Roman mosaics were more frequently used to adorn the floors, and thus used less glass, gold, and elaborate materials. Perhaps the most famous Byzantine mosaics are those found in the Hagia Sophia, the most famous church in Eastern Christianity. On the South Gallery or Catechumena is displayed a depiction of Christ, Mary, and St. John the Baptist known as the Deesis. Christs “face is strikingly realistic and expressiveAll [figures] are set against a golden background” (“Byzantine art,” Art Lex, 2010). Of almost equal fame are the glittering, gold mosaics of Ravennas holy buildings. “Ravennas most famous Byzantine mosaics are of an emperor, his empress and their retinues. On one wall of the choir of San Vitale in Ravenna, built for Justinian and consecrated in AD 547, the emperor stands with crown and a golden halo” (Gascoigne 2001). Although the ostensible purpose of the structure is a holy one, the Emperor Justinian chose to parallel his image with that of a king-like Christ, also often found in glittering mosaics. Christ as ruler of heaven was a very popular design in mosaics, given the brilliant jewel-like tesserae used so often in Byzantium works. Images of rulers in mosaics of the same materials often intentionally or unintentionally resembled the images of the divine.
While glass tesserae and gold came to dominate Eastern mosaics, Western Christianity began to adopt a new form of mosaic art, that of stained glass. Stained glass windows came to adorn many of the most famous churches of Western Christendom. Similar to the mosaics of early Byzantium, early stained glass scenes often featured the holy family. As Gothic-style churches became higher and narrower, stained glass was used to allow light to pour through the windows and draw the inhabitants attention to the depicted scenes.
Theophilus wrote about the production of stained glass in 1100 CE. The technique sounds very similar to that of mosaics, in which a shape was first created and then filled by the craftsman: “if you want to assemble simple windows, first mark out the dimensions of their length and breadth on a wooden boardselect colors that are to be put in. Cut the glass and fit the pieces together with the grozing iron” (“A history of stained glass,” Art Glass Association, 2010).
Mosaics and stained glass in the modern era have been used by contemporary artists to depict secular as well as sacred subjects. Pointillists such as the 19th century French post-impressionist Seurat have used mosaic-like blendings of colors in their paintings. Mosaics are no longer the province only of civic buildings, houses of the wealthy, and churches: stained art is now used on lampshades and mosaics can be found on the floors of ordinary houses. “Mosaics often have a dual function, for example as flooringit is a very accessible, non-elitist form of creativity” art as craftsmanship; craftsmanship as art (“History of mosaic art,” Joy of Shards, 2008).
“Byzantine art.” Art Lex. May 6, 2010. http://www.artlex.com/ArtLex/b/byzantine.html
Gascoigne, Bamber. “History of mosaic.” History World. 2001. May 6, 2010.
“History of mosaic art.” Joy of Shards. 2008. May 6, 2010.
“A history of stained glass.” Text courtesy of the Art Glass Association. May 6, 2010.