Opus Sectile Icons

By Jonathan Pageau on August 28, 2012

10th-11th century icon of St. Eudocia from Constantinople

There is a relatively famous image of St. Eudocia from the 10th or 11th century from Constantinople that has recently caught my attention.  It is done in a technique called Opus Sectile.  Unlike Mosaic which is the assembly of similarly shaped squares forming a pattern, Opus Sectile is when stone is cut in different shapes that are assembled like a puzzle.  Carried over from antiquity, this technique is usually employed for making floors, such as in Constantinople, Ravenna and was also imported in Italy where the Cosmati family made amazing floors during the 13th century.  Even today we find opus sectile floors in Orthodox churches.

But this little icon of St. Eudocia stands quite surprisingly well, simple and bold, it makes me wonder if this technique has been used by others.

There is a very early Opus Sectile icon of Christ that was found in Rome, but apart from that I have not seen any other example.  I might just try to make such an image.

4th(?) century Opus sectile icon of Christ from Rome

6th century floor from Ravenna

11th century floor from Iveron Monastery on Mount Athos.





  1. Bess on August 28, 2012 at 1:38 pm

    Thanks for posting these images.They are wonerous.

    This is a fine art that spread from Italy far and wide. The Taj Mahal, built in the 17th century, in India has this style of inlay work with semiprecious stones on the inner walls. The small pieces are set without mortar so that a flashlight’s beam set up against a vine will illuminate the flowers and leaves on the vine for up to 3 feet. Boxes and plates are still being made in this medium.

    • Jonathan Pageau on August 29, 2012 at 1:13 pm

      Thank you for your comments, Bess. The technique took on amazing technical proficiency and came to be used mostly as ornaments on furniture and such. It is interesting though, just as in painting, with the technical development of the Renaissance and Baroque, there is something of the “freshness” and directness that was lost. When I look at later images (known mostly as Pietra Dura after the Renaissance) they are impeccable but don’t come and grab you as I find the St-Eudocia icon does.

  2. Lawrence Payne on November 20, 2012 at 6:02 am

    Thank you for posting those images up, I’d totally forgotten about those examples. I’ve done a couple of pieces of Opus Sectile though there were done using an electric tile saw. I doubt this sort of work would be too difficult even using a iron wire saw if you wanted just hand tools. The drilling would be difficult, especially looking at the sizes of holes made. Beautiful work!

    • Jonathan Pageau on November 20, 2012 at 11:33 pm

      Thank you for the comment, Lawrence. It is good to know there are still people practicing this ancient art.

  3. Matisse, But Not Matisse « Glencliff Art Studio on December 4, 2012 at 4:56 pm

    […] It is made from glazed stoneware and porcelain tiles adhered to Wediboard with thinset cement mortar, and grouted in three colors.  The “new technique” part of the deal is the cutting of each piece into a shape corresponding to one shape in the design.  This technique contrasts with doing mosaic by choosing many small pieces and making them add up to one shape in the design.  The technique has an ancient name:  opus sectile. […]

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