Mosaic Artisan

Artisan of the Month-Mosaic Artisan

I initially had little interest when a friend asked me to join her for a tour of the
Mosaic Museum at the Vatican. I have been fortunate to have experienced in my
travels some of the most amazing masterpieces in mosaic art from the
mesopatanian style of fused glass, worn out pebbles, stones and ivory seen in the
ruins of Pompeii, to the finest and most extensive display of roman style of mosaic
in Villa Romana del Casale of the Piazza Armerina in Sicily. Thanks to the excavators
who in 1950 were able to uncover, buried by a landslide in the 12th century,a 60
meter long hunting scene of a country retreat and the famous 10 bikini girls in
mosaic designed that one can see these treasures. It was a form of art made to
amuse the host and entertain the guests of Villa Romana. The bright colored
marble and stone, was not only decorative, but told a story as well as it provided a
means to define one’s status.
Visiting Sicily, a heaven of mosaics, I enjoyed in Cefalu on the northern coast, the
global age of a new style as well as the Cathedral of Monreale, outside of Palermo
where there is the most concentrated display of opulent designs of gold grounded
mosaic covering the walls and ceilings of the Cathedral. Then there is in Venice the
interior of St Mark’s Basilica, clad in elaborate golden tesserae, individual tiles,
expressing another style of mosaic art.
One cannot discuss mosaic without noting the city of Ravenna, the capital of the
Western Roman Empire, 402-476, with its unique collection of early Christian,
artistic and religious displays of the late roman style which led into the Byzantine
style of art.Ravenna became the center of mosaic making in the capital of
Byzantine Italy and mosaics reached its greatest height with the intricate and well
defined patterns showing animals, scenery, as well as religious stories.
This labour intense art of arranging little tesserae soon gave way to frescos which
created a decline in mosaic art until the popularity of modern mosaics by architect
Antoni Gaudi and his art noveau of 1930. Gaudi’s style of mosaic art, incorporating
broken pieces of glass, dinnerware, and any other building material possible to
cover buildings, walls and houses with small as well as massive pieces of anything
was not my favorite.His work can be seen in Barcelona, Spain, such as in the Casa
Chinese, and Guell Park.Although Gaudi used different materials,the technique used throughout the centuries is the same.
I always appreciated mosaic art when viewing masterpieces of yesterday, but it
was not until I toured the Vatican Museum of Mosaic that I could begin to
comprehend the intricate work, the skill and patience of the artist, the time and
effort needed to create masterpieces. I am so grateful to Elaine Vasquez for
inviting me to join her and her friends for a personal tour organized by an amazing
guide,the Director of the Museum, Paolo Di Buono
.mosaic 1 directorThe director of the Vatican Mosaic Museum

mosaic 2 storageStorage of some 28.000 pieces of material taken from old works in mosaics, available for new works

mosaic 3 piecesSmall pieces of glass to be cut and melted down

mosaic 4 hammering

Hammering the small glass tesserae ( pieces used for mosaic art) to the necessary size
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mosaic 10The glass pieces are heated up to 800 degrees to arrive at the unique tone and color desired and stretched to meet the desired size. Pieces the size of pin tops are used for refined mosaic art.
mosaic 11The Madonna masterpiece is a wonderful example of art made with pin top size pieces of glass tesserae.
mosaic 12Copies of painted masterpieces are being made in mosaic by museum artisans
mosaic 13Not all art is religious and often are made for the Pope to be given as gifts to dignitariesmosaic 14
Masterpieces of art are copied and made into mosaic art. It is hard to distinguish the difference as seen here. The director informed us that this small sample of mosaic art could take two months to complete, working tediously 6 hours a day. This leads one to appreciate more than ever the miles of mosaic covering the walls, floors, ceilings of churches, basilicas, museums, homes and various buildings which took years to complete.

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Mom it is not eel!!

Christmas eve, an italian tradition is to eat fish, in fact, the norm is 7 different kinds of which one was always eel. As a child I enjoyed them all, even though experiencing them in their live state. One experience carved in my memory at the age of 8, is when mom cleaned an eel and wrapped in newspaper the inedible parts for me to throw in the trash. Which I did. I panicked when seeing the trash can cover wiggle like a fish trapped in a fishermen’s net. Screaming into kitchen mom calmly explained that it was dead, just the heart about to die. As a wife and mother I continue to serve eel but it is one fish I refuse to clean.
While making breakfast one day, the dogs were going crazy barking that I sent out Francesco to quiet them down, so as not to wake up the late nighters still in bed. As the dogs became silent, I questioned Francesco, only to ascertained that they managed to kill a snake in the yard. I never experienced snakes in 25 years at the farm which if I did, might not have remained here. Francesco asked jokingly, I hope, if I wish to cook it or should he discard it? Memories of past Christmases, I now wonder, looking at the elongated, legless creature if it was really eel that mom served us. Remember she is italian, nothing goes to waste and if it doesn’t kill you, one should eat it. Thank God mom was not there. She would try to convince me as she always did, one should eat fresh, locally and healthy. Guess at age 100 it did her no harm.Snake

Good to know how to say “help” in other languages

As the breakfast dishes piled high, beds not touched and some 20 guests about to leave to go sightseeing, I questioned our farm worker who stepped into the kitchen for a coffee, as to where was our cleaning lady? I noticed the banana on the mantle that she would bring everyday for her morning break, but did not see her since her arrival at 9. Francesco convinced me not to worry and that she must be in one of the rooms. I started to clear the table of the dirty breakfast dishes, adding more to the pile in the kitchen. Hearing the kitchen clock strike 11, I joined Francesco in search for Venerina. Walking to our parking lot, we heard a cry of help coming from the barred windows of the bathroom facing the lot.venerina2

Coming to the rescue we ascertained that when she went to use the facilities, the hook of the new pocket door slammed shut, slipped into the locked position where she remained for two hours. Venerina in tears led me to put a smile on her face by bringing her the banana and a roll of toilet paper as Francesco got some tools to rescue her.venerinoa3
When asked why she didn’t cry out to the 20 people leaving just a few feet away from the window, she explained that her cries for “aiuti” meaning help in italian were answered with waves of gratitude, happy smiles, and “thank you” in english which she did understand. It was not until the return of the guests for dinner that evening did they understand what she meant by”aiuti”.
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