Mosaic is a technique for creating artistic images or decorative patterns on various surfaces by attaching a large number of small pieces of hard materials to the base. Mosaics are also used to refer to works of art made using this ancient technique.
Mosaic, along with intarsia and marquetry, is one of the most common types of inlay. It has been used since ancient times in the visual, monumental and decorative arts of most world cultures.
Laying methods and basic materials for creating a mosaic
Mosaic is both painstaking work that requires great patience from the performer and a unique art that arouses admiration. Despite the wide variety of materials used, there are only 2 main ways of laying mosaic elements: direct and reverse.
In the direct method, the master glues the pieces of the mosaic directly onto the prepared base. This styling technology was invented a very long time ago and has practically not undergone any changes over many millennia. It is irreplaceable when creating author’s artistic mosaic compositions.
The reverse laying method became widespread only in the twentieth century. Its essence lies in the fact that the mosaic elements are first glued to the paper sheet with the front side, and then the resulting canvas is attached to the base with the back side. This method is often used by master builders to speed up and simplify the process of decorative wall decoration during renovation as much as possible.
Mosaic panels and paintings must be not only durable, but also resistant to changes in temperature and humidity. Therefore, most often craftsmen use the following materials for making mosaics:
- a natural stone;
- shells of molluscs;
metal. Smalt are pieces of colored glass made using a special technology with the addition of mineral dyes. Depending on the type of additives, it can be transparent or matte, and also have one or more shades.
The history of mosaics is deeply rooted in ancient times. The earliest examples of the masterpieces of this technique were found on the territory of modern Iraq, in the lower reaches of the Euphrates River, they date back to the second half of the fourth millennium BC.
At that time, the city of Ur, belonging to the Sumerian civilization, was located here. The oldest mosaic is made of fired clay cones, deeply pressed into the wall and covered with multi-colored glaze. It is an interweaving of different geometric patterns and has been perfectly preserved to this day.
By the 8th century BC, the masters of Ancient Greece had learned to create ornamental mosaics from raw sea pebbles, and after another 500 years in Hellas they invented the technology of making smalt. The first mosaic panels in the form of plot compositions on mythological themes are dated to the third century BC. And the world-famous mosaic panel “The Battle of Alexander the Great with Darius”, according to the calculations of historians, was created about 125-120 BC.
The ancient Romans
The ancient Romans not only adopted the art of mosaic from the Greeks, but also significantly expanded the scope of its application. Already by the second century BC, mosaic paintings became an integral part of the interior decoration of imperial palaces, houses of the nobility and public baths. The floors, ceilings and walls were decorated with artistic compositions depicting people, animals and gods, as well as all kinds of ornaments and patterns.
After the fall of Rome under the onslaught of barbarians in the 5th century, the Byzantine Empire became the center of European mosaic craft for many centuries. Here, with the recognition of Christianity as the main state religion, mosaic again acquired the status of high art. Its scope was gradually reduced exclusively to the design of the interior decoration of temples.
At the beginning of the 11th century, Byzantine mosaics penetrated into Kievan Rus. Greek and Russian masters jointly created unique frescoes and mosaic panels that still adorn the walls of St. Sophia Cathedral. Unfortunately, over the next century, fresco painting almost completely replaced mosaics not only in Eastern, but also in Western Europe.
In the Islamic world
In the Islamic world, the attitude towards mosaics has always been ambiguous. Although oriental rulers have always sought to exquisitely decorate their palaces and spared no expense in the labors of skilled mosaicists, they still had to comply with the strict norms of the Koran, which forbid creating artistic images of people and animals. In the countries of the Near and Middle East, mosaic art existed only until the era of the Arab conquests, and already from the VIII century it completely disappeared.
Interest in mosaics in Europe was briefly renewed in the 16th century during the Baroque era. In those days, mosaic panels, created on the basis of paintings by great masters, again began to decorate the decoration of many churches, including the interior of the grandiose Cathedral of St. Peter in the Vatican the main church of the Catholics. But by the end of the next century, the fashion for mosaics in Europe had finally passed. In Russia, in the middle of the 18th century, Mikhail Vasilyevich Lomonosov took up the art of mosaic seriously.
The brilliant scientist has developed more than 100 unique samples of smalt and in every possible way contributed to the development of the ancient craft. Lomonosov was passionately fired up with the idea of creating a cycle of 17 mosaic paintings describing the life of Peter I for the Peter and Paul Cathedral. But the first painting of the master, “The Battle of Poltava”, was categorically disliked by Catherine II, and the idea of reviving the mosaic quickly faded away.
In the twentieth century, the experience of the Soviet Union can be called a unique example of the widespread use of mosaics in monumental art.
In 1954, Nikita Khrushchev, who came to power after Stalin’s death, declared war on decorating the exteriors of buildings with various architectural excesses. He urged builders to create houses that were as simple as possible in form and appearance, and soon the famous “Khrushchevs” appeared throughout the country.
To decorate the monotonous constructed buildings and structures, it was decided to use mosaics. Hundreds of artists were involved in the execution of the daunting task, who wrote thousands of projects of paintings that glorify life in the USSR. These works formed the basis of mosaic panels that adorned the exteriors of residential buildings, palaces of culture and sports, train stations, department stores and other buildings. Many of them can be found today on the streets and squares of the former Soviet Union.
Nowadays, artists rarely choose mosaics as their primary technique for creativity. But no one bothers us to enjoy the beauty of the masterpieces created by skillful masters of different historical eras in different parts of the Earth.