History of Mosaic Art

The history of mosaic art and mosaic tile art does not follow a straight line. Mosaic art seems to meander through time, appearing and disappearing in different cultures until it finally took a foothold. Fortunately, examples of ancient mosaic artwork have weathered time for us to examine today.

History of Ancient Mosaic Art
Mosaic art dates back thousands of years. Ancient Sumerians used mosaics in their culture as shown in a mosaic panel depicting a battle, including the current Sumerian king in a chariot, which dates back to about 2000 BCE.

Ancient Egyptians also left remnants of their mosaic art. Like the Sumerians, many existent Egyptian mosaics included depictions of royalty, perhaps because only the royalty could afford to commission the artwork. Egyptians used mosaics to decorate walls and floors, as well as architectural features like pillars.

Mosaic Art in Greece and Rome
When the ancient Greeks came into the scene, mosaics had reached beyond the royalty and to the higher and wealthier classes. In some cases, even those of modest means had their hand in mosaic artwork. Until the 4th century BCE, Greeks used pebbles in their mosaics. During the 4th century BCE, Greeks made new strides in mosaic tile art by using pieces of stones and colored glass. As a result, mosaics became brighter and more realistic.

Romans continued to develop mosaic tile art. Mosaics were used extensively to decorate floors. This was both practical, as mosaics were durable and easy to clean, and beautiful. The mosaics displayed subjects including the gods and goddesses, depictions of local life and scenes from legends

Mosaic Tile Art and Christianity
As Christianity grew acceptance and eventually, was embraced, by governments, the Church became a major patron of arts, including mosaics. Starting around the 4th century AD, rather than decorating floors, mosaics graced the walls of churches, depicting Christian themes.

Mosaics flourished during the Byzantine era, starting in the 5th century AD. While Christian themes continued to dominate mosaics, artists also worked on portraits of royalty and officials from the Church.

Art Nouveau and Mosaics
The Art Nouveau Movement exploded during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. While mosaics never completely disappeared, art nouveau artists rediscovered mosaics and adapted the art form to the art nouveau look.

Rather than focus on the insides of buildings, artists such as Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi placed mosaics on the outside of buildings. In addition, mosaics of this period, like other artwork of the time, focused on flowing lines and themes from nature.

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