Friday, September 25, 2015

Messy Mosaics

A swirly mosaic... not from Fishbourne!
For a few years at school I studied Latin, which wasn't actually as bad as it sounds. The textbook was a story of a family living in Pompeii, and had I persevered in my studies I would have followed their flight to Britain upon the eruption of Mount Vesuvius.

All I can remember of my basic studies was that Caecilius was in the forum, and canis the dog was in the via. One highlight of my short time learning Latin was a field trip we took to Fishbourne Roman Palace, on the south coast of England.
"For a few years at school I studied Latin..."
Fishbourne is apparently the largest Roman residence north of the Alps, and has a larger footprint than Buckingham Palace! What it's most famous for though are the extensive and well preserved mosaics covering the floors. I distinctly remember the scale and grandeur of these, hundreds of years after they were first laid.

My kitchen floor... and some toy dinosaurs!
I've never laid a mosaic, but I have tiled a kitchen floor, one of the pieces of DIY I'm most proud of in our house. It was very satisfying to undertake, although it took me a few days to gradually piece it together tile by tile.

Since the room had various corners I had to cut numerous tiles into different sized rectangles and squares. The end result is a uniform layout, perfectly functional for its end use.

I'd like to say at this point that life is like laying a tiled floor, you fit each regularly shaped tile together to make the desired pattern, but in reality it's much more like making a mosaic.

The tiles we're working with are irregular, often small, and multicoloured.
"I'd like to say at this point that life is like laying a tiled floor"
In recent years, mosaic posters have come into fashion. From a distance, the poster looks like a regular picture - maybe a film star or a landscape - although a little pixelated. but upon closer inspection each of the pixels, each of the tiles is it's own image. Depending on your perspective, you'll see something completely different.

I like this as a life metaphor (I feel like I spend a lot of time looking for metaphors about life in the world around us). Each day we live it's like we're placing a new tile in the mosaic of our life. We may not get the whole sense of the big picture, and we'll see different pictures within the bigger one depending on where we look.

Stained glass
The beauty of the Roman mosaics at Fishbourne are the exquisite animals and people they depict, in particular the famous dolphin mosaic. What strikes me is that to make exquisite art you actually need irregular shapes, broken pieces. Whilst my tiled kitchen floor is a masterpiece in my own opinion, it's purely functional!
"To make exquisite art you actually need irregular shapes, broken pieces."
St. Philip's cathedral in Birmingham is home to gigantic stained glass windows designed by the eminent pre-Raphaelite artist Sir Edmund Byrne-Jones, and made by William Morris.

They depict various scenes from the life of Jesus, in rich coloured glass. Depending what time of day you visit, and the light outside, the colours seem to vary so that the images look different every time. I love sitting in the hush of the cathedral and drinking in the vibrant colours.

The reason I mention these windows is that, like the best mosaics, they're made up of thousands of broken pieces of glass. Often its the parts of our lives that we feel are most broken which can end up making the most beautiful artwork in our life.
"No matter what tiles life has dealt us... we can be confident a masterpiece will emerge."
I wish I had a deep and profound ending this week, but I don't. Instead I just want to leave us with encouragement that no matter what tiles life has dealt us, even the broken ones, if we place those broken pieces in the hand of a loving creator, we can be confident that a masterpiece will emerge. We're all messy mosaics, and that's ok.


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