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Space invaders, cake and mosaic

Yesterday it was my son’s 13th birthday. I bought him this “space invaders” wallett. (He is almost too young to remember space invaders, and for anyone reading this who is also too young – it was designed and programmed by Toshira Nishikado for Taito, Japan in 1978 as an arcade game)

It seemed pretty cool to find this wallett and I decided to make some marzipan cake decorations based on  space invaders for his cake.

(This is why I will never be a cake designer – although it was the first time I have got the cake to rise properly – by using 3 times the amount of ingredients I should have done!)

But what I found more interesting is that if you turn it round the space invaders become cats or characters a bit like pikachu (a mouse like pokemon character)

So what has this got to do with mosaic, you may well ask (what makes this a mosaic?) well nothing, and it isn’t a mosaic , but there are some tenuous connections such as the 12th century  Islamic tradition  of making tiles (“zellige or zelij” ).  Geometric shapes are cut from  terracotta clay tiles and placed together to form a tile such as a star then glazed often in blues, whites and browns. The tiles are then used to clad the facades of buildings. This kind of architecture is especially common in Morrocco.

Zelij is a kind of opus sectile, that was often used in the time of the ancient Greeks and then early Roman times, whereupon a piece of glass, ceramic ,  stone, marble or even precious stones were cut into whole shapes for the mosaic instead of  cut into tessarae. Going back in time even more we will see that this method was used even earlier:

If you visit the British Museum in London  you will see “The Standard of Ur”.   It is a Sumerian box found in the Royal cemetery in Iraq about 50cm long. The cut pieces of shell, red limestone and lapis lazuli that decorate the box depict the Sumerian army in war and in peace.

© Trustees of the British Museum

Believed to date from about 2500 BC it is one of the earliest mosaics found in the world.  When Leonard Woolley, the archeologist who excavated this box, found it, it was damaged and decayed, so they had to use some guesswork to restore it to its original condition.

© Trustees of the British Museum

At around the same time , near to the remains of the city of Ur, archeologist H.R Hall excavated this (now restored)column, and Wooley went on to find more. It dates around the same time and is believed to be a part of a temple dedicated to the goddess Ninhursag. Cut pieces of mother of pearl, pink limestone and black shale were attached to a palm log using bitumen. What is interesting too is that there were attachments of copper wire found on the back of the stones twisted into a ring to push into the bitumen to hold the pieces even more securely.

And back to the not so distant past ……. There is also a french mosaic artist called “Invader” who makes pixilated mosaics including space invader street mosaics. See his video here:


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