The Essential Guide to Great Mosaics
Mosaic art in its own right is considered to have begun setting its roots from circa 400-500 BC. The key periods in mosaic making are the Hellenistic mosaics, Roman, Early Christian and 11th-12th century Byzantine mosaics. Mosaics continued to be made after the fall of Constantinople in 1453 but it was only until recently that mosaic art regained its deserved position in the arts spectrum. Owing to artists like Antonio Gaudi, Gino Severini and Yiannis Kolefas.
In mosaic, as in other arts, Italy in the last two centuries BC absorbed the full impact of Hellenistic influence".
The Hellenistic period is equally the time of development of the mosaic, particularly with the works of Sosos of Pergamon, active in the 2nd century BC and the only mosaic artist cited by Pliny (XXXVI, 184). His taste for trompe l'oeil (optical illusion) and the effects of the medium are found in several works attributed to him such as the "Unswept Floor" in the Vatican museum, representing the leftovers of a repast (fish bones, bones, empty shells, etc.) and the "Dove Basin" at the Capitoline Museum, known by means of a reproduction discovered in Hadrian's Villa. In it one sees four doves perched on the edge of a basin filled with water. One of them is watering herself while the others seem to be resting, which creates effects of reflections and shadow perfectly studied by the artist.
Exquisite mosaics of the Roman era can also be seen in Cyprus. What's fascinating is the "local" character of the mosaics. Their style reflects the people, the climate, the temperament and local art.
The mosaics in Kourion have not been chosen by chance. Though completely "Roman" as far as style (Greek patterns, images-emblems and inscriptions), materials (stone, marble) and application (on floor) is concerned, they introduce us to the Christian era. The subjects are birds, fish and a goose. No more mythological scenes. The inscription (think of the inscriptions that always accompany the Byzantine mosaics and Byzantine icons in general) reflects the beliefs of the "new religion". It reads:
"IN PLACE OF BIG STONES AND SOLID IRON, GLEANING BRONZE AND EVEN ADAMANT, THIS HOUSE IS GIRT WITH THE MUCH-VENERATED SIGNS OF CHRIST ".
The original Greek text:
"ΑΝΤΙ ΛΙΘΩΝ ΜΕΓΑΛΩΝ, ΑΝΤΙ ΣΤΕΡΕΟΙΟ ΣΙΔΗΡΟΥ ΧΑΛΚΟΥ ΤΕ ΞΑΝΘΟΙΟ ΚΑΙ ΑΥΤΟΥ ΑΝΤ ΑΔΑΜΑΝΤΟΣ (Ο)ΙΔΕ ΔΟΜΟΙ ΖΩΣΑΝΤΟ ΠΟΛΥΛΛΙΤΑ ΣΗΜΑΤΑ ΧΡΙΣΤΟΥ ".
The mosaics at Eustolios complex in Kourion, Cyprus date 5th century AD.
Mosaics of outstanding grandeur are to be seen at Chora Monastery-Μονή της Χώρας (KIahriye Camii, Istanbul). Constantinople boasts mosaic works of unparalleled magnificence and resplendence, of high importance both historically and in terms of religious significance, making them landmarks for Christianity and the development of Byzantine art.