Byzantine mosaic art is considered timeless art. They have been used for Islamic or Christian art, and even today, art, and artists have been influenced by mosaics.
Mosaics have been an art form for thousands of years. The Greeks used them to decorate their roads with patterns using various stones. The Romans took that idea from the Greeks and created their mosaics, but they were often more functional. The Byzantine mosaic art was more for decoration.
Mosaics in Byzantine art also took their form to the next level through their usage as a form of personal and religious expression. The Byzantines would not just take stones and clay pieces as the Romans did, but they also would incorporate precious stones and gold leaf into their tesserae.
The other thing that the Byzantines did was that they sometimes make their mosaics very realistic. A lot of the time, they like to use symbolism. They were also after a sense of awe whenever you would see their mosaics. So, they would set them up towards certain times of day you would get, like coming through a window, and they would sparkle and look beautiful. That way, especially in the churches, you would feel you were surrounded by beauty and glory.
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Features of Byzantine Mosaic Art
Mosaics in Byzantine art are from the eastern Roman Empire. It is from approximately 300 AD to about 1450. Also, the history of mosaic art typically celebrates the Christian church and many Christian iconographies. It's not necessarily always Christian, but for the most part, most of the art from this particular era is going to be Christian based. When you're looking at Byzantine Mosaic Art, it is important to understand that the symbolic is what's important, not the reality.
In the Byzantine mosaic art sculptures, this person looks slightly off. They generally look weird and quirky, and that is because, in this particular case, they were not concentrating on making the most realistic look of the person. They wanted to look at his/her soul and inside of his/her eyes to see if this person was following God.
They made them elongated a little bit, almost to show the nastiness of the human soul a lot of the time. They would kind of elongate their forms just a little bit, and they would use a little bit of exaggeration. Byzantine mosaic art wanted to show deeply what was inside the soul and not necessarily just what you see outside the human body.
You should also know that the overall effect is the most important thing. The art itself can be very simple in certain places, but this is a very striking type of art, and when you look at it, you're supposed to be in awe. Byzantine artists wanted you to feel like you were in the presence of God or having a spiritual moment just by looking at the art. Even if the art itself, when you really get down to it, is pretty simple in most places.
Mosaics in Byzantine art continue to be a huge influence on modern art because it was very simple and broken down into what is symbolic. That led people like Picasso and other modernists to make their art simply broken down but also at the end of the day, powerful in its very simple use of decorative form.
Techniques and Aesthetics of Byzantine Mosaic Art
The history of mosaic art has a solid foundation. The 1st century AD architect Vitruvius describes the ideal foundation as consisting of four layers. The first, called a sculpture, was built only with a large structure or piece of pottery. Next came radius, a solidly used mix of rubble and lime up to nine inches thick.
The negative effect of Rudus is called its effect. It acts with a mixture of lime and small pieces of brick. Finally, the placement bed on which the tesserae were placed was an even thinner layer of mortar. Their production with lime and texture powder is a mixture.
Ancient artists used a sharp tool to pull the insides of the mortar when planning their mosaics. Using string, nails, compasses, and calipers to help lay out their plans. Next, the artists use pigments of various colors to designate where the figure in the background will appear. To cut tesserae from raw materials, they use a hammer and a chisel-like blade set into a block. With the hammer, it's possible to cut very thick marble pieces with little force.
In experienced hands, these tools can quickly and accurately produce tesserae of exactly the desired size and shape, even from fragile materials like glass. As the artist lays the tesserae into the setting bed, he/she carefully choose sizes and shapes to fit the subject.
Smaller tesserae are used for more detailed areas. She/he chooses materials and colors to fill in the background and others to outline the figure. The mosaic's surface is leveled by grinding the tesserae to an even height. Finally, the pumice stone can make the top of the mosaic very smooth and even.
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Famous Byzantine Mosaic Art
1- San Vitale
An examination of mosaics would only be complete with a discussion of San Vitale in Ravenna, Italy. The church was dedicated in 547 CE by Bishop Maximian. It's an octagonal plan church filled with Byzantine mosaic art telling the stories of the Old Testament, angelic figures, Jesus, the Twelve Apostles, and San Vitale with his sons.
2- Emperor Justinian
One of the most famous mosaics in Byzantine art is of Emperor Justinian and his wife, the Empress Theodora. The most important message of this piece is Justinian's authority over both church and state. The emperor stands front and center, his head is crowned with a halo, but he also wears the traditional Imperial purple robes. On either side of him are members of the clergy and the military.
Most of these figures hold essential items representing their station, including weapons and liturgical pieces. By showing Justinian at the center of the scene, the viewer is meant to understand that he is one of the great Byzantine emperors that held immense secular and non-secular power.
3- Empress Theodora
Theodore's mosaic is more politically charged than her husband's in the history of mosaic art. However, that doesn't mean it doesn't make its statement. She holds the wine for the Eucharist, and this shows her as an additional leader in the church. Theodora is surrounded by her attendants but not by government or military officials like her husband. The balanced composition and mimics show us them near equal leaders of the Roman Empire.
4- Santa Maria Maggiore
Not only is it one of the four major basilicas in the Catholic faith, but it is also the largest Marian Church in Rome. It is built on the site of a holy miracle. The Virgin appeared in a dream to a bishop and said that she would mark the site where she wanted a church built.
The next day the bishop went outside and saw fresh snow. It was August, so this was clearly a divine intervention. The Basilica was dedicated in 434 CE and featured some impressive Byzantine mosaic art dating from that time and beyond.
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