Suppose you were to cover a large surface (such as a floor) with little pieces of material. You would probably choose to design a repeating pattern since repeating patterns are usually more beautiful than a haphazard non-repeating one. When you finished, you would have designed a tessellation! Any repeating pattern of shapes that cover a plane without overlap is considered a tessellation. Thus, it is not surprising that tessellations and tilings can be found in many cultures, both ancient and modern.
The kinds of shapes used in the tilings vary between culture to culture. Coloring techniques, which can make tremendous differences in the overall visual effect of a tessellation, also vary from culture to culture. Finally, the amount of embellishment added to the tilings varies among the artwork in each culture.
For example, the Islamic religion forbids the representation of living objects in works of art. The Moors have consequently created only abstract geometrical works composed of simple shapes. Nevertheless, their works of intricate design are nothing short of breathtaking. On the other hand, Romans and other Mediterranean peoples have incorporated detailed illustrations of humans and natural scenes into their designs.
In recent times, tessellations have appeared on floors, walls, ceilings, and buildings, and in ceramics, clothing designs, rugs, wallpaper, and stained-glass windows. They have continued to be an art form with artists such as Maurits Escher, Victor Vasarely, and Bridget Riley, who have explored variations and extensions of tilings on the plane.
Visit the historical gallery for many examples of tessellations as they have appeared in everyday life.