Mosaic Art: Piecing History Together (Part One)

Mosaic art is taking over bathrooms up and down the country. But it’s not a new art-form. From vases to floors, we’ve been tiling mosaic designs for centuries now. In fact, our story starts so many years back, even the legendary Methuselah would struggle to remember when mosaic art came into being. Here’s the first part in our series on the wonderful history of mosaic art, where it originated, and a look at just how far it’s come over the years.


The first mosaic art can be traced all the way back to what is now modern-day Iraq, way back when it was still known as Mesopotamia. We’re going back to around the 3rd millennium BC here – back in the Bronze Age, so as you might expect, the mosaics on offer weren’t exactly patterns – certainly not as we imagine them today – but were comprised of coloured stones and shells. Still, for such a primitive time, it was a huge leap in design. Can you imagine how proud the first artist to lay these tiles must have been?



Jump forward to the 4th century BC, and you’ll discover in Albania, as archaeologists have, The Beauty of Durres. This was a fabulous, multi-coloured mosaic of a fair maiden wearing a headscarf and looking wistfully off into the distance, surrounded by floral shapes. The mosaic itself measures around 97 square foot, and is made up mostly of pebbles which, incredibly, were picked because of their colours – that is, they weren’t coloured by the artist. The Beauty of Durres was re-discovered in 1916 – which is a long time to remain hidden – and, after being lost during the Second World War, is now on display at Tirana’s National Historical Museum. No-one knows precisely who the woman is, but one guess is she’s Eileithyia, the Cretan goddess of childbirth. Others believe the beauty is Aura, the hand-maiden of the goddess Artemis.


Ancient Greek and Roman mosaics are probably the designs most people consider when they conjure mental images of mosaic artwork. It’s the style you’ll see in countless museums across the globe, or in TV documentaries. Often, these depicted gods and goddesses; the mythological theme so prevalent in other art-forms of the era, as well as the infamous Bikini Girls mosaic. Images of hunting were also popular at the time – unsurprising, given that this was a major source of both food, and entertainment. ‘Write what you know,’ creative writing teachers tell you these days. Back then, it seems, people mosaic-ed what they knew.


It was during this time that craftsmen of mosaic art developed two notable styles: firstly, the standard opus tessellatum which utilised standard-sized blocks, and secondly, opus vermiculatum. This latter method is comparable to fine art paintings, as it uses microscopic cubes of about 4mm, which allows for far greater detail. Later, around 64AD, the Roman Emperor Nero ordered his architects to mosaic the entirety of the Domus Aurea – or ‘Golden House’ – his residence in the heart of Ancient Rome. But that’s just what emperors do.


Proving that some things never change, though, one of the most popular Roman designs in domestic villas was… ‘Beware of the Dog’. We haven’t tried it ourselves, but perhaps a large mosaic hound might scare off potential thieves and irate postmen a lot better than a little sign in the window. However, one of the strangest genres to come out of this period is known as the ‘unswept floor’. Craftsmen would work assiduously to recreate upon the floor, images of leftover food. So next time you drop a few crumbs on the carpet, remind your significant other that you’re just imitating Ancient Masters of Mosaic.


And that’s just the beginning of this fascinating art-form. A form we’re still exploring, experimenting with, and designing in our homes. Here at Roccia we provide mosaic bathroom tiles so you can channel the Ancients and create something truly spectacular in your bathroom. Just contact us on 01772 550900 or pop into one of our showrooms today.

Mosaic Art: Piecing History Together (Part Two)

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