THE ART OF MOSAIC - by Dr. Sheila Campbell
The Queen Esther Series - The Hidden and the Revealed
Early writers give us a clear picture of the role of mosaic on buildings. The architectural writers and critics of the first and second centuries, such as Athenaeus, Faventinus, Pliny the Younger, Seneca, Suetonius, Vitruvius, tell us of their experiences.
San Marco Basilica - facade mosaics - Venice
They describe public and domestic buildings with mosaic decoration. They explain how such buildings enhance the importance of the city, or the owners of the buildings. They describe how the tesserae glitter in the sunshine or in the rain, dazzle the viewers and lift up their spirits.
Church of the Hagia Sophia interior mosaics - Constantinople
In the 6th century Procopius wrote long poetic descriptions of the wonderful effects of the mosaic installed in the buildings commissioned by the emperor Justinian, and another man named Paul the Silentiary
Church of the Hagia Sophia interior mosaic - Constantinople
described in loving detail the mosaics of the Church of the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople.
St. George Church mosaic of a mosaic - Thessaloniki
The fifth century mosaics in the Church of St. George in Thessaloniki, Greece show buildings with mosaic on the exterior, that is a mosaic of a mosaic.
Galla Placida mausoleum interior mosaics - Ravenna
And of course, the jewel of Ravenna, that tantalizing glimpse of the mosaics of the western Byzantine empire are a joy to behold. They do indeed lift up our spirits.
San Marco Basilica exterior mosaic detail - Venice
The Church of San Marco in Venice is a wonderful example of later use of mosaic both inside and out to display not just the biblical narratives, but to express the rising economic authority of Venice over its rival Byzantium, yet its continuing artistic dependence on that same Byzantium. The art, prestige and benefits of mosaic were clearly recognized centuries ago.
San Marco Basilica interior mosaics - Venice
In the field of mosaic, how do we articulate the difference between art and craft? Let me first ask what is the difference between painted art and mosaic art? In other words, why bother to work with thousands of tiny pieces of glass when paint is so much cheaper and faster?
Without getting into an undergraduate discussion of “what is art”, I suggest that the difference is this - the painter tries to imitate light with pigments, the mosaicist’s chief medium is light as it is caught in and reflected by the material used.
Church of the Hagia Sophia interior mosaics
And what makes the difference between craft and art is the exploitation and skillful manipulation of that light to create a work which has intellectual content and is lively and dynamic. The ancient world and the mediaeval world knew that. Julius Caesar even carried portable framed panels of mosaic with him on his military campaigns, so that he could enjoy them in his leisure time. That is, he carried his art collection with him.
Lilian Broca is an artist who works in many media, but who truly understands how to use mosaic to create art. She has exhibited works in series before, mainly in graphics, but the underlying connection has been a common theme. Her panels in the Queen Esther series are connected by a continuous narrative.
The average viewer may not comprehend the vast amount of preliminary thinking which goes into creating such a narrative.
For example, how does one choose which episodes of a story to illustrate, which are the most significant, and equally important, what can be left out? How does one make the connections, the links, from one panel to the next. This may be done via repeated portraits (no easy task in itself in mosaic), or in a recognized setting, and in the choice of specific elements.
The artist must provide the continuity for the viewer both visually and intellectually. This is a form of visual shorthand which was practised and developed from the third century to the fourteenth century, as may be seen in mediaeval mosaic such as those in San Marco, in Venice.
But also in common with the mediaeval artist, Lilian is not just telling a story. She has taken a tale from antiquity, and is using the narrative to convey a wider contemporary message, which here is that of the role of women in self sacrifice, and the promotion of non-violent negotiations for peaceful conflict resolution.
In the process of doing so she achieves the distinction given above between mosaic as craft and mosaic as art. She works with colour and light to achieve her goal.
But the success of these panels lies not only in Lilian’s ability to weave a narrative. Her understanding of colour and how it works is superb. The three dimensional effect which is achieved happens because of this understanding. The proof of this is that we don’t notice how the colours are used, that we let our eyes do the blending, and don’t see individual spots of colour. Many people try to work in mosaic. Few achieve such successful and professional results.
It is unfortunate that nowadays we see most mosaics in electric light which is unchanging. The real way to experience mosaic art is with daylight which changes according to the time of day and the season of the year, or even with the flickering light of candles and lamps. Then the real power of the medium is evident, as the emphasis of the individual panels varies according to the external light available at that moment. This provides the dynamism and mystical qualities which paint can never achieve.
Lilian Broca understands the potential of glass mosaic as a powerful artistic medium. She is part of the continuum of mosaic artists who conceive of and execute grand compositions. And for my part, I enjoy watching the glory of the Roman and Byzantine worlds being reborn in the 21st century.
Sheila D.Campbell PhD. - Art historian, Archaeologist, Curator. Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies. Toronto April 2006
The Art of Mosaic copyright©2006 Dr. Sheila D. Campbell
Mosaic Art Source Gallery - Mosaic Artist - Lilian Broca
Mosaic Art Source Exhibit - Lilian Broca - The Queen Esther Series
Mosaic Art Source Exhibits - SAMA - MAI 2007 Mosaic Art Photo Gallery
For further details please visit the artist's site Lilian Broca Mosaics