Wednesday, February 22, 2012


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An artist can make a picture without painting with colours with a brush. They can build up what is called a mosaic, they can make a stained-glass window, or a picture by enamelling.

The oldest of these ways is mosaic. A mosaic picture is one that is made by using small pieces of coloured stone, glass or pottery to build up a design. Children at the beach often decorate sandcastles by sticking coloured stones or seashells on them to make pictures or patterns this is the same as mosaic but instead of sand an artist would use wet cement or plaster.

The earliest mosaics were usually a picture set into a floor, although later ones maybe found on walls or ceilings of buildings too.

The floors of the early buildings must have been quite a problem for the people who built them. One of the ways around the difficulty would be to cover the surface of the floor with little stones and pieces of rock, set into the mud floor. It would not only make it wear much longer, but also make it look better.

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The floors of the houses of the Ancient Greeks were decorated with a kind of mosaic. They used black and white pebbles to make patterns or pictures, occasionally they used other colours or bits of coloured glass too. Later they used glass and cut bits of stone to give a smoother, flatter surface.

However, it was the Greeks and Romans, several thousand years later, who first made really beautiful designs in this way. The little pieces of stone they used were called tesserae or smalti. Round the edges of their pictures the Romans liked to build complicated designs, like a kind of frame.

When the mosaic pavement is built the little fragments of tessarae are set into a type of cement which will hold them firmly in place. All the tools that are needed are some very simple ones used to break the pieces of stone into the right shaped fragments that you want. Once the mosaic pattern is made it will last for a very long time.

In many places in England (such as at Colchester in Essex), Europe and the Middle East where the Roman camps used to be, you can find remains of mosaic pavements. Some of the pictures they built up were to celebrate the deeds of their Generals or Emperors; others were pictures of feasts, of animals, birds and fish combined with beautiful patterns.

In the ruined city of Pompei, which was smothered by a volcano in AD6, some beautiful mosaic pictures have been found as archaeologists have dug away the mud. An amusing one shows the end of a great Roman feast. It even includes a tiny mouse that has crept in to nibble at the nutshells and leftover food thrown down by the greedy people.

In the early Christian churches the skill of the mosaic makers increased. Not only did they use coloured stones, marbles and pieces of pottery, but also glass and sometimes glass with gold melted into it. When these mosaics are lit by lamps or candles, the bright colours gleam and sparkle like stars on the walls. One of the most beautiful of these is in the great cathedral of Sant Sophia in Istanbul in Turkey.

Mosaics can be textured or coloured, they became in fashion in the Roman time. There are many different famous mosaics, and whilst I was visiting Jersey I came across a house that was made entirely of different shells, it was a mosaic. There were pictures of dolphins jumping out of the sea and much more, it was called shell garden. Many artists would dedicate their life and soul on finishing a single mosaic.

The History of mosaics

The earliest known mosaics date from the 8th Century BC and are made of pebbles. In the 5th Century there were more complicated designs in pebbles from black, grey and white mostly of the same size, but sometimes outlined with tiny black pebbles. By the 4th Century red and green pebbles were added for effect.

In these ancient times mosaic was used nearly always on floors or pavements where their strength was one of the most important things. Stone especially marble and limestone were particularly suitable. It could be cut into small pieces and could give a variety of shades for the artist.

The use of glass started in the Hellenistic period (from BC until 7BC) and continued in the

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