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Mosaic - Bernard Palissy

Bernard Palissy

  • Object:

    Mosaic

  • Place of origin:

    Great Britain (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1864 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Rust, Jesse (maker)
    Reuben Townroe, born 1835 - died 1911 (designer)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Glass mosaic

  • Museum number:

    A.6-2009

  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

This mosaic is part of a cycle of monumental portraits depicting famous artists. The series of originally 35 mosaics was created between 1864 and circa 1875 for the South Court of the South Kensington Museum, later the V&A. The mosaics were originally installed on the side walls as part of a decorative scheme celebrating the arts.

The features of the depicted Bernard Palissy are based on a portrait print by Reuben Townroe. Townroe shows him at work on a dish, with one of his dishes decorated with natural forms resting against an urn by his foot. The books propped up on the other side allude to Palissy's lengthy study of the chemistry of glazes. The museum acquired a number of dishes by or after Palissy in the 1850s and 1860, and in addition to his inclusion in the Valhalla, he was also commemorated in a window in the Ceramics Gallery, designed by William Bell Scott in the late 1860s.

Reuben Townroe (1835-1911) was, with James Gamble, one of Godfrey Sykes's principal assistants. After Syke's early death in 1866, they were both appointed to succeed him in planning and executing the decoration for the Museum.

The series of mostly idealised portraits against gold backgrounds soon became known by the public as the Kensington Valhalla. The term alludes to the Vallhall as eternal home of heroes in Norse mythology. It also refers to the concept of a reunion of outstanding personalities of different periods by the means of art. An earlier example of such a hall of fame is the Walhalla near Regensburg in Germany (opened in 1842).

The selection of the Kensington Valhalla includes many famous artists, from Phidias and Apelles as representatives of ancient Greece to contemporaries such as the Irish painter William Mulready who had died only five years before his mosaic was completed.

Mosaics played an important part in the canon of materials and techniques used for the interior decoration of the new South Kensington Museum. The ambitious project of a revival of the art of mosaics involved one of the major Venetian mosaic companies of the time, Salviati & Co. It also led to the innovation of the technique by the introduction of vitrified ceramics mosaics made by Minton, Hollins & Co. These ceramics mosaics were created by female students after the design cartoons of professional artists, including members of the family of Henry Cole.

The Kensington Valhalla remained in place until 1949. Some of the mosaics are now on display in other galleries of the museum. In addition to the mosaics themselves, preparatory sketches and cartoons by established contemporary artists such as Edward Poynter or Lord Leighton are part of the V&A collection.

Physical description

Vertical oblong mosaic panel

Place of Origin

Great Britain (made)

Date

ca. 1864 (made)

Artist/maker

Rust, Jesse (maker)
Reuben Townroe, born 1835 - died 1911 (designer)

Materials and Techniques

Glass mosaic

Dimensions

Height: 2.675 m approximate, Width: 0.905 m approximate, Depth: 0.045 m approximate, Weight: 357 kg

Object history note

This mosaic was created for the decoration of the South Court of the Museum. It is part of a cycle of mosaic portraits of famous artists. They were created between 1863 and ca. 1875 and installed in blind arcades on the upper level of the South Court.

Historical significance: Only few extensive mosaic cycles were executed in the 19th century. Aside from the South Kensington Valhalla, the mosaics of the Albert Memorial, Albert Memorial Chapel at Windsor, and Saint Paul's Cathedral (all begun in 1864) were the only other comparable projects of the time. All of them were made by Salviati & Co.
The mosaics of the South Kensington Valhalla are based upon designs of a variety of artists, some of whom were, or were to become, major figures of the Victorian art world. The commission is extremely well documented. The related documents and cartoons at the V&A make this cycle of mosaics not only an outstanding group of artistic value, but also an excellent case study for the history of the buildings of the Museum.

Historical context note

The Museum played an important part in the revival of mosaic in Britain in the 19th century. The technique goes back to ancient times and was regarded as one of the most precious and long-lasting techniques for adorning walls and floors. The enormous cost of mosaics limited its success in the 19th century.
The early mosaics for the South Court were made using the traditional material of glass. They were created by the Venetian company Salviati & Co., the most successful mosaic makers of the time, with branches in London and New York. The majority of the mosaics consist of vitrified ceramics which were provided by the English company Minton, Hollins & Co. The mosaics were made by the Mosaic Class of the Art School of the South Kensington Museum and were supervised by a representative of Minton. Amongst the students were family members of Henry Cole.
A second, less ambitious series of mosaics was created for the North Cloister between 1868 and 1874. In 1878 a ceramic mosaic memorial for Sir Henry Cole, designed by Frank Moody was installed on the first landing of the Ceramic Staircase and is still in place today. The use of mosaic at the museum also included marble mosaic floors, some of them laid by 'Female Convicts' of Woking Prison from 1869 and was dubbed Opus Criminale by contemporaries.

Descriptive line

Mosaic panel, glass mosaic, depicting Bernard Palissy, by Jesse Rust after a painting by Reuben Townroe, Britain, about 1864

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Physick, John. The Victoria and Albert Museum. The history of its building. London: The Victoria & Albert Museum 1982. Pp. 62-67, no. 28.

Materials

Mosaic glass

Techniques

Mosaic

Subjects depicted

Vases; Books; Shield

Categories

Portraits

Collection

Sculpture Collection

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