The juxtaposition of tesserae or tiles in order to create a pattern or an image to decorate the built environment.
|Historic area of significance||For ancient mosaics, around the UK south of Hadrian’s Wall.
From the mid-19th century, UK.
Important manufacturers, makers and installers of mosaic were located in Manchester (Oppenheimers) and London (several firms including Powell & Sons, Jesse Rust & Co).
|Area currently practised||UK|
|Origin in the UK||From around 150 CE, after the Romans established themselves, to the 4th century. Modern mosaic in Britain began in the mid-19th century under the aegis of Henry Cole at the new South Kensington Museum (V&A). The first pavements and images appeared in the 1860s.|
|Current no. of professionals (main income)||21-50|
|Current no. of professionals (sideline to main income)
|Current no. of trainees||51-100 people taking courses at London Adult Education Colleges and one or two year Diploma at London School of Mosaic|
|Current total no. serious amateur makers
|Current total no. of leisure makers
|Minimum no. of craftspeople required|
The craft was introduced and practised widely during the occupation of Britain by Rome. After they left it appears to have collapsed. There are some notable medieval mosaics, such as the Cosmati Pavement in Westminster Abbey. During the Victorian revival there was widespread use of mosaic to decorate public buildings; today a few practitioners create a few mosaics each year, but it is hard to make it into a business. What we argue for at London School of Mosaic is the renaissance of this art form to support modern urban development and create character and detail in our towns and cities
After the Great Exhibition of 1851, Henry Cole at the South Kensington Museum (V&A) promoted all crafts including mosaic, setting up a mosaic school in the museum. Floors and staircases in the museum were covered in mosaic and tiles from the 1860s. Mosaic portraits of artistic ‘Greats’ were commissioned. Experimentation in the medium was promoted.
Subsequently, from the mid-19th to the mid-20th centuries, churches, grand municipal buildings, wealthy owners of grand private houses all required mosaic decoration as a matter of fashion and prestige. This continued into the 1960s, a golden age for grand public mosaics: the huge mosaic walls designed by John Piper in the BBC TV Centre, White City (now listed) and the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce; the Merrion Centre Mosaic mural in Leeds by Eric Taylor; the Three Ships panel on the old Co-op façade in Hull, Alan Boyson. At the same time the great mosaic making and fixing such as Oppenheimers, Manchester, flourished.
That infrastructure has vanished. There are still professional mosaicists, municipal and private commissions, professionals to fix mosaics, but not on the old scale. Mosaic decoration is too expensive and takes too long. New materials are quicker and cheaper for commercial use. Mosaic decoration is not considered prestigious. Ironically, it suffers under the label ‘craft’ used as a derogatory term. The current focus is on community mosaic schemes, small businesses and the many leisure practitioners.
Direct Method: placing tesserae or stones directly into concrete or mortar, in situ. The resultant surface might be irregular, which is aesthetically pleasing. Used for small projects on board, or covering 3D objects with tesserae.
Indirect method: creating the mosaic on a temporary backing before cementing into place. Tesserae stuck onto paper, using soluble glue, on the flat, in reverse; then glued paper sections turned over onto the wall or surface where the mosaic is to be permanently sited, sections pressed into the prepared mortared surface. The backing paper is washed off to reveal the backs of the stuck tesserae (which become the front surface) should be flat and smooth. This method allows the mosaic to be made in a studio and transported safely to site.
Most raw materials require cutting using specialist tools and equipment. Cutting marble using a hammer and hardie is a skill and art to be practised and learned. Cutting glass and vitreous tiles, ceramic tiles and Venetian glass smalti using various types and sizes of nippers and tile cutters, involves several hand techniques and knowledge of equipment and nature of the materials. Some tools are heavy, some small and precise.
Considerable skill is required to cut tesserae to shape so as to fit closely together. The rules and techniques for placing tesserae are as varied and precise as embroidery stitches, such as executing andamento lines. Colour, form, surface, materials have all to be chosen, weighed up against each other, mixed and mingled. Knowledge of the properties of materials is vital.
Every region can use its own local stone. Dugald MacInnes in Scotland uses slate and granite in his work. Cleo Mussi uses broken pottery and china (pique assiette), an old and international variant. Maggy Howarth uses pebbles; the earliest Greek mosaics of 4th century BCE were made of pebbles.
- Pique assiette – using broken pieces of crockery, often own old items, making it very personal, or can be a very cheap way of procuring materials.
- Opus sectile – can be of glass.
Issues affecting the viability of the craft
- Patronage has changed. From the mid-19th to mid-20th centuries churches, grand municipal buildings, wealthy owners of grand private houses all required mosaic embellishment as a matter of fashion and prestige. Current large schemes are community based, relating to the history of the location and involving members of the local community. This is excellent for society, but it is sometimes limiting for the artist.
- Nowadays, churches, apart from Westminster Cathedral, can no longer afford commissions; new commercial developments, transport hubs, no longer recognise mosaic as a viable medium of decoration. It takes too long to install and seems old-fashioned.
- British Association for Modern Mosaic
- London School of Mosaic
- The Association for the Study and Preservation of Roman Mosaics (ASPROM)
Craftspeople currently known
- Tessa Hunkin
- Gary Drostle
- Emma Biggs
- Joanna Kessel
- Dugald MacInnes
- Helen Miles
- Rachel Davies
- Katy Galbraith
- Sue Kershaw
- Elizabeth D’Ath
- Ruth Wilkinson
- Caroline Jariwala
- Ed Chapman
- Paul Siggins
- Oliver Budd
- Kate Rattray
- Felicity Ball
- Jim Anderson
- David Tootill
- Paula Ligo
- Giulia Vogrig
- Silvie Jacobi
- Sue Penrose
- Victoria Harrison
- Julie Vernon
- Denise Jacques
- Joanna Dewfall
- Sioban Allen
- Martin Cheek
- Concetta Perrot
- Alison & Peter Massey
- Tamara Froud
- Norma Vondee
- Sarah Stanley
- Katie Hellon
- Tracey Cartledge
- Robert Field
- Cleo Mussi
- Elaine M Goodwin
- Jane Muir
- Julie Hand
Conservators and restorers include Gary Bricknell, JW Restoration Ltd and Tracey Cartledge.
Many professional mosaicists in UK have had some training in Italy, where there is a diploma course taught over 3 years at the Scuola Mosaicisti del Friuli. Adult Education colleges where mosaic is taught include City Lit (London), Morley College (London), Bexley College, Greenwich Communications College and the Prince’s Traditional Arts School.
Making a mosaic can be a slow and contemplative process. It was used in Woking Women’s Prison in the 19th century as a reward for good behaviour (called Opus Criminale), the results of which are now found in several V&A floors and in St Paul’s Cathedral. David Tootill works with young offenders on his initiative in his South Bank Mosaics and now London School of Mosaics workshop.
information provided by David Tootill, Director of London School of Mosaics and President of British Association for Modern Mosaic.
- Fischer, Peter, (1971) Mosaic History and Technique
- Unger, Hans, (1865) Practical Mosaics
- Haswell, J Mellentin, (1973) Manual of Mosaic
- Severini, Gino, (1955) Lezione sul Mosaico
- Howarth, Maggy, (1994) The Art of Pebble Mosaics
- Dierks, Leslie, (1997) Making Mosaics
- Goodwin, Elaine M, (1999) The Art of Decorative Mosaic
- Biggs, Emma, and Hunkin, Tessa, (1999) Mosaic Workshop
- Fassett, Kaffe, and Bahouth, Candice, (1999) Mosaics
- Goodwin, Elaine M, (2003) Encyclopaedia of Mosaic
- Andamento – Annual Journal of BAMM, (2007 to date, continuing)
- Mosaic Art NOW (MAN)
- Mosaic Matters