Mosaic is the art of setting pieces of stone and other things into mortar or cement. Greek mosaic is particularly beautiful because of the artistry entailed and the stories it tells. Detailed mosaics depict the gods, family, architecture and beauty that was, and still is, Greece.
The earliest mosaics known were created in China in the 4th millennium B.C. As trade routes were established, the art spread to Greece and, later, Italy. The most ancient mosaics found in Greece were made with pieces of rubble. Rubble mosaics evolved into mosaics made of stones, marble and glass. By the first century A.D., mosaics were found in houses of all classes of people. Through these mosaics, modern-day archaeologists and historians have learnt much about how people lived, their economic standing, their values, their activities and who they worshipped.
Tesserae are the items used to make a mosaic image. Examples of tesserae are stones, glass, marbles, clay and pottery pieces. Early Greek mosaics used stones, with more colourful materials added as the art evolved. A mixture of cement, sand and water anchors the tessarae. Black clay is used as a soft foundation to set and design timages in the Byzantine technique of mosaic making.
There are three techniques used to make Greek mosaics. The Byzantine technique involves sketching a design onto wood that has black clay on top of it. The artist arranges the stones, pastes a thin cloth over the mosaic and leaves it to dry. Once dry, the artist sets the wood side in cement and removes the cloth.
The direct technique is commonly used for floors and the ground, such as a path. The artist makes a wood or metal frame, then fills it with a cement mixture into which she places the tesserae. This technique can also be employed on a wood base affixed to the floor.
The indirect technique is used to make large tiles and artworks. The artist stretches paper over a piece of wood and glues the tesserae facedown onto the paper. He constructs a frame around the mosaic's edges, covers the tesserae with a grout mixture and fills the rest of the frame with cement, topped with chicken wire and plastic, for stability, and another piece of wood. The artist turns over the mosaic, peels off the paper and allows the mosaic to dry.
Greek mosaics were made for beauty, but function also played an important role. Mosaics were used as flooring, to decorate fountains and garden paths, and to decorate and reinforce columns, stairs and walls. Mosaics were also used in ceilings of churches and other important buildings.
Mythology has always played a large role in inspiring Greek mosaics. The buildings of Greece are dotted with mosaics of Zeus, Poseidon, Triton, Aphrodite, Paris, Daphne and the whole family of gods, telling of the myths of the ancient Greeks. These mosaics are beautifully detailed, with the gods riding exotic animals, flying across the skies and into oceans, fighting courageous battles and telling beautiful and tragic love stories.