MosaicBlues: November 2014 .entry-content { font-size:25px !important; }

Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Mosaicist of Ostia Antica

At the mouth of the river Tiber, 19 miles to the northeast of Rome, Ostia Antica was the seaport of ancient Rome.

I remember visiting this place 43 years ago with my parents and still have vivid memories of the gorgeous mosaics, frescoes, and of the tombs along the main road into town.

As a port, Ostia was a wealthy city, and lots of mosaics decorated the walls and floors of the homes of rich merchants who usually were running their businesses from their homes, and in order to impress their clients kept lavish reception rooms were they would receive and entertain them. 

Some of these mosaics were representing the business the owner was in. The one underneath decorated the floor outside an office belonging to "the shippers of Sullecthum", a town on the eastern coast of Tunisia. It shows two large sailing ships passing each other at the lighthouse marking the harbour entrance.

Foro delle Corporazioni, Ostia; ca. 200 CE

So there were lots of mosaics in Ostia, and lots of mosaic labourers were needed to build them...

One bas relief sculpture on a wall represents two seated Tagliapietre - stone cutters - cutting tesserae with a hardie and martelina hammer. 

Behind them, the Musivarius - actual mosaic project manager, is telling other workers were to put the stones slabs to be cut by the Tagliapietre.

And how do we know that ?

Simply because of the tools they are using; they are using the same as the ones we still use to this day :

Hardie and Martelina hammer.

Ostia was founded during the 7th century BC. As most of the parts excavated to this day date from the 3rd century BC. This bas relief has been dated between 280 and 270 BC.

So when I cut my tesserae in Alabama in 2014....

I am basically reproducing, 2300 years later, the same moves the Roman mosaicists were performing to cut their tesserae. 

This is a great source of pride and satisfaction. When I reproduce the moves of these ancient masters, I am in communion with them. Beyond time, 23 centuries abolished, my work is a continuity of theirs. 

This is how rituals work, this is why it is important - even though technology has evolved, and sometimes I use different tools - to use the same tools and moves the ancestors used. In this way, their knowledge and expression is revived and transmitted. They live in us. 

"Ubi tu Gaius" Roman Inscription mosaic, work in process - 2013.

When you install in your home a mosaic made in this way; of stone and ceramic tesserae individually cut in the same way our ancestors of Ostia were cutting theirs, you not only bring a piece of art in your home. You bring their knowledge, their experience, their loves, their hopes and fears, in fact you are bringing a little of their whole lives into your home. 

I have always admired Roman Art. The strong personal connection I feel with the ancient mosaicists through my work is a source of great pride and satisfaction to me. Through my own work and creations, I transmit something of theirs. Somehow, they keep living through my work, and I am thankful for their lives and work.

Roman wedding vows mosaic. Granite, Limestone, Ceramics

Bring the unique art of the Musivarius in your home. Visit my Web site mosaicblues. You can purchase one existing mosaic or commission a special project. I will work with you to design the perfect piece fitted to your home's unique style. Or if you simply would like to discuss the wonderful art of modern and ancient mosaics, please contact me by email at or by phone at (334) 798 1639.

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Sunday, November 23, 2014

Opus Sextile - Part I

Opus Sextile, or Sectile, a very ancient form of mosaic, probably is the ancestors of all floor mosaics. When our ancestors got tired of walking on mud, they paved their dwelling with flagstones. Stones of different colours allowed for figurative or geometrical patterns, a sort of creative tiling.

Roman marble floor mosaic, Utica, Tunisia
Such technique has consistently been used since...
On Floors

House of Cupid, 4th cent. AD

It is particularly interesting in the realization of great floor patterns such as the Labyrinths of various medieval and modern churches ...

Amiens Cathedral, France, 12th century AD

Church of the Nativity, Dothan, AL, USA, 2004 AD

And on walls :

Basilica of Junius Bassus - Rome, Italy - 331 AD

In a next post, we will look at the use of Opus Sextile and similar technologies in furniture building ... Stay in touch !

I am a modern mosaic artist who greatly admire Roman and Byzantine Art. My mosaics are often inspired by the works of ancient masters. You can visit my site at mosaicblues, or my facebook page. If you are interested by my work, please contact me by email at or by phone at (334) 798 1639.

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In which I keep you informed of my work, techniques, history and archaeology of mosaics.

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Vatican's Mosaics

St. Peter's Basilica, a Late Renaissance church located within Vatican City in Rome, Italy, is one of the largest churches in the world. 

It has been described as "the greatest of all churches of Christendom" and one observer wrote: "St Peter's Basilica is the reason why Rome is still the center of the civilized world. For religious, historical, and architectural reasons it by itself justifies a journey to Rome, and its interior offers a palimpsest of artistic styles at their best..."

By Catholic tradition, the basilica is the burial site Saint Peter, one of the twelve apostles of Jesus and the first Pope and Bishop of Rome.

St Peters is the repository of amazing work of art : sculptures, images... 

The Transfiguration - Raphael

Now, an interesting and little known fact about the images inside St Peter's is that all but one of them are mosaics executed in the "filato" technique.

Details of the Filato Work of the above Scene.

Filati mosaics have been utilized since 1600 by the Vatican studio to reproduce and replace the oil paintings in St Peter’s Basilica which have deteriorated over the years due to humidity.

The "Filato" technique was invented during the 15th century. Filato is made from smalti that is heated and stretched into thin noodles. It is then cut in small pieces used as micro tesserae.

Filato rods

The use of glass in mosaic allows for amazing colours, since we are now able to produce all nuances of colours by the filato technique, we are able to reproduce in mosaic all the most famous paintings. 

Personally, if I admire the amazing beauty of such works, I am saddened by the fact that all the creativity is taken out of the mosaicist's work. Mosaic is just used for copying painting. In my opinion, it is unfortunate. By doing so one relegates mosaic to the status of a mere Craft rather than a full Art.

What do you think ? Agree, disagree ? Please leave your comments below !

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If you are interested in purchasing one of my mosaics, would like to commission a special project or to simply discuss the wonderful art of modern and ancient mosaics, please contact me by email at or by phone at (334) 798 1639.

Monday, November 10, 2014

When you make mosaics according to the reverse method, often the colours are much duller than if you would work direct. This is due tot the fact that the back of the tesserae are usually not polished and do not shine as their front does.

So when I want to have a better idea of what the completed piece will look, I spray it with water. I keep in my shop a spray bottle for this purpose.

Here we have the same Michi mosaic at 2 stages of completion.

I took this first picture directly without spraying the piece with anything.

When I took the second picture a few days later, I had sprayed the piece with water. You can see how much blacker the granite looks. Generally speaking everything looks brighter.

Water has that amazing power to get everything unpolished brighter. It acts as a sort of temporary polish which reflects the light off the piece.

Here is the completed piece on the right.

This interesting use of water to help visualize the finished aspect of a misaic is also clearly illustrated in this short video of a wonderful Roman floor mosaic in the antic town of Zeugma, Turkey.

Ancient floor mosaics were very likely waxed for 2 reasons : it protected the stones from being stained and it made them look better ! 

When I complete one of my pieces, I first treat it with a waterproofing product - this makes sure the grout is waterproof. It is important if the mosaic is displayed outside in a cold weather. Wet grout does not freeze well ! Then I wax and buff it.

The mosaics shown above are a representation of a Chinese ideogram signifying  "the Way" as the way things are or are done. The Chinese pronounce it Tao - as in Taoism, and the Japanese Do - as in Judo or Kendo; or Michi. It is the emblem displayed in the back of the Yoshukai Karate Organization to which I belong.

The red one is available for sale.

If you enjoyed this post, you may want to

If you are interested in purchasing one of my mosaics, would like to commission a special project or to simply discuss the wonderful art of modern and ancient mosaics, please contact me by email at or by phone at (334) 798 1639.