The filati micromosaic technique was born in Rome in the 16th century as a solution to artistic problems encountered during the conservation of important paintings damaged by the river Tevere floods.
The expansion of building during Roman times saw them encroaching on land surrounding the river exacerbating the extent of flooding with each phase of building. As a result, some important paintings in the Vatican area had to be “reproduced” in mosaic such as some famous Raphael paintings, as well as other important pieces of art.
Micromosaic solved the problem of translating precious paintings into something more durable. Micromosaic made from glass smalti spun into filati (threads of glass spun to the fineness of a needle) offered the only way to reflect both the infinite gradations of colour in a painting, whilst also capturing the finest brushstroke in the original. Fortunately ancient Romans already knew that worked glass retains the “memory of the form”, therefore whatever form you give to the glass when it is in its “plastic” state will be retained throughout the length of the rod created by pulling it into a thread whilst in its molten state.
To this day Romans have guarded the secret of making micromosaics using this technique. Almost the entire fine art collection of the Vatican has been translated into mosaic using this micromosaic method.
Ravenna and Rome then, two important cities, both capital cities of the Roman Empire in different historical periods ... bestowing upon them a self-evident cultural connection. However, in terms of mosaic-making this cultural heritage is not shared and traditions have diverged... Ravenna steeped in Byzantine tradition (that, even today, is still strongly adhered to) celebrates the value of Byzantine mosaic. On the other hand there is Rome which, like the adage, has had to invent a new mosaic technique of micro-mosaic out of necessity to find a durable solution for the restoration of flood damaged paintings.
The features of the Ravenna style are to allow the gaps between tessere (individual hand cut mosaic pieces or tiles) to make their own stylistic contribution. The combination of the undulating surface of each tessere that results from cutting the material by hand with a hammer and the irregularity of the inclination in how each tessere is placed add texture and dynamic to the work.
This contrasts sharply with the Roman style which has no gaps between tesserae, strives to achieve uniformity in the size of individual tessere, and requires regularity in the placement of each tessere in a flat plane. Today, one technique does not depose the other; rather they offer an ocean of opportunity for experimentation to yield a fusion of the best of both traditions and a new conception of mosaic art. Contemporary mosaic art is thus not a compromise, but rather a marrying of the two traditions, re-uniting the shared historical significance of the two cities in a new and vibrant artistic formulation.