Roman Mosaics:      DOLPHIN PANEL

Roman Mosaics: DOLPHIN PANEL

Three Methods of Making Mosaics

There are three basic ways of constructing a tiled mosaic. These are called the “Direct”,  the “Indirect” and the “Double Indirect Methods“. Each has its pros and cons and is suited to a particular set of circumstances. In the following paragraphs we give an explanation of how to use each of these these techniques. 


The Direct Method of Making Mosaics

 The “Direct Method” is certainly the most intuitive of the three fundamental techniques of making mosaics and would be the more obvious choice for a someone taking up the craft of mosaics for the first time. This is because the tiling is carried out in a single operation and, as the name implies, the mosaic tiles (tesserae) are cemented or glued directly onto the surface of the object being covered. The advantage is that the mosaic tiles are put into the adhesive bed with the bright surface facing the artist, so that she can see the finished product developing in front of her eyes. This gives her the freedom to alter or adapt the original concept to some extent to give fuller expression to her creative urges, if she so wishes.




The Indirect Method of Making Mosaics

The “Indirect Method” of making mosaics is completely different in concept to the “Direct Method”. The essential difference is that the mosaic tiling is carried out in a two-step process. The first stage of the work is “Indirect”, because the mosaic tiles (tesserae) are not set directly into their final location, but are first attached to a temporarily backer sheet, in accordance with a mirror image of the design  There are several variations to this method, but all involve setting up the mosaic tiles (tesserae)  in a reversed (upside down) position initially, with the bright faces hidden from the artists view. .


Double Indirect Method of Making Mosaics

The “Double Indirect Method” is a variation on the theme of the “Indirect Method” in that the mosaic tiles (tesserae) are again set up in a two stage operation and are not just cemented or glued  “directly” into their final location. In this technique they are first set up on a sacrificial mesh of synthetic fibre or metal. This mesh will remain permanently attached to the base of the tesserae and will provide support for the tiles as they are cemented into their final position. With the “Double Indirect Method” the mosaic tiles  are pre-assembled beforehand, and glued onto the backing mesh with their bright side uppermost. As it is being attached to the mesh the mosaic is usually divided into sections and made up into convenient  sized portions or “cards” for ease of handling. These made-up units can then later be re-combined together to make up the ultimate  mosaic display. The“Double Indirect Method”, is a popular technique for any large scale mosaic artwork and is used for virtually all commercial mosaic work.


Roman Pastoral Scene
Roman Pastoral Scene


Roman Techniques for Making Mosaics

The indirect method of making mosaics is eminently suited for constructing large flat mosaic panels in halls and other buildings and has a very long history, dating all the way back to Ancient Rome. We believe that the Roman mosaic artists almost certainly used a version of the Indirect Method for most of their spectacular mosaic work. Their projects were often constructed on a vast scale and the indirect method would have been the obvious choice for the huge floors of palaces and for the ubiquitous  Roman Baths, as it would have allowed for the work to be divided up into manageable portions for efficient construction. A single creative artist, working with one or two master-craftsmen as foremen, could use this technique to control the overall project, while dozens of lesser skilled artisans and general labourers could do all the donkey work of making, trimming and cementing down the thousands upon thousands of tesserae needed for a large floor or wall covering. The Romans would have used beeswax instead of water soluble glue to stick the reversed mosaic tiles temporarily onto wooden boards for pressing into their cement mortar bedding. Whether they used the direct or indirect technique for their work, they certainly have left a legacy of superb mosaic making that has more than stood the test of time.



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