How to Look at a Mosaic

Daisy Barker. “111 Harbord”, Photograph. Ryerson University, 2016.

There are several components to take into consideration when looking at a mosaic. Primarily location and how it acts in the space. It could be a wall of a public bathroom, the floor of a café, an ornament in a garden or a hanging above your great aunts sink.

The term mosaic used to solely reference the intricate murals that followed the story of the bible and wrapped around the apse of ancient cathedrals. The nature of their positioning within the architecture blurred their discontinuous coloration, so they appeared soft, warm and inviting. The pieces that make up the mosaics are called “tesserae”, a term that we carried forward from about 500 AD.

The first mosaics and the ones that followed subsequently were created with very small, uniform coloured fragments of clay. These pieces were arranged to create nuanced depictions of biblical scenes. The varying shades of vivid colours brought depth and a sense of life to the stories preached from the pulpit. The use of the mosaic was in fact one of the first manners in which illiteracy was overcome by the church on account of how they could convey their message with images instead of words. Existing at the same time were the intricate patterned mosaics that graced the barrel vaults and curved around columns wrapping the church in a mediated rhythm of sameness. Their repetitive and flawless nature brought awe to the viewer, further reinforcing that the house of God was indeed a meditative space.

Another component to consider is what the mosaic is composed of. It has noted by many art historians and craftspeople that the skills implemented to make the first mosaics has been lost over the course of time. The current method of creation integrates both industrial and delicate components. The binding power of grout, a waterproof mixture of water, sand, cement, works to hold together the tesserae in any form the artist has layed out. The pieces of tesserae can be made from a variety of mediums; some examples could be glass, broken ceramic plates, clay tiles or mirror shards. The recycling ideology behind the creation of mosaics pushes the values of using material that would have otherwise been thrown out to create an art piece that incorporates different mediums.

This mentality changes the value and forms that the creation takes. The mosaics are no longer pieces that instills religious based wonder, but rather are used to bring beauty to the every day. This very particular art form has changed immensely over the course of thousands of years that what remains is the pure emotion. The sheer wonder that overcomes the viewer when it is realized that what they’re looking at was assembled by the human hand is incomparable. And despite the fact that the original method of assembling the art works has not withstood the test of time, the desire to produce something with such integrated qualities of delicate wonder still exists. The shapes of the new tiles guide you around in arcs and waves, conveying to you that perhaps this isn’t in their nature but they’re getting comfortable in their new space.

Works Cited

© Copyright Barker, Daisy. “111 Harbord”, Photograph. Ryerson University, 2016.

Elkins, James. How to Use Your Eyes. New York: Routledge, 2000. Print.

Gardner, Helen, and Fred S. Kleiner. Gardner’s Art through the Ages: The Western Perspective. 13th ed. Australia ; United States: Wadsworth/Cengage Learning, 2010. Print.

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