Ever since the dawn of time, mankind has always been prone to decorating the surfaces and environments where everyday life takes place, at first with simple patterns and then with increasingly complex techniques.
This is why it is almost impossible to indicate the precise date when mosaic art originated. Even the etymology of Mosaic remains a question. According to some scholars, it comes from the Greek musakón (patient work, worthy of the Muses), according to others, it comes from the Latin opus musivum (work of the Muses).
This constant reference to the Muses originates from the custom of the ancient Romans to decorate caves and hollows dedicated to these ancient patron goddesses of the arts with pebbles and shells, creating pleasant patterns. Finally, some scholars think that the word derives from the Arabic muzauwaq (decoration).
Over the centuries, many techniques were developed of this complex and fascinating form of art, characterising historical periods and artistic movements, up to today with intact charm and prestige.
Nowadays, important schools, such as the School of Friuli mosaicists in Spilimbergo, offer courses to study mosaic art and even become a professional mosaicist.
Step 1 - History
The most ancient mosaics are those made by the Greeks and Romans between the 4th and 5th century. At the time, there were already various techniques, and their accuracy proves a high level of competency. The works were usually used to decorate the walls and floors of luxurious villas, especially by the Romans.
Mosaics had great success also in Christian art from the 4th century. Churches were the ideal stage for mosaicists: apses, presbyteries and chapels were decorated with bidimensional biblical figures featuring a significant use of colour.
After the fall of Roman civilization, mosaic art spread in Eastern countries. Great schools were founded in Byzantium and throughout the Eastern Roman Empire. Byzantine art, impressively developed mosaic art technique between the 5th and 6th century, becoming the distinctive feature of their works. Each piece still features such brightness that they bring light to the darkest sacred buildings.
During the Renaissance mosaics were used as an imitation of pictorial art; this is why they almost went out of fashion until the early 19th century, when Vatican Mosaic workshop gave new impetus to this form of art.
At the end of the 19th century, thanks to movements, such as Art Nouveau, Liberty, Futurism and Cubism, mosaic art became the means by which to express new ideas of artists, such as Antoni Gaudí, Gustav Klimt and Gino Severini. The early 20th century marked the start of important mosaic schools in Italy, among which the one in Spilimbergo.
Step 2 – The techniques
As for mosaic techniques, one of the earliest documents date back to Pliny the Elder around 77 C.E. in his work Naturalis Historia: “Celeberrimus fuit in hoc genere Sosus, qui Pergami stravit quem vocant asaroton oecon, quoniam purgamenta cenae in pavimentis quaeque everri solent velut relicta fecerat parvis e tessellis tinctisque in varios colores. mirabilis ibi columba bibens et aquam umbra capitis infuscans; apricantur aliae scabentes sese in canthari labro”.
Today's mosaic techniques are mainly 3. The first one is the Direct Method. This technique, used during ancient times, involved the individual tesserae directly onto the supporting surface, creating small pieces of mosaic little by little.
The second technique is the Indirect Method. Here, the mosaic is created onto a temporary base before being transferred onto the final housing by means of special backing paper.
The last technique is known as the Double Indirect Method, which is the easiest to carry out although with lower aesthetic appreciation. With this method, the tesserae are glued face-down on a sheet of paper or a canvas with the drawing of the desired subject. Once the mosaic is complete, it is placed on the final surface and once glued, the underlying material is removed.
Step 3 - The school
The School of Friuli Mosaicists was founded in 1922 in Spilimbergo, near Pordenone, whose objectives include “educational commitment and the combination of tradition and innovation, as well as of production and cultural contexts”.
Obviously, the value of mosaic art stands not only in its technique, but also in the fact that it represents an important cultural and historical element. Over the years, the students of this school have worked on important international mosaic projects and restoration, thanks to the collaboration of artists of undoubted importance.
In recent years, for example, the school has worked on the restoration of the mosaics in the Lourdes Shrine in France and on the application of wall and floor panels in Tokyo in Japan.
The School of Friuli Mosaicists offers two kinds of courses: Professional training courses that last 3 years and prepare the students to become professional mosaicists, issuing a qualification certificate. Summer courses introducing to mosaic art, which last 50 hours and are open to everyone. These courses teach the basics to create small mosaics. For further information, please visit the school's website: www.scuolamosaicistifriuli.it.
By Fabrizio Buceti