Mosaic Terminology

Posted on Feb 16 2018

Mosaic is an art form which uses small pieces of materials placed together to create a unified whole. The materials commonly used are marble or other stone, glass, pottery, mirror or foil-backed glass, or shells. The terminology used in mosaic art is mainly made up of Latin terms and words. Here you can find these different discipline-specific terms together with short and simple explanations:

Roots of the Word Mosaic

The word mosaic is from the Italian mosaico derived from the Latin mosaicus and ultimately from the Greek word mouseios meaning belonging to the Muses, hence artistic.

The term for each piece of material is Tessera (plural: tesserae).

The term for the spaces in between where the grout goes is the interstices.

Andamento is the word used to describe the movement and flow of Tesserae.

The Opus (Latin for 'work’) is the way in which the pieces are cut and placed which varies and includes different techniques:

  • Opus regulatum: A grid; all tesserae align both vertically and horizontally.
  • Opus tessellatum: Tesserae form vertical or horizontal rows, but not both.
  • Opus vermiculatum: One or more lines of tesserae follow the edge of a special shape (letters or a major central graphic).
  • Opus musivum: Vermiculatum (a method of laying mosaic tesserae to emphasize an outline around a subject) extends throughout the entire background.
  • Opus palladianum: Instead of forming rows, tesserae are irregularly shaped. Also known as "crazy paving".
  • Opus sectile: A major shape (e.g. heart, letter, cat) is formed by a single tessera, as later in pietra dura.
  • Opus classicum: When vermiculatum is combined with tessellatum or regulatum.
  • Opus circumactum: Tesserae are laid in overlapping semicircles or fan shapes.
  • Micromosaic: using very small tesserae (found in Byzantine icons and Italian panels for jewellery from the Renaissance & onwards).