History of mosaic


Mosaic, in its early form, is one of the earliest artistic works documented among the most ancient civilizations in history: first evidences of mosaics, made of different materials such as pieces of colored stones, shells and ivory, come from the third millennium BC.

Mosaic with tesserae as basic element, dates back to the Greek-Roman age. Used for surface covering, it was mainly employed in paving dwellings and public places. With its iconographic themes it strongly inspired contemporary painting. Mosaic workers used a direct method, that means directly placing the individual tesserae onto the supporting surface. In this way the resulting mosaic was progressively visible.

During the Byzantine and early Christian era, mosaic passes from the floor to the wall, acquiring new features: the materials used are no longer just natural ones, but also colorful glass pastes and gold. In addition, not having to maintain the smooth surface of floors, the tesserae start to bend slightly, making the colors and the lights of gold vibrate.

After the medieval evolution, mosaic suffers a stall in the modern era: from the Renaissance up to the nineteenth century the dominant art is painting; mosaic becomes just an imitator, it becomes “painting for eternity”, a way to make painted masterpieces survive the degradation of time, taking advantage of the durability of stone. The purpose of the mosaic is then to be as similar as possible to a painted work, seeking for graduated shading, tone control, and precious details typical of the great painters. To reach this purpose, mosaic techniques, such as micro-mosaic of Roman School are developed. This technique unusually uses small tesserae to make small figurative images.

It is only from the second half of the nineteenth century that mosaic acquired new force, thanks to technical innovations of Giandomenico Facchina, who sets up a working technique which will survive until today. Tiles are applied face-down to a backing paper using an adhesive, and later transferred onto walls, floors or craft projects. This method is called indirect method and it allows to obtain a completely smooth surface, giving up, alas, an important characteristic of mosaic: light vibration.

During the course of the twentieth century, mosaic acquires a new artistic value. It enriches and enhances, with colors and lights, some great works of the century: Gaudì, Klimt, Severini, Sironi, Campigli, Chagal, Guttuso, Vedova, Niki de Saint- Phalle used mosaic as coverings and decorations.

At the same time, an experimental artistic tendency arises; it uses organic and recycled materials, which gives a new identity to mosaic.

Since the eighties, the mosaic has been used in design and decoration of anonymous and common objects of industrial production.

Nowadays, contemporary mosaic carries on with technical research and testing of new materials, more and more characterized by a history of reuse; combining an artistic and conceptual investigation which brings it back from the baggage of ancient history and makes it up-to-date and modern.