The Ecclesiastical Figural Mosaics of the Tiffany Studios (1891-1931)




Zmuda, Natalie R

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Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848-1933) was one of the most significant artists of the twentieth century. Tiffany’s artistic oeuvre encompassed nearly all mediums, but his passion for color and light reached a synthesis in large-scale ecclesiastical figural mosaics produced from 1891-1931. In these designs, Tiffany employed glass material in new ways to convey dimensionality and movement, ultimately achieving a sense of realism never before accomplished in mosaic. Utilizing glass that was unlimited in color and texture, he developed a modern method that consisted primarily of sectiliae, or pieces of glass cut to irregular and special forms. Inspired by early Christian and Renaissance mosaic examples, his efforts brought about a revival of the art form in America and he advanced what he called “the decorative possibilities” of the medium for the ecclesiastical interior. Unfortunately, Tiffany’s ecclesiastical figural mosaics have been largely overlooked, perhaps because many remain in situ, in locations with limited access. The purpose of this study is to begin to fill the lack of scholarship regarding this significant portion of his prolific career. This thesis first situates Tiffany’s success within the American Renaissance and the larger history of mosaic art; the role of the Tiffany Studios’ Ecclesiastical Department is then presented, including a detailed account of how the figural mosaics were fabricated; and lastly, a survey of significant figural commissions highlights the sources of design inspiration utilized in the creation of these artworks. The success of Tiffany’s ecclesiastical figural mosaics not only points to their importance within the Tiffany Studios’ brand, but also their significance as American religious artworks.



Ecclesiastical mosaics, American mosaics, Louis C Tiffany, Mosaics