During a recent vacation I had the opportunity to visit Lyon, France. The Romans founded the city of Lugdunum in what is now southern France at the beginning of the Christian Era, and until the collapse of the Western Roman Empire the city was the cultural and political heart of the region. Traces of daily life in a Roman city are everywhere in the old part of Lyon, where the theater and odeon were (and still are!) located. The Gallo-Roman Museum of Lyon Fourvière lets visitors to get a close look at that daily life.
Mosaic is one of my favorite arts, and many fine examples are displayed in the museum. Here is a very small sample. Looking at this face, and at the close-up detail, it would seem that neither humans, nor the art of mosaic, has changed much in 2000 years.
I also visited the Basilica of Notre Dame Fourviere; the interior is glorious with huge bright mosaics installed in the 1850s.
Mosaic is an ancient art that stands the test of time. It’s durable, versatile, and low-maintenance. Mosaics are not easy for thieves to steal, so they remain at ancient sites when most other artifacts are gone.
An ancient art it is – but modern materials, technology, and knowledge open wide new vistas for artists interested in mosaic. Contemporary crafters and artists are doing exciting work, adapting old techniques to new materials and expressing new ideas.
Here’s a piece by Ruth Minola Scheibler. In addition to intriguing pieces like this, Minola does restoration work. She restored the mosaics in Fourvière, Notre Dame de la Garde at Marseille and Notre Dame du Rosaire at Lourdes.
Urban art by an incognito artist known as Invader uses mosiac tile to mimic the pixels of iconic 1980s video games. Since his first appearance in Paris in the 1990’s, he’s installed mosaics in dozens of cities all over the world. On his website he describes his work as “contemporary art, as a game, as graffiti, as street art – and much much more!”
Here’s another great application of mosaic technique by Christian Mähler – using wire, instead of tiles. Isn’t this a great way to up-cycle scraps of wire and cable? What a genius idea – I want to try it!
Mosaic techniques and effects show up in other arts, from stained glass to architecture. Collage, dry-painting, and fabric arts, for example, can partake of the look of mosaic. It’s a rich source of inspiration, whether we’re looking back into history or forward in time.