Mosaic is a form of art that uses small pieces of material, such as tile, beads, paper or stones, arranged in a specific pattern. This pattern is designed to make up a larger image composed completely of the tiny material patterns.
Mosaic art dates back over 4,000 years. The art form initially began with the use of terra-cotta cones pressed into a background and different colored stones to create basic decoration and patterns. In the fourth century B.C., Greeks modified and improved the art form by creating images of people and animals. By 200 B.C. specially made tile pieces called tesserae, which were only a couple of millimeters in size, were used in mosaics in place of stones and pebbles. These typically square pieces were small enough to create detail and range of color.
The Byzantine Empire had a large influence on the characteristics of mosaic art from the fifth century onward. The Byzantines used tiny pieces of nongrouted glass tesserae called smalti from northern Italy that allowed light to pass through. The glass was placed at varying angles, bouncing the light off one another to create an eye-catching shimmer.
In western Europe, Islamic mosaic and tile art was introduced by the Moors in the eighth century. These pieces of art contained mainly mathematical and geographical images. Even though mosaic art became slightly unpopular by the middle ages, the expanding tile industry increased demand for mosaic tiling patterns in religious buildings by the 19th century. Many of the Islam and Christian mosaics still can be seen today in mosques and temples around the world. These religious institutions mixed with the introduction of mass tile production launched the trend of decorating floors with mosaics.
The Art Nouveau movement of the 1890s also showed interest in mosaic art. By the 20th century, Catalan artists Antoni Gaudi and Josep Maria Jujol invented a technique called trencadis, which utilized broken tiles and shards of crockery to cover the surface of architectural designs.
Today, mosaic art remains fresh with continuous new ideas and approaches from both famed artists and independent crafters. Many creative individuals use mosaics for home furnishings, interior design, gallery art projects and more. Modern artists, such as Martin Brown, have used mosaic to create portraits of famous artists and even tables inlaid with tiles.
Catherine Fiorentino began work as a professional freelance writer in 2006. Since then she has written for several online content websites, private clients and blogs. Fiorentino has an Associate of Arts in journalism and mass communication from Kent State University.