Composed of myriad glass or stone tesserae, mosaics bring painstaking craft skills to the realisation of environmental-scale effects.
Mosaic decoration made of terracotta. From the Eanna Temple in Uruk, dedicated to the city goddess Inanna. Sumerian, ca. 3000 BC. Photo Scala, Florence/bpk, Bildagentur fuer Kunst, Kultur und Geschichte, Berlin
The walls of Uruk — the world’s first city — were covered with mosaics of coloured clay and stone cones. Greek and Roman floor mosaics were luxury features. The largest surviving example, the Alexander Mosaic from Pompeii, consists of four million tesserae.
The Alexander Mosaic, detail depicting Alexander the Great (356-323 BC) at the Battle of Issus against Darius III (399-330 BC) in 333 BC, Roman, (1st century BC) / Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Naples, Italy. De Agostini Picture Library. G. Nimatallah. Bridgeman Images.
Mosaicists employed to decorate Byzantine churches between the 5th and 14th centuries transformed the medium’s possibilities. Gold-backed and coloured glass tesserae created shimmering effects, richer and more mysterious than any wall painting, as in the 6th century basilica of Sant' Apollinare in Classe, Ravenna.
The Parable of the Good Shepherd Separating the Sheep from the Goats, Scenes from the Life of Christ (mosaic). Byzantine School, (6th century). Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna, Italy. Bridgeman Images.
In the modern world mosaic strikes a note of folk design or fantasy in public architectural projects such as Juan O’Gorman’s cladding of the Central Library, Mexico City, and Antoni Gaudí’s mosaics in Parc Güell, Barcelona.
Central Library, National Autonomous University of Mexico
Alamy Image. Photo © Age footstock. Alamy
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