History of Mosaics

History of Mosaics

Known to the ancient Romans as "Opus Sectile," and since the Renaissance, its golden age under the Medici, by the names "Commesso" to the Florentines and Italians and "Florentine Mosaic" to the rest of the world, this fascinating art is as old as history and has been practiced since the dawn of civilization. Archaeological findings of shell, mother-of-pearl and gemstone marqueterie and inlays have been traced back to the 3rd millennium B.C. Excavations in Mesopotamia at the site of ancient Ur, the Sumerian native town of Abraham the Patriarch, have unearthed two extremely interesting works of mosaic, viz., the famous "Standard of Ur" at present in the British Museum, London, and the sound box of the "Harp of Queen Shubad" now in the University Museum, Philadelphia.

The origin of the word "mosaic" is rather obscure. Some authorities have tried to link it etymologically with the Arabic adjective "Muza?aq," which means "decorated." Others attribute it to Latin (musivum, musivus, museus) and Greek (mouseion, mousaikon, mouseios) -- that is, belonging to the Muses, in other words, artistic. Whatever the derivation of the word, mosaic is basically a two-dimensional polychromatic form of expression, decoration and narration, and as such it probably evolved as a more enduring form of painting. In fact, by virtue of the durable materials (marbles, gemstones, etc) used in making it, many works of Hellenistc and Roman paintings are known only from copies in mosaic. As often described, mosaic is painting with stones. Domenico Ghirlandaio is said to have dubbed the medium "Pittura per l'eternità" -- that is, painting for eternity.

Until very recently mosaic was a costly art. It always required patrons -- royalty, aristocracy, the Church -- rich enough to obtain from this impressive and majestic medium utmost splendor for their power, status and wealth by having buildings and furniture lavishly jeweled in this expensive manner. Under the almost exclusive influence of this class of clients who actually made up "the Establishment," mosaic traditionally inclined toward consolidation and conservatism in choice of subject as well as in style. Consequently, throughout the various vicissitudes of history, we find mosaic following rather than leading the other arts in experiment, exploration and stylistic evolutions. However, Florentine mosaic is made up of suitably shaped pieces of colored stones that are closely fitted together to form a pattern or a picture, and as such it has in fact potential affinities with modern styles. It calls for simplification and stylization, it promotes striking effects and a heightening of reality, it tends toward expressionistic vigor and abstract shapes -- the ancient art of mosaic can be one of the most contemporary indeed.

Today this remarkable handcrafted form of art is available through the workshops of LODESTAR, Statements in Stone, specializing in Pietre Dure stonework, also referred to as lapidary veneering, stone inlay, marble inlay, intarsia, marquetry and Florentine mosaics. LODESTAR's clients commission all genre of mosaics, Greek, Roman, Byzantine into creation.

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