Louis C. Tiffany’s early mosaic work, prior to the founding of his own glass- making facilities Tiffany Furnaces in 1892, were largely ecclesiastical and institutional commissions that did not differ significantly from traditional designs and those of his competitors. It was only in the late 1890’s, after the popularity of his blown glassware took off, that Tiffany began adding iridescence to his mosaics, thereby setting them apart. Fancy Goods and household accessories containing mosaic inlays were sold by Tiffany Studios, but relatively few secular works of mosaic panels or murals were produced. An exception was the Havemeyer House, Tiffany’s most prestigious decorating commission, in which he produced a multitude of mosaic panels for the house, including a frieze for the entryway. Later, a chapel produced for the 1893 World Columbian Exposition in Chicago also featured a number of mosaics from columns to floor decoration.
All mosaic commissions were executed by the Ecclesiastical Department at Tiffany Studios. In a promotional pamphlet published by Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company in 1896 mosaics were described as both practical and decorative because the tiles were “impervious to moisture, corrosion, fire, and decay.” Not only did Tiffany employ traditional square tesserae tile, he also increasingly favored sectiliae which were cut to conform to certain areas of the design. To enhance the reflective quality in mosaic pieces, sections of bright metallic foil were sometimes placed beneath translucent pieces of glass to magnify the sheen. Tiffany’s use of favrile glass allowed for a degree of shading and modeling previously unknown in mosaic work. Tiffany Studios emphasized the novel approach taken to mosaic work by their craftspeople:
“In some respects, and most important ones, Tiffany Favrile Glass Mosaic is made on new lines; for example, in the indirect as well as direct method, the face of the mosaic is always turned toward the craftsman (the musivarius) so that every detail can be seen as in the finished work; moreover the artist (mosaicist) can follow and direct the whole operation, correcting mistakes and making alterations with the same ease as a painter in oil…”
Tiffany’s mosaics involved a number of individuals and steps from conception to completion. An artist first created a rendering in watercolor to illustrate the design and color scheme. A cartoon was then made in the exact size of the intended design, and was approved by the client. Shades and textures of glass were chosen from an almost infinite variety of favrile glass produced by Tiffany Furnaces, and pieces were cut to size and assembled on top of the cartoon and held in place by beeswax. When the piece was complete, the assembly was turned facedown, the cartoon removed and white cement poured over the piece, sometimes with the addition of metal bars and wires for structural support. Once the piece was transported to the sight, a technician would grout the piece in place.
A more accessible variety of Tiffany mosaic were those incorporated into home goods. Delicate, intricate hand laid mosaics were incorporated into a number of lamp bases, such as the “Mosaic and Turtleback Base” that supports a “Drophead Dragonfly” shade. The bases containing mosaic decoration can be divided into two categories, organic nature-inspired themes and those that were historically inspired. Mosaic inlays can be found in Tiffany inkstands, paperweights, trivets, boxes, candlesticks, clocks, mirrors, frames, jewelry, and stained glass windows.
An example of mosaic work being incorporated into home goods, this inlaid trivet features favrile glass tiles in a geometric abstract flower pattern set within a round bronze base. This particular piece is stamped with the Tiffany Studios and design Company monogram and was pictured in “tiffany Lamps and Metalware” by Alistair Duncan.