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Mosaics and mosaic making information from The joy of shards Mosaics Resource

Pique assiette - nothing new?

terracotta in mosaic Just what is pique assiette mosaic? The short answer is that pique assiette is a style of mosaic that incorporates pieces of broken ceramics - plates, dishes, cups, tiles - and other found objects into the design. The longer answer, to think about the appeal and expressiveness of pique assiette, must take in ideas of lateral thinking, humour, the art of recycling, and the significance of found objects.

The basic idea is an old one. Roman mosaicists used pieces of terracotta vessels to obtain red colours in their work and also glass from broken bottles. In Britain, fragments of the red-glazed Samian ware (imported from Gaul) were used. Any busy mosaic workshop would surely have scavenged and stockpiled the otherwise worthless broken items, rather than buying them when needed.

stained glass mosaicThere is a long tradition of using discarded materials in the creation of something new. This is particularly true of building materials, but a prime case of the pique assiette principle is in the reconstruction of medieval stained glass.

A large number of glass windows were deliberately destroyed during religious upheavals such as the Reformation or the Puritanism of the English Civil War. In many instances the fragments were re-assembled into new windows, such as Winchester Cathedral's West Window, or the Erpingham Window at Norwich Cathedral (right). The challenge to create something new, spectacular and meaningful from the precious shards was addressed in different ways at different sites.

There are examples on a domestic scale too. "Putty pots", popular in Victorian times, were jugs, plates or other household items spread with a layer of putty or plaster. Various personal "treasures", such as pieces of crockery, jewellery or glass would be pressed into this and allowed to set in place. Also of note are African funeral traditions of decorating gravesites and "mourning vessels" with items recalling the life that had passed. These might include crockery and trinkets. The artefacts used in these examples had a particular significance, because they were specially selected and related directly to the maker or the mourned person.

butterfly tileThis folk art practice crossed over into the world of "formal" architecture in Barcelona in the early 20th century, thanks to the architect Josep Maria Jujol. Jujol was collaborating with GaudÌ on the Guell Park (constructed between 1900 and 1914) and took responsibility for the mosaics of the snake-like bench and the ceiling of the hypostyle "Hall of a Hundred Columns". It was an established practice (known as trencadis) to use broken, waste tiles as a cladding to a building - this was a technique well suited to the curved, organic surfaces GaudÌ designed into his buildings.

Jujol, however, took this to another level. He broke whole tiles and fitted them to the curves of the structures and also used tiles he had fired and inscribed himself. In another bold statement, he incorporated broken coloured bottles, fragments of a broken china doll and broken plates from his own dinner service. He created a collage of items personal to him in a style that has inspired and excited millions of people since then.

More about pique assiette: The origin of the names "pique assiette" and picassiette

Pique assiette and found objects

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