantokrator supported by angels. Between the 12 windows of the drum were apostles and the four evangelists on the pendentives. The apse is dominated by an orant Theotokos with a Deesis in three medallions above. Below is a Communion of the Apostles.

Prince Sviatopolk II built St. Michael's Golden-Domed Monastery in Kiev in 1108. The mosaics of the church are undoubtedly works of Byzantine artists. Although the church was destroyed by Soviet authorities, majority of the panels were preserved. Small parts of ornamental mosaic decoration from the 12th century survived in the Saint Sophia Cathedral in Novgorod but this church was largely decorated with frescoes.

Mosaics stopped being used for church decoration as early as the 12th century in the eastern Slavic countries. Later Russian churches were decorated with frescoes, similarly than orthodox churches in the Balkan.

The apse mosaic of the Gelati Monastery in Georgia from c. 1130 is probably the work of Byzantine mosaicist invited by King Demetre I. The fragmentary panel depicting the Theotokos flanked by two archangels looks thoroughly Byzantine (with Greek inscriptions).

Islamic art

Islamic architecture used mosaic technique in intricate geometric designs. The process is known as zillij in North Africa and qashani further east. Some of the best examples of Islamic mosaics were produced in Moorish Spain and are still visible at the Alhambra.

Modern mosaics

Modern mosaic of a Picasso painting in San Francisco, California.
Modern mosaic of a Picasso painting in San Francisco, California.

A modern example of mosaic is the Museum of Natural History station of the New York Subway. Some spectacular modern mosaics are the work of modernisme style architects Antoni Gaudí and Josep Maria Jujol, for example the unique mosaics in the Park Güell in Barcelona.

Mosaic technique

There are three main methods: the direct method, the indirect method and the double indirect method.

Direct method

The direct method of mosaic construction involves directly placing (gluing) the individual tesserae onto the supporting surface. This method is well suited to surfaces that have a three-dimensional quality, such as vases.

The direct method suits small projects that are transportable. Another advantage of the direct method is that the resulting mosaic is progressively visible, allowing for any adjustments to tile colors placement.

The disadvantage of the direct method is that the artist must work directly at the chosen surface, which is often not practical for long periods of time. It is unsuitable for large scale projects. Also, it is difficult to control the evenness of the finished surface. This is of particular importance when creating a functional surface such as a floor or a table top.

A modern version of the direct method, sometimes called "Double Direct," is to work directly onto fibreglass mesh. The mosaic can then be constructed with the design visible on the surface and transported to its final location. Large work can be done in this way, with the mosaic being cut up for shipping and then reassembled for installation. It enables the artist to work in comfort in a studio rather than at the site of installation.

Indirect method

The indirect method of applying tesserae is often used for very large projects with repetitive elements. Tiles are applied upside-down to an adhesive backing paper, and later transferred onto walls, floors or craft projects. This method is most useful for mosaics with simple or geometric patterns, solid blocks of colour, and extremely large projects. Mosaic tabletops are usually made using the indirect method, as it results in a smoother and more even surface.

Double indirect method

The double indirect method is often used when it is important to see the work during the creation process as it will appear when completed. The tesserae are placed face-up on a medium (often adhesive-backed paper or sticky plastic) as it will appear when installed. When the mosaic is complete, a similar medium is placed atop it. The piece is then turned over, the original underlaying material is removed, and the piece is installed as in the indirect method described above.

Both indirect and double-indirect methods are often performed in sections, allowing extremely large projects such as murals to be completed off-site and transported to their destination without large trucks being needed.


The best way to arrange variously shaped tiles on a surface can lead to complicated mathematical problems - see tessellation for details. Roger Penrose is a mathematician who has worked with tiling problems - see Penrose tilings.

The artist M.C. Escher was influenced by Moorish mosaics to begin his investigations into tessellation.

Digital imaging

A mosaic in digital imaging is a plurality of non-overlapping images, arranged in some tessellation. A photomosaic is a picture made up of various other pictures (pioneered by Joseph Francis), in which each " pixel" is actually another picture, when examined closely.

A tile mosaic is a digital image made up of individual tiles, arranged in a non-overlapping fashion, e.g. to make a static image on a shower room or bathing pool floor, by breaking the image down into square pixels formed from ceramic tiles (a typical size is 1 inch by 1 inch, as for example, on the floor of the University of Toronto pool, though sometimes larger tiles such as 2 by 2 inch are used). These digital images are coarse in resolution and often simply express text, such as the depth of the pool in various places, but some such digital images are used to show a sunset or other beach theme. Obviously digital images expressed in ceramic tile are of very low resolution.

Thus apart from the artistic value (i.e. the work of Robert Silvers, Ed Chapman and others who use mosaicing creatively), the mosaicing is usually considered an artifact to be filtered out, through interpolation by demosaicing.

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