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History of Mosaics in Later Greek Art
Greek mosaic is known to have been an old practice. The practice of making floors through the placement of pebbles and cement plaster was common in early Greece. A unique principal characterized this form of art in Greece. For instance, all the decorated floors were usually confined to a unique principle whereby the dining room (the andron) and the anteroom were considered. A good example is the Pella Palace characterized by hypothetical floors.
Archeologists have indicated conclusively that pebbles were widely used by early Greeks to decorate floors during the Bronze Age. Incidentally, such flooring materials were embraced by other non-Greeks. For example, the use of pebbles as a unique flooring material was embraced in Anatolia from the eighth century BC.
Greek mosaic is a practice that began towards the end of the 5th century BC. Several centuries later, the design of the Greek mosaics changed drastically to include concentric bands, geometric patterns, and figured decorations. Such decorations focused on a specific figured scene or motif. From the third century BC, the nature of these mosaics changed significantly with the use of pebbles dominating the practice. Analysts have argued strongly that the Greek mosaics were specifically aimed at achieving specific given goals such as honor and aesthetics.
Some scholars have argued that Greek mosaics were similar to fresco painting. This must have been the case because layers of course plasters were covered by a finer one. The pebbles were then set into this finer plaster. During the process, a complex figure could be drawn on the course plaster. This approach has been given the name of the light-on-dark principle. One unique attribute of these mosaics is that the artists never sorted the pebbles into different sizes. However, the stones were packed closely to hide the plaster. Smaller pebbles were used to achieve detailed modeling.
The Greeks went further to embrace a new concept known as red-figure. This concept was achieved through the harmony of the lines and by balancing the light figures on the dark background. This achievement is depicted by the Dionysus on a Panther from Building 2.
Analysts have observed that similar floors were common in North Greece. However, most of the artworks associated with the region emphasized the three-dimensionality. This approach improved the nature of the Greek mosaic thus encouraging more artists to pursue the practice for many years. According to Martin Robertson, pebble floors continued to include figure scenes in order to remain meaningful and spectacular. Heroes and natural sceneries were emphasized by Greek artists. The practice continued to take center-stage in Greece for many years. Historians believe that pebble mosaics had been used widely in public spaces and buildings. The practice was later embraced by private house-owners in an attempt to imitate such prestigious decorations.
Historians have shown conclusively that pebble mosaics were common in Olythos by the fourth century. The andron is where such pebble mosaics were largely concentrated. During the time, the andron was the only room characterized by a wall plaster. The pavements and walls were designed in an attempt to create something called a crescendo.
Private ostentation was achieved towards the end of the 5th century. The use of mosaics in more houses is something that increased throughout the Hellenistic period. After the conquest of Greece by Alexander the Great, private luxury continued to grow. This was the case because more people became wealthier after Alexander’s conquests. After the Persian Empire was defeated, precious stones and metals from the royal treasures were available to more people.
Experts have gone further to argue that the great houses at Pella were built using the spoils from the famous Alexander’s campaigns. The Greeks were ready to spend this wealth on such decorations and lead lavish lifestyles.
Houses containing more than one dining room were seen to have such decorations. According to past studies, such strategies must have been embraced by the people to impress their visitors. Such rooms could have been used to host more friends and guests. The approach was critical towards expressing power and social differences. The size of decorated dining rooms was a clear distinction between the rich and the poor. A good example is the Vergina Palace that had numerous dining rooms.
From the early fourth century, artists began to use new materials such as glass and terracotta for different mosaics. Tessellated mosaics became common than ever before. The wealth associated with the Hellenistic period encouraged more people to spend money on such conspicuous consumptions. An individualistic ethos replaced the existing classical polis of the time. The social, economic, and political changes experienced during the time led to the proliferation of mosaics in Greece. During the same time, the government was left in the hands of politicians. Mercenaries were hired to protect more citizens.
The concept of individualism after Alexander’s death emerged due to the increasing tension and insecurity. The desire to invest in mosaics was seen as a source of comfort in a country that was faced by uncertainties.
Greek Mosaics and Modern Art
Experts define mosaic as the art whereby beautiful patterns or pictures are creating by setting small materials on a plastered surface. More often than, the practice is decorative in nature and can be achieved through the use of stone pebbles and marbles. This practice is believed to have been developed by the ancient Greeks. During the time, mosaics were employed as useful techniques for interior decorations.
However, the technique would be copied by other societies such as the Romans. After the Renaissance Period, mosaics became common since many Christian painters used the technique to come up with powerful masterpieces. A good example was the mosaic of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian the Great. Although fresco painting might have become the main form of art during the Renaissance Period, historians have observed that mosaic art continued to enjoy a healthy come-back throughout the 19th and 20th centuries.
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The most outstanding fact is that the mosaics of the ancient Greeks have significantly influenced modern-day art. A revival of the technique occurred towards the end of the 19th century. During this time, many public houses and buildings were decorated using marbles and mosaics thus giving the art practice a new meaning. A good example is the Westminster Catholic Cathedral (Fig 4) that is decorated using ceramic tiles.
Archeologists and historians have argued that several design styles have played a significant role in influencing modern mosaic art. For instance, the Gothic Revival is believed to have presented new art designs that continue to dominate the world of art even today.
It is undeniable that the mosaic continues to remain one of the popular crafts in different corners of the world. This has been the case because there are a number of organizations that promote this style of art. Some of these organizations include the Society of American Mosaic Artists (SAMA) and the British Association for Modern Mosaic (BAMM). These organizations have managed to come up with three unique types of mosaics. The first one is known as the direct method. This mosaic-building technique is completed when the artist affixes the materials onto the targeted surface. The artist might sketch the lines before decorating the object.
The indirect method, on the other hand, focuses on the use of sticky backings. The next stage is to affix the tiles or pebbles. This technique has been widely embraced because it makes it easier for artists to redesign and rework their masterpieces. The third method is known as the indirect mosaic creation. The pebbles or glass tiles are usually placed face-up unlike in the direct method. The influence of modern mosaics can be seen in great masterpieces such as the Bayeux Tapestry. This is a famous half-size mosaic depicting how the practice is presently embraced in many parts of the world. This masterpiece was created by Michael Linton from 1979 to 1999. The artwork is presently displayed in Geraldine, New Zealand.
How this Influence has Shaped the World of Design
Throughout the years, the mosaic is a powerful art that has shaped the world of design. Many aspects of human life are influenced or governed by the world of design. This ranges from different approaches to engineering, programming, art, and building.
The decorative world has benefited significantly from the mosaic. For instance, many designers and artists borrow a lot from Greek mosaics in order to produce masterpieces that can deliver the most desirable goals. Architects have continued to embrace the art style to design houses and buildings that are aesthetic in nature. Interior designers have not been left behind. With the Greek mosaic transforming the emotions and feelings of many people, modern painters have copied the idea in order to achieve similar results in the modern-day world.
Programmers and computer engineers have gone further to embrace the idea. Such programmers are able to design powerful software programs capable of producing superior artworks. Many firms have copied a lot from the style to produce a wide range of products such as clothes and consumer products. Manufacturing companies are also using robots to produce artistic products. The use of computer-aided designs is also making it easier for painters and artists to produce superior mosaics that capture the attention of many people.
Many buildings, landscapes, public spaces, walls, drawings, and living areas have benefited significantly from the concept of mosaic. The idea has been replicated by many people thus making mosaic a powerful artistic style that has been admired by many generations. That being the case, the mosaic remains a powerful style of art that continues to influence many professionals across the world. This means that the lessons learned from the ancient Greeks will continue to reshape the world of design for the next years.
Byzantine Emperor Justinian the Great. Wall plaster. 3m x 2m. Basilica of San Vitale, Ravenna.
Dionysus on a Panther. Pebbles on plaster. 130cm x 130 cm. Archaeological Museum of Pella, Athens.
Dunbabin, Katherine. Mosaics of the Greek and Roman world. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012.
Linton, Michael. Bayeux Tapestry. Cloth. 70000cm x 50 cm. Musée de la Tapisserie de Bayeux, Normandy.
Ludington, Townsend. A modern mosaic. New York: UNC Press, 2000.
Marconi, Clemente. The Oxford handbook of Greek and Roman art and architecture. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.
Nassar, Mohammed. “The art of decorative mosaics (hunting scenes) from Madaba area during Byzantine Period (5th – 6th AD).” Mediterranean Archaeology and Archaeometry 13, no. 1 (2013): 67-76.
Robertson, Martin. “Early Greek mosaic.” Studies in the History of Art 10, no. 1 (1982): 240-249.
Westgate, Ruth. “Greek mosaics in their architectural and social context.” Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies 42, no. 1 (1998): 93-115.
Vergina Palace. Pebbles on plaster. 140m x 80m. The Royal Tombs and the Ancient City, Athens.