Mosaic Tile Art

by Cristian I

Mosaic art is truly a major part of culture throughout the world, and it can be seen in the history of every country.

Mosaic art is a unique and often beautiful form of art that has a long history and many uses.

This classic style has remained popular throughout the years and there are many applications for mosaic tile art today.

Whether used for personal, professional, or religious purposes, mosaic tile art can make for a fantastic addition to any home, business, or temple.

If you are interested in learning more about mosaic art and its uses, read below.

Mosaic Definition

A mosaic is a work of art or image that is constructed by putting together small portions of colored glass, stone, or other substances.

Generally, the mosaic is used to make pieces of decorative art or as an element of interior design.

With a true mosaic, a picture or pattern is created by arranging the materials together.

There is a set standard for the type of image that can be created.

The picture can be abstract, surreal, or even meant to look like a portrait.

It is up to the artist to decide what his or her mosaic will portray.

History of Mosaic

The mosaic artwork has a long, rich history that dates back to the third century BC.

The earliest mosaic artifacts known to man were found in a temple building in what was once Mesopotamia.

These were simple images that were made of different materials – mainly shells, ivory, and stones of varying colors.

Not long after these were created, glazed mosaics made an appearance.

These glazed mosaics were found in Iran, and scientists believe that they were created around 1500 BC.

This was a major development, as the glaze protects the integrity of the tile and makes for a cleaner, sharper look.

By the 4th century BC, mosaic artwork began to get more complex and interesting.

Some artwork found in the Macedonian city of Aegae was located all over their villas and temples.

They gave an enhanced look to the floors of these structures.

The Roman Empire was famous for creating and utilizing mosaic artwork.

This type of mosaic floor can be found all over Roman architecture as well as generously spread across northern Africa.

Its influence can be seen all over Europe and Africa, and even as far east as Syria.

Many ancient mosaics are preserved in the Bardo Museum in Tunis, Tunisia.

There are thousands of ancient Roman mosaics that were created between the second and seventh centuries AD.

Many of these pieces of art depict scenes from mythological stories.

Battle victories involving Neptune or Dionysos are often portrayed, as well as scenes depicting Roman gods such as Apollo.

In ancient Rome, mosaics were a great way to tell stories on top of writing.

Other images were a bit more mundane, depicting aspects of everyday life such as hunting, fishing, or even creating the mosaic itself.

Much like today, many mosaic artists made images of nature and architecture, with a variety of mosaics available that show amphitheaters, coliseums, or images of the oceans and trees.

The Greeks also used mosaic artwork heavily, and many even worked for the Roman empire.

Between the two, there were two techniques for creating mosaics.

The more common technique was known as opus tessallatum, which used large tiles and was put together on site.

Often, these were made using only black and white tiles to save on costs.

The more complex, lesser-known style is opus vermiculatum.

This style uses a wide array of small cubs, generally coming in at less than 4 millimeters each.

These pieces were put together in workshops and glued together before transport to their destination.

This technique allowed for more detailed images and in some cases the images could be mistaken for paintings.

Until the Christian era, mosaics were generally used as floor decorations.

However, wall mosaics become a major form of art during the Christian era.

Many Roman churches and mausoleums have walls that are covered in mosaics dating back to 100 AD.

Many regions of Italy are rife with mosaic artwork depicting a wide range of activities.

Multiple pieces in Sicily show women partaking in sports while wearing modern-looking bikinis.

Others continue to tell stories of Roman gods and heroes.

A large number were preserved for 700 years thanks to a major landslide that occurred in the 12th century.

Early Christian artwork was heavily focused on mosaics.

They used mosaics for wall and ceiling art in their cathedrals and basilicas.

Many have not survived due to age or disasters, but the oldest that we know of date back to the 4th century.

They can be found at their original sites or in museums if the initial structures did not remain standing.

The Christian mosaics draw heavy influence from the early Roman mosaics but depict vastly different scenes.

There are many mosaics showing the nativity scene, while others depict saints and other important Christian figures.

Church Mosaic Tile Art
Church Mosaic Tile Art

The use of mosaics began to decline during the middle ages, as access to materials started to wane.

There was also less of a focus on art due to religious purposes for several centuries during the middle ages.

People becoming sick also led to a lack of individuals who were willing to do the work, as they were putting most of their energy into simply surviving.

Many ancient mosaics were even destroyed during this time, as they were viewed as blasphemous or unnecessary.

Between the 6th and 15th centuries, mosaic art was very popular throughout the Byzantine empire.

Unfortunately, many were destroyed during the war and as a result of natural disasters.

Still, ample images remain, often depicting war heroes and religious figures from the Byzantine era.

Certain early pieces can be seen in Hagia Sophia and the Nea Church in Jerusalem.

Mosaic tile art continued to be popular throughout the Renaissance and eventually spread far into Western Europe.

At the same time, influence from the Middle East started to spread into the far East, making mosaic artwork a worldwide phenomenon.

Today, the mosaic is still a popular art form and can be altered to look more modern or created to resemble the mosaics of ancient times.

Mosaic art can be found in both old and new architecture.

Whether you are on the Venice boardwalk in California or at an ancient church in the Middle East, you are likely to run across some form of mosaic tile artwork.

They may look vastly different, but they were probably created in a very similar fashion.

Mosaic Tiles

There are many types of mosaic tiles, and each one has different properties and uses.

A mosaic image can be made completely from one kind of tile, or they can be combined to create a more diverse image.

Some may exhibit more strength and durability, while others might be more versatile or beautiful.

Artists must carefully consider what type of mosaic tiles they are going to use in order to make their picture appear as they want it to.


Ceramic tiles are some of the most common that can be found today.

Ceramic Mosaic Tile Art
Ceramic Mosaic Tile Art

They are mass-produced and can be obtained for a low cost.

That doesn’t mean that they aren’t useful, though.

They can be used in a variety of different projects, and they are easy to work with.

You can cut or crack them to create a clean, straight edge.

That is useful if you are just using them to create a piece of art that will hang on a wall or in a frame.

However, this means that they can’t stand too much pressure and will break easily.

They should not be used for floors or as mainstays in any structure due to how weak they are.

Simply put, they look nice but do not serve much of a functional purpose.


Glass mosaics are another beautiful form of art that allows light to refract and reflect to create a wonderful glowing effect.

Glass Mosaic Tile Art
Glass Mosaic Tile Art

This effect can give the mosaic a different look when viewed from varying perspectives.

Certain sunlight angles can even create a dancing effect that will be intriguing to many observers.

There are two main types of glass mosaics.

• Vitreous Glass Tile – This is an opaque glass that does not let quite as much light through. The shimmering and reflecting properties will be more subdued, making for a more translucent look. It is easy to work with and leaves clean, straight edges for the piece of art. Generally, they are inexpensive and come in 1-inch squares, and can be bought in bulk.

• Smalti Glass Tile – This is the rarer, harder-to-find type of glass mosaic. Every smalti glass mosaic tile is hand-made in Venice, Italy, and they are the most expensive kind of tile that money can buy. Each tile is different, varying in color, weight, and size. These are great for those who are passionate about mosaic history, as they are the kind that was used by the Romans and Byzantines for their temples and structures. Many Smalti Glass tile mosaics from ancient times still exist and remain beautiful to this day. They reflect light better than any other glass tiles that you can find.


Stone is a simple substance that can be found all over the world, making it a very popular material for mosaics.

Stones can be altered and sold as uniform pieces, but some mosaic artists find their own for a more rustic look.

Stone Mosaic Tile Art
Stone Mosaic Tile Art

If you can find stones of similar size and varying colors, you can make your own mosaic at virtually no cost other than your time.

Stone is strong, so these pieces are quite durable when finished.

Like glass, there are multiple types of stone mosaics available.

• Marble Mosaic – this is one of the strongest types of mosaic that you can obtain. Marble is great for floors, countertops, and walls, among other things. Many mosaic artists consider marble to be the perfect combination of beauty and strength. Marble can be found in large sheets for customized shapes to be cut, or you can buy it pre-cut in a variety of shapes including squares, strips, hexagons, and others.

• Pebble Mosaic – Pebbles are smaller and also come in a variety of shapes and sizes. They are generally more affordable than marble but don’t provide as much durability or uniformity. Pebble will give a more primitive look, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t also beautiful. Pebble mosaics are rich in earthy tones and give off a sort of subdued, understated beauty.

• Slate Mosaic – Slate has a distinctive, dark look, and has become a popular choice for modern, fashionable mosaics. It can be used for flooring or walls but can be more difficult to maintain as the quality is not as uniform as that of marble. It stains easily, so it is best to seal slate if you are trying to create a look that will last for a long time.

• Granite Mosaic – Granite is nearly indestructible and can be used for a variety of applications. There is a wide array of colors when it comes to granite, so you can have an appealing, eye-catching mosaic if you make it with just granite. It is simple to maintain, so it is great for floors, ceilings, or walls. It is not quite as luxurious as marble, but it is generally more affordable and just as versatile when it comes to having multiple uses and many attractive properties.


Using recycled material has become a new trend among many mosaic artists.

Many even use tiles from old mosaics that have been destroyed in order to make a rendition of the artwork that was once displayed.

It can often be used as a tribute to the ancient artists who helped to make this artform popular.

Recycled mosaic is great because it is cheap and really allows the artist to bring out their creativity and originality.

Virtually anything can be used to make a recycled mosaic, including broken mirrors, seashells, old household tiles, beads, old glasses, and unused jewelry.

Mosaic Techniques

There are several ways that mosaics can be created, and it is up to each artist to choose which way they want to make their art.

Sometimes this will be dictated by the materials and tools that are available.

The three main techniques are Direct, Indirect, and Double Indirect.

Read on below for explanations of each.


This involves placing each individual tile onto a surface that is designed for creating a mosaic.

This can be a flat surface such as a table or a board, but it can also be applied to three-dimensional objects such as vases, cups, mugs, or plant potters.

This method was often used in ancient Europe, as artists would follow sketches and place the tiles accordingly.

Many old churches have mosaics that eventually fell away, but the sketches used for the direct method can still be seen on the walls.

The direct method is best for smaller pieces of art that are meant to be portable.

This is because it is easy and does not require access to a large area or piece of art.

This is the most simple and basic form of mosaic creation.

The advantage also acts as the disadvantage, however.

Because the artist must work directly on the art piece, it is difficult to maintain consistency over a long period of time.

Especially with three-dimensional surfaces, it can also be a challenge to keep the tiles even and uniform when applying them.


This is a method that is often used for large-scale projects such as walls, floors, or major sculptures that might be displayed in town squares or art museums.

The mosaic tiles are stuck to a piece of backing paper with their faces down.

A strong adhesive is used to hold the structure of the mosaic so that it can later be transferred to the floors, walls, or sculptures that it is intended to be used for.

The advantage to the indirect method is that it allows the artist to touch up and refinish certain areas because the tiles can be removed from the paper before they are applied to the final work.

It also lets the worker carry the work of art in one piece to the final destination, whether it needs to be put in a bag or on the back of a truck to get there.

The indirect method is commonly used for outdoor works of art such as murals, benches, and tabletops.

It has a functional advantage because the method allows the tiles to lie flatly and uniformly across the surface, so it works for something like a dining table better than the direct method.

It is a bit more precise and accurate.

This means that the surface will be smoother and evener.


The double indirect method is ideal for artists who need to be able to monitor the progress of the artwork as it is being put together.

The tiles are organized in a face-up manner on some sort of material such as adhesive paper, plastic, or putty.

They are put together as they would appear when they are installed at their final destination.

Once the work is completed, another material is placed on top of the piece (often the same material as what is on the bottom).

The entire work is then flipped over, and the first piece of material is removed slowly.

The entire work of art is then installed where it was originally intended to be.

The Double Indirect Method requires a very skilled artist, as they only really have one opportunity to get it right.

It is very common for artists to damage their work during construction, and fixing those mistakes is timely and difficult.

However, this method allows for the most detail, thus giving realist artists a better medium and the ability to create their desired images.

This is great for complex pictures such as that of the human body or of a great work of architecture.


While mosaic artwork has been around for millennia, there are still many innovations in the field.

We no longer need physical tiles and materials to create beautiful mosaic images, although they are still the most popular and generally the most well-respected.

Still, digital imaging can be used to create a mosaic image that can be very pretty and impressive.

A photomosaic, for example, is a picture that is made up of a bunch of smaller pictures.

From afar, the photo may resemble somebody’s face.

When you get up close, you will notice that each pixel is another photo of that person’s face.

This is a creative and time-consuming process but can make for a wonderful, unique work of art that displays many other works of art.

These are essentially mosaics within other mosaics.

Digital art and CAD programs can aid in the creation of gorgeous mosaics as well.

They can put individual tiles together in a non-overlapping way, creating a mosaic-like appearance for surfaces such as floors or walls.

These are great for creating images that might be placed underwater, such as wording at the bottom of a pool or a picture in a bathtub.

The images can be layered onto waterproof or other non-tile surfaces while still giving the appearance of being made out of tile.

They aren’t quite as beautiful as a real mosaic, but they certainly serve a purpose.


Mosaic art is truly a major part of culture throughout the world, and it can be seen in the history of every country.

It is no wonder why artists today are still so enamored with mosaic works and why they continue to be popular in homes, offices, and museums.

There is much work that goes into creating a beautiful mosaic, but the hours put into it can very much be worth it when the piece of art comes out and impresses everybody.

The long history of mosaic makes it even more satisfying, as artists may feel a connection to those who lived thousands of years ago and created some of the most famous works that still resonate to this day.



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