Mosiacs who invented mosaics

The history of mosaic art

Mosaics have something to do with art. This already makes clear the origin of the word, as the word "mosaic" comes from the Greek "musa". In Greek mythology, the nine muses are the protectors of the sciences and arts and the daughters of Zeus, the father of gods. Furthermore, the word mosaic is related to the Latin noun "Musaeum". Musaeum means temple of the muses and is dedicated to the arts. Mosaics therefore not only have to do with art, they are art. Mosaics were always used for beautification and restoration, whether as wall decorations, as pictures with figurative content or as floor designs, as in the photo. This mosaic can be found in the area around the Shrine of the Three Kings in Cologne Cathedral (Photo: pixelquelle.de).


Floor designs in Cologne Cathedral

The mosaicers had to and must be artful, which is why one speaks of mosaic artists or mosaicists. From small mosaic stones with an edge length of 1-2 cm or smaller, pictures and ornaments up to several meters in size have been or are created. Mosaic stones rarely consist of stones or semi-precious stones, mostly of glazed stoneware, porcelain or colored cast glass. When, on the other hand, the tiler speaks of mosaic, he means small-format tiles between 50 x 50 and 100 x 100 mm. The mosaic stones are laid stone by stone in a mortar bed according to a preliminary drawing, grouted and, if necessary, sanded smooth. With newer techniques, the mosaic is placed in its entirety in the mortar bed. To do this, it must first be applied to a grid or mirror-inverted on paper or foil.


Pebble mosaic

It is no longer possible to estimate precisely when the mosaics began to appear. For most historians, however, the story of the mosaic begins with the Greeks. For the first time, they integrated images and figurative representations into the mosaic. The first mosaics were pebble mosaics. The pebbles were embedded in mortar and mainly used for floor mosaics. The time of the pebble mosaic was from the 5th century BC and lasted for about three centuries. From the beginning of the 2nd century, the Greeks began to regularly process hewn stone cubes (Opus tesselatum).

Opus tesselatum was spread over the entire Mediterranean area by the Romans. The Alexander mosaic (see photo) from Pompeii (around 100 BC) is one of the most important early Roman finds. It consists of over 4 million stones and is 5.82 m by 3.13 m in size. If you wanted to recreate it, several mosaic artists would be employed for a whole year. From the 1st century BC, the black and white mosaic became more and more popular. It is also used to decorate niches, columns or vaults. The multicolor is still retained in the art of mosaic.


Alexander mosaic from Pompeii

Ravenna mosaics

Ravenna became a center of mosaic art in the early Christian period. What was new was the use of highly light-reflecting glass stones, which were ideally suited to decorating the interiors of churches. In addition, an infinite color palette was available. In Ravenna in the 5th and 6th centuries AD, many splendid mosaics were created with the green background typical of Ravenna, which only existed there (read also the article: "The famous mosaics of Ravenna"). After a turning point, the mosaics of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul from the beginning of the 10th century marked a new beginning. They represent one of the largest mosaic works ever realized. A striking feature of Byzantine mosaic art is the golden background (read: "The mosaics of Hagia Sophia").


Mosaic icon in Greece

From the 13th century, the Byzantine and general mosaic art went downhill. The mosaics in the churches were less magnificent, there were hardly any wall mosaics, only floor mosaics. Details and color gradations were omitted, what counted was only the content that was supposed to be transported with the mosaic.

That only changed with the decoration of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome in the 17th century. From this time on, mosaics gained new appreciation, above all because they are more durable than pictures and because of the particular liveliness and persistence of the colors.


Hundertwasser building

Numerous workshops were founded in the 19th century (e.g. Paris, Vienna, Darmstadt, Venice). The art of mosaic found a huge revitalization through art and architectural-historical research of historicism, which stimulated restoration and preservation of monuments. It was not until the beginning of the 20th century that there was a new breakthrough to an independent mosaic art that went beyond restoration and copying of endangered works of art.

The art of mosaic sought a connection to architecture, large-scale facade cladding was often done in mosaic. On the right you can see the Uelzen train station redesigned by Friedensreich Hundertwasser (Photo: pixelquelle.de).