The Roots of Mosaic Tile Art

You’ve probably seen these in photos depicting religious scenes. They existed in the 8th century BC. Pebbles in only black and white were first used. Some would argue that, although mosaics use tiles, they are not tile art in actuality. This is because “mosaic tile art” is made of colored bits fitted together to create an image of real person or thing. Tile art, has painted surfaces fitted together with uniform shaped tiles like rectangles or squares. Also, tile art usually displays shapes and geometric figures than representations of real life images.

Like in the picture below, pieces of broken pebbles of a single color to make an image. There isn’t really any “tiles” that are painted. Mosaics are made of shards of material from glass, ceramics, or smoothed rock bits. Mosaics have been around for a long time starting in the cradle of civilization of Mesopotamia about five-thousand years ago. Mosaics are comparable to paintings; they’re both forms of art that display images of objects or people. But mosaics have stood the test of time far longer.



From Mesopotamia, mosaics were adapted by ancient Greece and Rome. But mosaics really prospered in latter years form 600AD to 1500AD  in the Byzantine Empire or simply the Eastern Roman Empire. Eventually, mosaics migrated to the Middle East from Rome from 5th century to the 6th century. During this era, Jewish synagogues and Muslim mosques like the famous Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem were made. During the time from the 14th century to the 17th century, in the Renaissance, mosaics basically fizzled out and gave way to painted art. As stated, mosaics began in Mesopotamia. The earliest one was discovered in the temple of Abra where mosaics were crude images made from shells, ivory and stones.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 A photo of the Dome of The Rock





During the Bronze Age from 3000 BC to 1200 BC, when some of the Greek and Roman mythologies were supposed to have occurred like the tale of Hercules, mosaics were unearthed in ancient south part of Greece historically called Peloponnese. It was also the place of the ancient and more notable location of Sparta. But the trademark method and style of Greek mosaics came into fruition in 300 BC.

When the Romans simulated their own mosaics, they were notably found to to beautify the floors of Hellenistic Villas and Roman homes. The term Hellenistic refers to the time of Alexander The Great’s death in 323 BC and ending in 31 BC. In Rome, the well recognized Roman emperor Nero with his aids constructed the Domus Aurea in 64 AD. Also, the famous city of Pompeii enjoyed a time of mosaic art around this time.

Moving on about 1300 years came the contemporary era of mosaics, we see first the work of Edward Burne Jones in St. Pauls in Rome. Now we come to the much more modern time. In the New York City  Subway are works of freelance mosaics who add flavorful design to its venue. At the end of the 20th century, a movement called Modernisme came about. It was at this time that open expression of mosaics was portrayed on public sites like walls and subways as mentioned.  From the 1970s to the 1980s a significant artist known mainly as the French Invader used pixel art to mimic the 8-bit games like Space Invaders, which was where he got his title.

Mosaics are now part of modern arts and crafts. Artists of today commonly make them often with various things like shells, glass, pebbles, ceramics, beads and even parts of nick knacks like dolls or perhaps even statues.

I hope you learned something from this narration, albeit it was relatively extensive. If you are into art in general, you more than anyone will appreciate this tidbit of knowledge. So the next time you do a mosaic, know that what you’re doing spans millennia. If you have any questions or comments,please leave them below.

Modern day Arabic mosaic architecture.