Accademia di Belle Arti di Ravenna

Salta ai contenuti
Accademia di Belle Arti di Ravenna

Fine Arts Academy of Ravenna
via delle Industrie, 76
48122 Ravenna
tel. +39 – 0544.453125 o 455784
fax. +39 - 0544.451104

Sei in: Mosaic ›› History of a tecnique

History of a tecnique


A thousand-year-old History

Mosaics in the Ancient Age
The mosaic is a very ancient technique.
The first mosaics appeared at the end of the third millennium b. C. (monochrome pavements made of stones, that the Cretan used to cover the surfaces of the royal palaces for practical purposes) Only during the first millennium (VIII century) this technique acquired an aesthetical significance. At first mosaics were enriched with geometrical images, in a second moment (IV century b. C.) some figurative representations were included, like those of Pella's mosaics, reproducing hunting scenes, moments in the history of Alexander the Great and mythological images. During the IV century b. C. developed those, that became the technique per excellence the opus tassellatum, the mosaic with tesserae, used at first as a pavement. Plinius deals with it in his Naturalis Historia, quoting, among others, the name of the famous musician of the Antiquity: Soso. Thanks to him we have two of the most well known and employed mosaic's techniques: the so called “not-swept room”. They represented some banquet's rests of a Lucullian meal and watering doves. A wide use of mosaics was made in Roman territory and, in particular, during the empire. The roman domus showed decorations in its representative spaces and nearby wonderful mosaics too.
The geometrical motives fuse sometimes with the figurative ones. In some wide geometrical pavements, infact, were inserted mosaic panels depicting histories of various kind. These panels, often operated aside and inserted within the mosaic in a second time, were treated by means of millimetric tesserae with a particular kind of technique, which is usually called opus vermiculatum. Still in roman context we have the first employment of mosaic as a coating of archades or walls.
The mosaic's coating of walls started being diffused since the I century a. C. It witnessed an enrichment of the material employed. The use of enamels increases because enamels interact with the light, producing suggestive luminous effects. Another important technique used in the I century a.C. was that of Opus sectiles: it consisted in polychrome marble plates opportunely shaped and superimposed in order to obtain geometrical or figurative representations.


Mosaics in Ravenna
The mosaics celebrated later an enormous success in Christian context. From Rome to Aquileia, from Ravenna to Byzantium they ornated the most important temples of Christianity, becoming more and more the language of light, developing the sense of dematerialization that they wanted to give to the interiors of the basilicas.
Between the V and the VI century a. C. the byzantine art took form The mosaics adapted itself perfectly to express the mystical characters of the byzantine aesthetic. The representation had to allude to a wider reality , to the world of the spirit, so the artist made efforts to create representations that, even if they took back similar aspects of lifefrom the earthly exemples, they deeply moved away from them. The byzantine images were static, the faces didn't express emotions, the bodies were not volumetric, they tended to the bi-dimension, the space disappeared within the golden background
This was the golden age of mosaic.
The tesserae variously cut in dimension and shape were differently disposed on an embedded plane so that the reflections weren't uniform but continuously variable. The light participated this way to define the mosaic's reality with magical effects.
Starting from the XV century, with the definitive overcoming of any byzantinism the sense of mosaic was lost. The technique was further very used and also by artists of great value like Verrocchio, Ghirlandaio, Paolo Uccello, Tiziano, Lorenzo Lotto, Tintoretto and in recent times, the Pre-raphaelite Burne Jones, but it was retaken as a substitute of painting.


The contemporary mosaic
During the Nineteenth century we assist to a veritable rebirth of the mosaic.
At first artists like Klimt and Gaudi reestablished its importance rediscovering it
From the decoration of the dining-room of Stoclet Palace in Bruxelles, in which mosaics decorating the dining room were realized following Klimt's paper shapes in many art-works like the Sagrada Familia and Barcelona's Guell Park, in which Gaudi proposes new mosaic solutions reemploying the ancient moresque technique of majolica renewed by means of the use of the so-called tracandis. (with the employment of a particular cut of the ceramic fragments played on their irregularity).
But most of all artists like Marco Sironi e Gino Severini, during the Thirties defined in a clear and assertive way the reactualization of the mosaic. First of all Gino Severini, who in 1933 used the mosaic to ornate Saint Pierre's Freiburg Church and then for a great number of further projects like the pavement of the Foro Italico.
Sironi and Severini refreshed the executive feautures of the mosaic followinfg the byzantine tradition, moreover they were also responsible of its theoretical reevaluation. In their writings they express the most important points of reflection that will be discussed in contemporary debates: the importance of tradition, that has always to take into account the present research, as well as the role of the mosaic strictly connected with architecture. Forthermore the need of the mosaicist to be technically clever, avoiding the risk of decorativism.
During the Nineteenth Century the art of the mosaic becomes more and more important thanks to its use by a great number of artists: Funi, Campigli, Casorati, Depero, Fontana, Prampolini, Guttuso, Mattioli, Morlotti, Munari, Santomaso, Vedova, Moreni, Afro, Licata, Saetti, Bendini, Dorazio, Scanavino, Trotta, Ongaro, Pomodoro, Rotella, Ceccobelli, Chia, Cucchi, Paladino e, in campo internazionale, Mathieu, Chagall, Braque, Siqueiros, Kokoschka, Balthus, Shahan, Niki De Saint-Phalle.


The recent developments: the industrial mosaic.
Determining for the contemporary developments was the the creation of a relationship with the past that little by little had been forgotten, that between mosaic and architecture.
This relationship strengthened with the increasing use of the mosaic language with the so called neo- eclectic architecture. From Mendini to Guerriero, La pietra, Sottsass, Scacchetti, Natalini.
Among the most important works, there is the project promoted by the artist Piero Dorazio for the underground in Rome.
Here Dorazio called several artists to decorate some of the most important underground stations, using in the executive part of the work the industrial mosaic.
This choice was particularly appropriate in this context, once considered the huge surface to cover, the time to spend and the costs. The tesserae are already cut with a mechanical system that nevertheless allows to create different dimensions and shapes. The connecting tesserae on the contrary were hand-cut as they have a more particular form (often triangular).
Many people criticize the relationship between mosaic and industry, considering the mosaic practice a unique art and handcrafted production. On the other hand industry may improve the art and handcraft research under an economical point of view, for instance promoting and experimenting new materials. The result is an extremely various production within the products and in the different areas of intervention. Anyway their different phases are linked to the tradition of reference.
(The text was taken and summarized from Michele Tosi, Tessera dopo tessera, in “IBC”, IX, 2001, 2)