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Wednesday, November 21, 2012


The term mosaic entered into the English language in the early fifteenth century to denote an assemblage, organized or otherwise, of many fundamentally similar objects.  For example, a tiled wall composed with tiles of varying colours or textures could be accurately described as a mosaic, as could a painting painted with small units of different colours.  Mosaic’s spelling was based clearly on the French word from which it originated: “mosaique”. The French term can be traced back another two hundred years, in 1280 A.D, where it sprang from the Italian “mosaico”, whose lineage can in turn be followed back to the second century Latin “mosaicus.”  It is at this point that the words history becomes unclear, although it is possible that its point omega lies with the ancient Greek shrines that were so commonly decorated with small coloured tiles.  These ancient mosaics were named as such because of their dedication to the Muses; goddesses of the arts, poetry and music.

Just as the mosaic likely originated with an architectural statement, perhaps its most prominent use today is still in architecture, or more precisely interior design.  The mosaic has in essence never gone in or out of style, but instead the forms in which it has been portrayed or manners of its construction have varied.  In the time of the Greeks, mosaics might have been made up of masonry tiles dyed to different hues using the technologies of the day.  They might also have been made of blocks of wood, using either the natural occurring hues of different species or artificial dying to differentiate between the tiles.  Both the units of masonry and that of wood could also have been carved with varying patterns rather than staining; for instance a horizontal versus vertical relief occurring across the different faces. 

Both these types of mosaics can still be seen today, particularly that of brick.   The façades of most contemporary homes are not of uniform colour, but slight variations in hue occur from each brick to the next, forming by definition a mosaic. 

The word can be used also in describing the aesthetic patterning of a buildings’ interior faces, most commonly its floors and walls. Many ceramic tile floors feature varying tints between each tile that replicate the colours common to rocks as they might be seen in nature.  The same is true for mosaics featured on wall surfaces, although its use here seems to hold a tendency for bright and unnatural colours as contrasted to typical floors.  For example many bathrooms feature gloss blues and turquoises, even transparent glass-like tiles running along their walls.  Mosaics can also be printed onto linoleum, although this is largely a relic of the 1960’s and 70’s.  During this time period it was also not uncommon to find mosaics consisting of vibrant, high-contrast colours, such as the floral red-and-black tiling that is so stereotypical of that era.  Each of these constitutes an inlay of unique fragments to form an aesthetically unified whole.


"muse, n.1". OED Online. September 2012. Oxford University Press. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/124057?rskey=kllSU8&result=1&isAdvanced=false (accessed November 21, 2012).

"mosaic, n. and adj.1". OED Online. September 2012. Oxford University Press. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/122514?rskey=UR5zvy&result=1&isAdvanced=false (accessed November 21, 2012).

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