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In the course of its several thousand years of history, the mosaic has proven to be amazingly changeable in terms of its appearance: The surface material - stone, clay, terracotta, glass, faience, mother-of-pearl, etc. - with its color and surface-specific values varies depending on, among other things, of regional, temporal and functional conditions. Incidentally, this also applies to the size and shape of the cube material, the the way of laying and assembling, the choice of support, etc. And so, regardless of the representation, fashion trends with regard to visual and haptic values can be determined. Partly they are an expression of artistic intention, partly also purely functional constraints.

Limiting the discourse to the mosaic surface alone - above all the material and design aspects - would by no means correspond to the complexity of the mosaic: Its existence and effect depend to a decisive extent on the carrier system: in the context of the floor mosaic, for example, the latter has mechanical stress to parry, to represent a weight-wise light bonding agent in the context of the ceiling mosaic and to be movable in the context of the icon. Depending on the different functions and technical requirements, different - in some cases regionally differentiable - support systems develop over time.

Lecture I and III (alternating in the winter semester) focus on the history of the mosaic, its materials, setting technique and plaster structures. In largely chronological order, masterpieces as well as simple handicraft products, which exemplify regional and / or temporal characteristics, of the Mesopotamian, Hellenistic and Roman areas as well as post-ancient Italy and Europe are presented. Using current research as well as contemporary sources and treatises, the respective choice of material, color palette and execution technique are conveyed. Cultural contexts, preferences with regard to special subjects and decoration systems, but also the sometimes special function of the mosaic in the spatial context are addressed. Thanks to more recent research approaches, some materials - especially the Tessera material made of terra sigillata, certain types of marble and glass - allow a more precise dating and local assignment of these individual components.

The materials used may allow conclusions to be drawn about the client's taste, education and financial possibilities, but in our context they are often reflected in a locally differentiated, material-dependent state of preservation of the mosaic.

Part III of the lecture series is devoted to the post-ancient mosaic and the special forms of the mosaic. Before the turn of the century, the mosaic mainly stood for floor decorations. In the 1st century BC, its triumph began as a wall decoration: The range of materials was now greatly enriched: in addition to stone and terracotta, there was an increasing number of shell material, mother-of-pearl and, above all, glass, which can be produced in thousands of color gradations.

In the post-antiquity, isolated tendencies towards detachment from architecture can be observed. Mention should be made of the mosaic icons, but also the so-called "Florentine mosaic" (mosaico commesso), which was later also successfully produced north of the Alps. This was used to decorate Furniture or made pictures directly. The same applies to the micro-mosaic, which as a Roman invention of the 18th century is also known as "Roman mosaic" (mosaico romano). Even if these types of mosaic could be carried out on mobile carriers, the most beautiful examples were created on architectural surfaces. Incidentally, this also applies to the incrustations made of shell material and the like of the renaissance and subsequent periods. As an invention of Roman antiquity, which was resumed and refined in the Italian Renaissance, it reached Northern Europe.

The fact that mosaics could partly be carried out on mobile supports (icons, altarpieces), to decorate mobile items of equipment and even as jewelry (micro-mosaics) make them common exhibits in European and American collections today. This is where they differ from the architecture bound mosaics which - with a number of exceptions - remained in situ or were brought to nearby museums.

Between lectures I and III, which are devoted to the history of technology and materials in the mosaic, there is - for organizational reasons - the lecture “Examination, Documentation, Restoration” in the summer semester.

True to the interdisciplinary approach of the Erfurt department, the focus is not on the conservation and restoration of the materials stone, glass, terracotta, mother-of-pearl, etc., which essentially constitute the mosaic. This is part of the basic knowledge that is acquired through the basic subjects in the B.A. degree or can be supplemented by elective subjects in the M.A. degree. Of course, reference is also made to the materials mentioned when past and current restorations as well as restoration methods and technologies are discussed. However, the focus is on the mosaic-specific aspects and the mosaic as an overall system:

● Excavation, emergency protection, covering in case of refilling.

● Study and documentation of the inventory and condition

● Acceptance techniques and carrier system

● Treatment of defects / museum presentation


Completed B.A. degree. Basic knowledge of the materials and their conservation / restoration of the main areas of study: ● Archaeological heritage and handicrafts,● Stained glass and stained glass windows ● Sculptural work and architecture made of stone● Wall painting and decoration of architectural surfaces.

Addressed group of interested parties

The variety of materials and technologies of the mosaic - or better: the different types of mosaic - affects all major subjects taught at the FR Conservation and Restoration and is accordingly suitable for all students.

Acquired qualities:

The students are able to roughly classify smaller - from the point of view of the representation not meaningful - fragments of mosaics with regard to their function as well as with regard to execution area and production time as well as to make a statement about the used materials and the quality. In addition, the students prove to be familiar with the fundamentals of the analyse methods and the documentation and carry out less complex conservation and restoration treatments on their own responsibility.

Prof. Dr. Christoph Merzenich

© 2007-2015



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