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opus tessellatum

mosaic technique that involves the use of tesserae (small cubes of stone, marble, glass, ceramic, or other hard material) of uniform size applied to a ground to form pictures and ornamental designs. Opus tessellatum was the most commonly used technique in the production of Hellenistic, Roman, early Christian, and Byzantine mosaics. Evolving from the supplementary use of stone tesserae to achieve colour intensity in earlier pebble mosaics, opus tessellatum came to be used for entire mosaic floors in most areas of the eastern Mediterranean by at least the beginning of the 2nd century BC. The earliest mosaics in opus tessellatum were composed of stone and marble tesserae, but, in the course of the 2nd century, tesserae of coloured glass were introduced for special colour effects. In the Hellenistic period (3rd to 1st centuries BC) in cities in Greece, Africa, Sicily, and Italy, pictorial mosaics of great virtuosity were produced in opus tessellatum; more commonly, however, opus tessellatum was reserved for decorative borders surrounding emblemata, or central figural panels executed in opus vermiculatum, a finer mosaic work using much smaller tesserae.

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Encyclopedia Britannica, 2008. Encyclopedia Britannica Online.
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