Mosaic is a decorative technique that creates geometric or figurative designs by arranging small fragments (“tessere”) of marble, terracotta, glazed ware or glass and setting them into a layer of cement. Text with kind permission of Savelli Arte e Tradizione
Invented over 4,500 years ago in ancient Greece, the mosaic technique was adopted by the Romans, who then spread it throughout their empire. Mosaic work found particular expression in particular in the Byzantine period, when this magnificent art form was widely used as an ornamental style in civic and religious buildings.
In the Roman age, the art of mosaic reached a splendor still visible in the decorations of floors, even in private homes, as it became an extravagant display of wealth and prestige.
When Roman civilization fell under the Barbarian invaders, the mosaic technique greatly influenced Byzantium and the rest of the Eastern Empire. With the reign of Emperor Justinian in the sixth century AD, a new level of expression was reached with more intricate designs and richer colors.
The famous mosaics of Ravenna still fascinate with the brilliant splendor of their sacred images. After many centuries of use, mosaic work went into decline in the fifteenth century and remained dormant for nearly three hundred years.
In the eighteenth century new production techniques for the glazed tiles led to a renaissance of mosaic art. This magnificent production became very fashionable among popes, aristocrats and diplomats. For a long time Rome was highly successful in exporting tiny mosaics with themes from antiquity.
The Vatican School of Mosaic was established with the goal of covering the interior of Saint Peter’s with mosaics. The school is still operating today.
With the rise of the industrial revolution the second half of the nineteenth century, artisan activities were largely replaced by machines. In the beginning of the twentieth century, in a fertile cultural climate open to experimentation with new artistic forms, there arose a new interest in mosaics.
The ancient mosaic technique was a good deal more complicated than modern techniques, but thanks to the hand of the artisan, mosaics are very much alive and enjoying new developments in materials and techniques.
The artisan is the key to success in a world, dulled by mass production, in which people prefer unique or limited productions of fine art.
This itinerary to discover the Rome of Mosaics is run by Walks Inside Rome, part of the Walks Inside Italy network of official Italy guides. Says Sal of Walks Inside Rome:
'This itinerary can go on for ever… Rome has some of the most interesting and precious mosaics in the world. This ancient art was brought from the East with the Byzantine influence. It was developed in Rome and still exists thanks to the Vatican Mosaic School. We will discover a selection of these mosaics in some of Rome's most beautiful churches, both well-known and less known.
The Basilica of San Clemente has a very unusual mosaic that dates back to the 12th century. St. Mary Major Basilica, dedicated to the Madonna, is one of the richest and most visited and the mosaics there range from the 5th to the 13th centuries. An often forgotten church, Santa Prassede has the Chapel of San Zeno, a little square-vaulted chamber completely covered with gold mosaics.
The Lateran Baptistry, near St. John's Cathedral, still contains some of the oldest mosaics in an octagonal-shaped building. These are only a few of the many beautiful and unique mosaic treasures you can discover with us in Rome'.