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Study the Mosaics of Masters

It’s always been interesting to me to study how the Maestro’s created mosaics back in the early centuries.  You can learn a lot from looking at their work and using their techniques in your mosaic work.

After a memorable trip to the Basilica of San Marco in Venice several years ago, I recently borrowed a book that included wonderful images of the mosaics there. All the images you will see here are from this book.

It became obvious to me that there is a distinct difference in the way mosaic artists’ styles changed over the years. I especially noticed it in the way clothing was depicted in mosaics. It seems the older mosaics are more flat, the more modern mosaic look more realistic.

So I want to share with you a few images of the way artists depicted robes and clothing from as far back as the 12th Century to more modern times of the 19th Century.

First, let's understand shape and form. Shape is more 2-dimensional and flat like the first circle. Form is more 3-dimensional like the soccer ball depicted here:

Samples of how flatter shapes were used in mosaics in early centuries are below. 


This image below shows two different mosaics done in different times as well. Can you guess which one is older?  If you guessed the one on the right, you are correct. A different artist re-created the person on the left many years after the one on the right was done.

Here are other examples of newer mosaics depicting how form gives the illusion of 3-dimension. The robes have more movement, highlights, and look realistic.

And here's an example of how perspective became more realistic over the centuries as well.

So study the masters that came before. Look and learn. Their techniques can help you in your modern-day mosaics.


All images supplied from: The Patriarchal Basilica in Venice, San Marco, The Mosaics, The History, The Lighting. 1990, Gruppo Editoriale Fabbri, Milan


  • I became enamored with mosaics while taking vacations in Italy, and I think it was a visit to the Baths of Caracalla in Rome that heightened my interest and desire to try my hand at this art form. Pompeii, too, presented a fascinating array of mosaics, and while I don’t think my novice and plodding productions will be around two thousand years from now, it’s great to have the benefit of accessing the “modern” artistry and technical expertise of individuals who generously share what they know online.

    Timothy Wasil
  • this was interesting—thanks

  • Need to start learning mosaics

  • Very interesting….. use of small tesserae as opposed to “broken tiles”. Much more artistic and memorable, a few professional mosaicist artists, rather than amateur crafters.

    Sue Rowell
  • Thank you for this – it was interesting and instructive and brief – an information bite!

    Claire Fulleylove

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