Mosaic portraits have been around seemingly forever. The durability of the materials used: marble, glass, and tile are some common examples – ensure that mosaic art images last for centuries.
To illustrate how these likenesses have been eternally popular, we’ll look at some of the best pieces from around the world and across the eras. As a way to immortalize faces and memories, there’s really nothing else like mosaic tile art!
1. The Mona Lisa of the Galilee 4th Century AD
The well-preserved mosaic mural was found in today’s Zippori, Israel. When it was discovered, the colors remained bright, the details intact, and the intensity of the young woman’s gaze was still riveting.
First installed in the 4th century AD, this is part of a large pair of murals that graced a luxurious home known now as The Roman Villa. Found in the regal home’s formal dining room, or triclinium, the central theme of the artwork was Dionysius. As the God of wine and general merry-making, he often made an appearance in rooms where guests were entertained. However, it’s this unknown character who captivates viewers with her inscrutable smile – much like the famous Mona Lisa.
At the time, smiles weren’t a typical feature in mosaic portraits, which makes her more of a delightful mystery.
Today, the Roman Villa is located in the central Galilee region of Israel, 6 kilometers north-northwest of Nazareth.
2. Empress Theodora, 6th Century AD
This oddly modern portrait of the sainted Theodora resides in the Basilica of San Vitale, in Ravenna, Italy. The combination of the opulence of the materials and the simple lines of her face are fascinating.
However, her personality comes through. The empress married the then-Roman senator Justinian in 525 AD. They were known as a powerful, but pious couple, serious about public works and sticklers for court conventions. By all accounts, this shrewd, intelligent woman was a formidable force.
Her alleged former life as a prostitute led her to free hundreds of women from brothels. She went on to make the establishments illegal – further taking care of women’s rights by influencing legislation to punish rapists, protect the wife in divorce cases, and ending the death penalty for any woman who committed adultery.
3. Mary Magdalene, Late 19th Century
St Isaac’s Cathedral in modern St. Petersburg is a showcase for mosaic art. Moreover, the reasons for the stunning abundance of pieces that adorn the interior are practical: mosaic artwork endures.
When the cathedral was first built, it was dedicated to Russian Orthodox Saint Isaac of Dalmatia. Today, it is a museum. However, the beautiful artwork remains. The story of the mosaic tile art relates directly to how harsh environments and moist air can wreak havoc on traditional paintings and frescoes.
The interior was originally decorated with scores of paintings by Karl Bryullov and other great Russian masters of the day, and these were present when the church opened in 1858. The cold, damp conditions inside the structure caused rapid deterioration of the artworks. Seeing this, the architect Montferrand ordered them to be painstakingly reproduced as mosaics.
The results were incredible, bringing subjects to life. Semiprecious stones, carefully chosen marble mosaic tiles, and painstaking detail come together.
Although this portrait of the Mary Magdalene is not a central piece, the intimacy and sensitivity of the depiction make it a masterpiece.
4. Theodore Roosevelt, 1904
You have to visit the Corning Museum of Glass in New York to see this gem. Made by the Italian firm Erede Dr. A. Salviati & Co, it was first exhibited at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, MO.
We love the timelessness of this depiction, an excellent example of fine glass mosaic art. President Roosevelt had just been re-elected, and this flattering portrait is also a winner.
It won the Gold Medal, garnering recognition for the Venetian mosaicists. The lifelike figure of the President conveys authority and picks up incredibly fine details, down to his wire-framed eyeglasses and the pattern of his silk necktie.
5. NYC Subway 86th Street Station Mosaic portraits, 2016
Artist Chuck Close was commissioned to create a series of portraits for this New York Transit station, and the larger-than-life mosaic artwork is unforgettable.
Even though Close has gone on the record as someone who is “not a big fan of public art”, his gigantic portraiture style was perfect for the project. There are 12 of the mosaic artworks, each almost 9 feet tall. He used a different type of tile for each handmade mosaic art mural. Look closely, and you’ll see exotic tile shapes and unexpected colors sprinkled into each piece – all contributing to the overall photorealistic look.
He finds the physical relationship that the public has with the works to be interesting, as subway riders can actually touch individual tiles.
Look for Lou Reed, the artist, and others at the 86th Street Station, where the series is a popular background for selfies.
6. Make your own masterpiece – 2020
Intrigued by the idea of a lasting portrait? We’ve made custom mosaic designs for all kinds of customers. Here are a few of our favorites -maybe you’ll find the idea for your perfect tribute!
The incredible bond between young women and horses has long been an inspiration for both literature and art. Capturing a fleeting moment like this in a mosaic design can beautify any environment – even the stables!
Every romance is special – but a customized mosaic artwork with the right scene preserves the magic. The sepia tones of the original photograph can also be duplicated in mosaic, adding a timeless quality to the portrait.
Memorials are meant to endure – and custom mosaic tile portraits remain pristine through time and weather. Our artists can work directly from your photos to create a loving tribute.
Never forget the innocence and joy of youth with a custom mosaic portrait. They’re a wonderful way to freeze a moment in time – even when the young subject never stays still for long!
Have you found a favorite style for your portrait? You can be as regal as Empress Theodora, or as dignified as President Roosevelt. All you need is the right photo!
We love to help our customers create lasting beauty for their lives and homes with our mosaic art. Head on over to our page on custom mosaics for more ideas and information on how to kick off your custom mosaic order!