The mosaic school teaching resistance and innovation for a century 

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Pictured above: Mosaic by Marta & Małgorzata Matyla

The historic Mosaic School of Friuli, located in the town of Spilimbergo in northern Italy, is celebrating its centenary this year. For 100 years, the establishment has taught its students how to continue creating an art that originated millennia ago. Rebecca Ann Hughes talks to the school and its alumni about how the institution is working to adapt and evolve in the modern world. 

Written and narrated by Rebecca Ann Hughes

Listen to Rebecca Ann Hughes narrate her article

The walls of the Mosaic School of Fruili are lined with a series of mosaic artworks displaying styles from a myriad of eras. There are terracotta-hued Roman copies, life-like portraits and bold, kaleidoscopic abstract panels. With the accompanying patterned marble flooring and stained glass door panels, the school’s interior could easily be mistaken for an eccentric museum. As ex-student Marta Matyla says, it is an environment that is stimulating to work in.

The artworks on display reflect the school’s comprehensive three-year programme of mosaic studies. “We teach the whole arc of mosaics, from ancient times to contemporary works,” explains the school’s president Stefano Lovison. It is one of the key draws for potential students, although it also requires a serious time commitment.

An interpretation of Claude Monet’s paintings, which was created by Marta and Malgorzata Matyla in collaboration with fellow student @nikkimosaico

Students learn both practical and theoretical topics at the school. Over the three years, they study Roman, Byzantine, Facchina and contemporary techniques of mosaic and terrazzo as well as the use of mosaic art to redevelop urban space. These laboratory sessions make up 80% of the courses and students are often in the classroom from 8 o’clock in the morning until 5 pm from Monday to Friday. 

This practical study is accompanied and complemented by a variety of theory classes. These include computer graphics, photoshop, art history, geometry, material technology, drawing and colour theory. The combination of practical and theory lessons means students are well set up to begin exploring their own interests and styles upon graduating from the school. 

“I feel I have loads of knowledge to make mosaic and experiment,” says Matyla, who now works with her sister Małgorzata Matyla, also an alumna of the school, creating mosaics. ”The school is well equipped, so that gives you the possibility to try many different materials,” she adds. 

Autumn, which was created by a group of students at the school including Marta and Malgorzata Matyla

With such an exhaustive programme on offer, the school has become a leader in mosaic studies. But even beyond the walls of the school, students are immersed in a region steeped in the art’s history. Over 1,000 years ago, craftsmen from Friuli were working on the great stone floors of the city of Venice, including that of St Mark’s Basilica. The stones for the mosaics also came from the rivers in the Friuli region. 

Since then, mosaic artists from Friuli have worked all over the world, as far as South America and the States. In 19th century Paris, it was also Friuli-born Gian Domenico Facchina who created and patented a new reverse method of mosaic.

But the aim of the mosaic school is not to keep students looking to the past. By the end of the course, they have already begun to experiment with their own contemporary techniques. “The third year is when you try to find your own language and own style in mosaic,” says Adelaida Rosh, who graduated from the school last year. “You have no limits and you can try any materials you want, like wood, metal, ceramics, whatever you feel like. You have no limits with techniques and you are free to express yourself.” 

Mosaic by Adelaida Rosh

Students also participate in school projects for innovative uses of mosaics. Recently, for example, the school created mosaic decorations for the doors of a luxury yacht, which had to be safety tested for resistance in crashes or fires. “At the school, we want to show that an ancient technique is still used today even in industries like ships and yachts,” says Lovison. “We are leaders not only in teaching but in research and experimentation looking towards the future.”

Students from across the globe attend the school, meaning classes are made up of a mix of nationalities, like Rosh who is from Russia and Matyla from Poland. As Matyla says, “I had this luck having many foreign friends so we created a nice group that I hope will also mean opportunities for future collaborations.” 

Both Matyla and Rosh say the school has been invaluable to shaping their mosaic style, although they are now ready to strike out on their own. “I’m still finding my own language,” says Rosh (pictured below), who now has her own studio in St Petersburg. “But during the course, I found some tips for what I really want to do and materials that I like that I want to experiment more with.” She also says that the colour theory classes were particularly useful: “For me, it was a huge discovery because I always like to work with colour and I really learned how to approach it at the school.

As the school embarks on its next century of teaching, the innovations are continuing. “For the next 100 years, our aim is to expand our vision but also to expand physically,” says director Gian Piero Brovedani. “We are not just growing in terms of our teaching but we are also creating new spaces and galleries.” The school is also looking at catering for the growing number of tourists that come to Spilimbergo to visit the school. 

Most importantly, their goal is to continue sharing their expert knowledge of the art of mosaics. “We have to be careful,” says Brovedani, “because if this knowledge is lost, and there are no more centres teaching it, then it would be extremely difficult to recover the art.” 



Web: (Adelaida Rosh)

Instagram: @matylasmosaic