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Mosaic Art from Around the World

Mosaic artwork has a rich impact throughout our history. This ancient style of art adds enduring beauty to cultures around the world. From Moroccan zellij designs to Persian mosques to Gaudi's architecture to your kitchen backsplash - these intricate designs stand the test of time. Originally handcrafted by skilled artisans to grace temples and villas, mosaic murals are now more accesible than ever if you want to add a stunning detail to your home or business!

Custom tile designs and murals add depth, visual appeal, and new dimensions to both residential and commercial projects. Their sophisticated flair and high-end quality can accentuate any style of interior design. 

Created by assembling bits and pieces of shimmering colored glass, stone, or other materials (tesserae) into large-scale murals, this ancient style of art is incredibly durable and visually engaging. Its vibrant and resilient nature makes mosaic tile the perfect choice for residential, commercial, and many public art installations. Just ask ancient civilizations from around the world - they’re designs are still beautiful and luxurious, centuries later!

Zellij tile fountain at the Grand Mosque of Paris

The liberal use of Zellij tile designs at the Grand Mosque of Paris perfectly complements the grand building's sculpted arches, marble floors, and surrounding greenery. In this picture, the garden landscape delivers a design that's arresting from afar and captivating up close.

This oldest and most beautiful art form can be found all over the world—offering a unique insight into some of the most awe-inspiring elaborate works of cultures spanning the globe. From intricate walls and floors in ancient Greek and Rome to modern-day street murals, mosaic art reveals the distinctive artistry of craft makers who have a talent for seeing the “bigger picture.” 

Read on to learn the ancient history of mosaic tiles and discover how the beauty of this tile mastery has been used throughout human history. 

The Ancient History of Mosaics

Historically used in religious buildings and palaces, mosaics have been a popular art form in several cultures across Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. Produced by piecing together small portions of glass, ceramic, or stone to present a more perfected whole—on a grand scale, the movement or flow of tesserae results in a stunning visual display. 

The history of this art form involves piecing together small, individual portions of tesserae to create a grand mural or a simple yet intricate design. 

The earliest known examples of mosaic tile art first appeared in Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq) in the third millennium BCE, where unworked colored stones, shells, and ivory were used in a temple. 

A little more than two thousand years later, the ancient Greeks used mosaics to create ornate floors and walls. Initially, black and white pebbles were used to create monochrome patterns, but gradually, designs developed into a highly sophisticated art form that depicted simple patterns, stories of daily life, and heroic legends. Not just a pretty way to cover walls and floors, this art style also preserved culture and ancient ways of life.

Mosaic portrait of St. Sharbel in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York

From ornate palace floors and walls to transcendent saint figures adorning ancient cathedrals, historic mosaic art made use of different materials to demonstrate its beauty in grand proportion. These beautiful works of art are still being created in modern times, like this portrait of St. Sharbel dedicated in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York.

The technique was later discovered and embraced by Ancient Romans, using it to decorate vast floors, walls, fountains, and more. Roman mosaic art has discovered in many sites in Europe, depicting scenes of the gods and intricate geometric designs. Their enduring beauty is a testament to the hard-wearing nature of the materials. 

It wasn’t until the fall of the Roman Empire and the ascendance of Byzantine that artisans began using smalti tiles made out of glass. To create impressive murals, bold and vibrant small tiles were often tilted to reflect greater light. They were backed with genuine gold or silver leaf to provide a brilliant and lustrous finish. 

Zellig star pattern tile in Casablanca, Morocco

This Zellig star pattern adds a striking feature to Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca, Morocco. 

During this era, Islamic craftsmen adopted the classical technique known as Zellij, which involved creating tiles in different colors and shapes and fitting them together to form intricate geometric and abstract patterns with a seamless finish. Today, Zellij art is the visual language of North African architecture, particularly in Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia. 

From the start of the 4th century until the Renaissance, mosaics took hold in Catholic basilicas across Italy. Small pieces of ethereal glass works added depth of beauty on ceilings and walls. These works typically depicted religious imagery of saints and other biblical figures and were so well-crafted and detailed that they looked like paintings.

Inspiring Mosaic Art Around the World

Over the years, mosaic making has been used as a stylistic and communicative medium to create elaborate works of art.  The appreciation of this ancient art form and its long history can be witnessed around the world where the use of limitless colors, patterns, and designs has achieved the highest manifestations of lustrous beauty and luxury. This art style has crossed cultures over millennia to become one of the most enduring pieces of human history.

Moroccan tiles

One of the most distinctive features of Moroccan architecture is the Zellij. This hand-cut mosaic tilework is fittingly known as “the Prince of tiles”. The Moorish tile style combines complex geometries with an extraordinary color palette. It is one of the main characteristics in the history of Islamic architecture, used to adorn walls, floors, stairs, columns, hammams, courtyards, riads, and garden pathways. 

The creation of traditional Zillij uses repeat patterns of single shapes, including squares, triangles, stars, diamonds, polygons, and crosses. They require skilled craftsmen with a finely honed sense of order to fit pieces together in arithmetical fashion.

Copper and Aqua Handcrafted Mosaic Artwork in Morocco

Intricate tilework covers the lower part of the Al-Attarine Madrasa façade in Fes, Morocco. This wonderful example highlights how varied colors can be used within the same geometric motif to achieve visual diversity. 

Handcrafted for centuries, the rich and fascinating history of Zellij can be traced back to tenth-century North Africa and Andalusia during the Azuligo (Spanish-Moroccan) period. These amazing pieces of Moroccan mosaic art were initially much simpler with only white and brown colors. With time, they contained a charming array of colors and dynamic shapes to give elevated beauty to plain spaces.

Blue and White mosaic tile for an arched colonnade

The variation of tone, texture, and glaze within each tile that adorns the Arabic-inspired arcade colonnade portico in Berlin’s Oriental-Islamic Garden highlight the diversity and richness of intricately designed Zellij mosaics. 

During the creation process, the maker uses a mixture of hands and hammers to craft the tile from humble squares of natural clay. The clay (a mixture of soil, water, and dye to give a vibrant color) is placed in the natural heat of the sun to seal prior to baking in a special oven. Lines are meticulously drawn on the burnt clay with a Zellij shaping block. Without incorporating any fancy machinery, the tile sits on a table made from a piece of iron or a large, firm stone and is cut accurately using a sharp hammer known as a Menqach. Thereafter, sharp edges are filed down before different shapes and sizes are stored in baskets. 

Islamic-style water fountain with vibrant handmade Zellij tile pattern

In the surprisingly tranquil city of Rabat sits the prestigious Mosque Hassan, featuring a classic Islamic-style water fountain adorned with a vibrant handmade Zellij pattern!

Zellij art artisans continue to lovingly preserve the centuries-old tradition of true craftsmanship in handmade mosaic tile and the results are impressive. Cities like Fez, Marrakech, and Meknes are the centers of this intricate art form. Never failing to impress, Moroccan Zellij tiles are somewhat of a timeless piece—beautifully gracing the interiors and exteriors of luxury hotels, resorts, and spas. 

In residential spaces, Moroccan tiles are still a show of sophistication and inspire designers to create custom kitchen backsplashes, bathroom floors and walls, shower niches, fireplace surrounds, hallway accent walls, patios and gardens, swimming pools, steam baths, fountains, and various pieces of furniture. 

Persian mosaic art

Classic Persian mosaic art holds a significant place in the history of Iranian culture and architecture, more so than other forms of decorative artwork. Persia (modern Iran), known for having the richest and most diverse art histories, employed the application of detailed tiles to decorate the country’s colossal religious buildings as well as public and private spaces.

Seven-color technique Persian Mosaic Art Style

The seven-color technique, seen on the ceiling of Hazrat Masoumeh Mosque in Qom, Iran, allowed craftsmen more creative freedom and time to meticulously stylize their arabesque motifs.

Reaching its zenith in the 18th and 19th centuries, Persian tile decorating evolved into interesting design subjects such as humans, animals, birds, and floral motifs in all corners of the vast Islamic empire. Over the centuries, imaginative artisans expanded rudimentary designs with colored stones and brick to craft magnificent patterns of triangles, semi-circles, hexagons, and polygonal forms. 

Further advancement in the perfection and beauty of Persian mosaic tile art saw the use of luster glass pieces carved according to previously prepared patterns. The application of yellow, blue, brown, black, turquoise, green, and white tile pieces added to the repertoire of artisans. 

The Tomb of Hafez Mosaic Art Ceiling

The Tomb of Hafez is best appreciated in the morning when sunlight shines through its lustrous finish or at night when it glows beautifully under the well-lit pavilion. 

Among the finest structures decorated in the haft rangi (seven-color) style of tile mosaic is the Tomb of Hafez. Set in the peaceful Musalla Gardens of Shiraz, the open pavilion structure was built in memory of the greatest Persian poet Hafez. 

Encircled by eight columns, the Tomb of Hafez is topped with a copper dome decorated beneath in a striking arabesque and colorful mosaic. The enameled tiles represent the aesthetic and practical aspects of Persian geometric nodes. 

Trencas style of mosaics

Also referred to as trencadís or broken tile mosaics, the Trencas style is made from tile shards and broken chinaware pieced together to create a perfect whole. These irregular ceramic pieces were used to produce pictorial scenes, geometric patterns, or a hybrid of any of these. Ceramic’s resistance to weathering and the passage of time made it the material of choice for the addition of color to architecture. The design is drawn up and the tile fragments are carefully fitted together to create the desired aesthetic.

Trencadis mosaic roof design of Casa Batllo by Gaudí

The roof design of Casa Batllo by Gaudí presents a bold and magical design that highlights the trencadís mosaic technique of piecing together fragments of bright-colored ceramics to achieve immaculate detailing. 

The Catalan modernist architect, Antoni Gaudí, used Trencas mosaic art’s rich combination of shapes, textures, and colors to give character, style, and dynamism to many of his projects. A brilliant example of his work includes the famous dragon and banc-balustrade in Barcelona's Parc Güell. His early work, the Güell Pavilions, showcases the trencadís technique where the sinuous architecture forced him to break the tiles into irregular pieces to cover the curved dome and lanterns.

Influenced by his passion for architecture, nature, and religion, Gaudí created patterns with tile fragments—leaning strongly towards durable, bright-colored ceramic, glass, and marble shards to adapt to any sort of construction, even curved surfaces he built. His understanding of beauty and color that emerges simply from imitating natural forms drove him to create incomparable, shapeshifting biomorphic structures. 

The Trencas style of mosaics represented a unique combination of shapes, sizes, textures, and colors

The Trencas style of mosaics represented a unique combination of shapes, sizes, textures, and colors. 

In addition to promoting architecture that respects nature, Gaudí tended to integrate the trencadís technique using discarded pieces of ceramic tile and broken cups and plates collected from local manufacturing factories. His sustainable works were an amazing early example of upcycling, utilizing broken pieces to create something new.

The great success of Trencas style during the Catalan Art Nouveau is largely in part due to top-quality designs that were mass-produced for enthusiastic auent members of Barcelona’s bourgeoisie. Today, the trencadís mosaic art technique remains in vogue and is used by many artists to create new stunning visual effects. 

Contemporary Mosaic Art

Today, this ancient style of art can be found virtually anywhere, including residential, commercial, and public spaces. You’ll find these stylistic designs in living rooms, bathrooms and kitchens, restaurant ceilings, office walls, and palatial houses. Whether crafted by hand or installed in larger sheets, they infuse color and luxury to elevate any space.

Used in interior spaces, this ancient art form is a brilliant way to inject punches of color, texture, and pattern! Here, beautiful floral motifs custom designed by our team add a striking touch  to create a lasting impression without detracting from the room’s furnishings. 

Furthermore, designers and homeowners can purchase pre-set mosaic patterns connected to a mesh backing for quick and easy installation. These can be as simple as small glass squares or intricate and detailed designs that evoke ancient Greece in your own home. Tile sheets can be cut to fit into spaces with unique architectural angles. Cover hard surfaces with shimmering fragments of glass, ceramic, shell, or marble tiles to create memorable custom mosaic designs and murals is a durable, low maintenance, and stunning way to enjoy this craft for many years to come.

Modern mosaic tiles can be as simple as this breezy 1x1 square glass design for a simple yet chic bathroom backsplash.

Flower pattern mosaic floor

This modern alternative combines beautiful aesthetics without the need for Ancient Roman craftsmen to install your new floor piece by piece. Our Floral Eternity marble mosaic tile gives this gorgeous floor a patterned design.

 

Blue and white ceramic mosaic tile art for a boho backsplash

 

These blue and white ceramic mosaics add gorgeous texture and movement to a backsplash design.

Modern stainless steel penny round tiles for an industrial backsplash
Add industrial flair with stainless steel penny round tiles for a contemporary twist on this art style.

Strawberry Fields is a memorial to rock musician John Lennon, located in Central Park West. A reference to the Beatles’ 1967 best-known song, “Strawberry Fields Forever,” the memorial consists of a five-acre landscape and the “Imagine” mosaic funded by the city of Naples, Italy. 

Strawberry Fields Forever | John Lennon Imagine Mosaic

The sunburst pattern of Imagine mosaic, which is based on a Greco-Roman design, was created by a team of Italian craftsmen to represent the hope John Lennon had for a world without strife, war, and conflict.

Named after his famous song “Imagine” and installed in the traditional style of Portuguese pavement, the black and white mosaic art provides a focal point and gathering zone where many come to pay tribute to Lennon. 

 

As mosaic art continues to grace our homes, it is a fantastic design medium that can bring the room together or make an area stand out above the rest. Tile Club offers a unique array of custom mosaic and art glass tiles to help you put an exclamation point on your design project.

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