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INFORMATION ABOUT MARBLE MOSAICS
Mosaic is the art of decorating a surface with pictures and patterns made of little pieces of stone, glass or tiles of different colours. Mosaics can be used indoors on walls, floors and ceilings. Mosaics are sometimes used outdoors on pavements.
Making Marble Mosaic
Mosaics are made by setting coloured pieces into “mortar” (cement) which sets hard and holds the pieces in place. Some mosaics are made of round pebbles, and have only two or three colours. Other mosaics are made of marble. Some tiles look as if they are made of pure gold. These tiles are actually made of glass and have a very thin “leaf” of gold stuck to one side. The side with the gold gets put into the mortar. Then the gold can be seen through the glass, but cannot be scratched off.
There is a very definite aesthetic difference between handcut and machine cut marble. Machine cut marble actually saws through the stone for an even and precise and smooth cut line. This is the norm for generic mosaic flooring and such. When marble is handcut, it is broken into pieces rather than actually sawn through. The result is a rougher cut, slightly irregular. In my opinion, this is best for artistic work and hand made artistic decorations – machine cut marble makes for mosaics that look like they were made by machines, less warm and less personal and, I think, less precious.
Handcut marble can also be used on its inner “cut” side, for an earthy rough texture to the mosaic. This is perfect for art mosaics – for mosaics that are mounted on the wall to show a scene or a decoration.
Machine cut : I machine cut marble with a giant wet saw made specifically for marble with a diamond disc — costs about $3000, so generally bulk quantity machine cutting is left to the “pros”!! But you can cut marble with a regular wetsaw or with a special hobby wet-saw like the Taurus or the Revolution – it is very very slow to cut marble with a wet saw, especially a non-industrial home use saw – so best to keep for special shapes cuts rather than actually cutting the tessere themselves.
Hand cut : The old ways are the best ways. In thousands of years of technological development, the best way to cut marble by hand is still a Hammer and hardie, the same tool the ancients used. This a specially made hammer with tempered steel blade tip (the carbide tipped hammer is best for glass, steel for marble), and hardie which is a blade pin that gets embedded in a hunk of wood. The marble is rested on the hardie blade, and when the hammer comes down (thoonk!) on top, the marble is sliced between the 2 blades.
Chopper cut : This is hand cut marble too, and the solution for large quantities. The tiles are same as when cut with a hammer and hardie, and a chopper has the same “double blade” mechanism, but mounted in a machine with a fly wheel for greater speed, ease and precision.
Nipping : Once in tesserae size (or in rods), marble can be cut with regular nippers — it does take a lot more force than cutting glass, and wheeled mosaic nippers will be easily worn down and damaged, so traditional sidebiter nippers are best.
History of Marble Mosaics
Mosaics often last for a very long time. There are still plenty of mosaics which were made by the Ancient Romans. They can be seen in Turkey, Italy, England, France, as well as other countries that were once part of the Roman Empire.
Mosaics were a popular way to decorate churches in Turkey and Italy in the Medieval period. They were not popular in England, France, Germany and countries of Northern Europe because they preferred to use stained glass windows as decoration. In Italy, the most famous church with its interior decorated with mosaics is St. Mark’s Basilica, Venice. At Westminster Cathedral in London, (which is built in an Italian style) the mosaic decoration which was started more than 100 years ago is still continuing, bit by bit. Many of the mosaics at St. Mark’s and Westminster Cathedral have gold backgrounds.
Nowadays mosaics are still used in all sorts of ways. Mosaics are most often used to brighten up public places in cities. Modern mosaics are made of all sorts of materials: mosaic tiles, bathroom tiles, broken roof tiles, broken dishes, broken mirrors, bits of metal and old bricks.
Back in 2001, archaeologists took notice when marble fragments showed up on a freshly plowed field in southern Turkey. Now, more than a decade later, a dig organized by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln has unearthed a giant ancient mosaic in what was once a far-flung corner of the Roman empire. Boasting an estimated 1,600 square feet of exquisitely decorated tiles, the find highlights the historical and archaeological importance of an overlooked region, experts believe.
Ancient Roman Mosaic Tiles found in Turkey
The mosaic, thought to have been part of a bath complex, once lay within the provincial city of Antiochia ad Cragum, founded in the middle of the first century by the Roman client-king Antiochus IV. Until recently, historians and archaeologists did not realize how strongly Rome’s influence shaped the city, which fell under Roman rule, said University of Nebraska-Lincoln art history professor Michael Hoff. He and his colleagues—including students participating in a summer field school—have been excavating the ancient site since 2005. Along with the mosaic and bath, they have found evidence of Roman-style temples, markets, shops and streets, Hoff said.
“This region is not well-understood in terms of history and archaeology,” Hoff explained in a video released by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. “Everything that we find adds more evidence to our understanding of this area of the Roman empire. We’re beginning to understand that it was perhaps more Romanized, more in line with the rest of the Roman world, than had been suspected before.”
Indeed, the mosaic is typically Roman in design, featuring large squares with geometric patterns. Perhaps most strikingly, it stretches over 1,600 square feet of space. “The mosaic is spectacular because it is extremely large,” Hoff said. “As far as we are aware, it looks to be the largest mosaic of its kind ever found in southern Turkey. It’s also unusual in its preservation. It’s extremely well-preserved.” So far, Hoff and his team have uncovered an estimated 50 percent of the marble tiles. They believe that a 25-foot-long marble pool once welcomed bathers in the center of the mosaic.
“We were surprised to have found a mosaic of such size and of such caliber in this region of Turkey, an area that had usually been off the map, off the radar screen, of most ancient historians and archaeologists,” Hoff remarked. “It does cause us to change our focus about what we think Rough Cilicia”—the region encompassing coastal areas of southern Turkey—“was like in antiquity.”