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Mosaic

  • Place of origin:

    Great Britain (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1865 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Leighton, Frederic Lord, born 1830 - died 1896 (designer)
    Salviati & Co. (maker)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Glass mosaic

  • Museum number:

    A.9-2009

  • Gallery location:

    Corridor outside Temporary Exhibition space, room 32, case SWAL

This mosaic of Nicolo Pisano is part of a cycle of monumental mosaic 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, the later V&A. The mosaics were originally installed on the side walls as part of a decorative scheme celebrating the arts. It was made after a painting by Frederic Lord Leighton.

Nicola Pisano (ca.1220-25 - before 1284) was a sculptor and architect of the thirteenth century working in Apulia, Pisa and Siena. His first great work was the hexagonal marble pulpit (1260) decorated with scenes from the life of Christ, for the Baptistery in Pisa; the figure style of these reliefs was deeply influenced by classical art and brought a new realism to Italian sculpture. His last great work of sculpture was the fountain in the piazza opposite the west end of the Cathedral at Perugia, completed in 1278. Pisano is regarded as an important precursor of Italian Renaissance sculpture because of his pioneering understanding and use of antique prototypes.

Frederic Leighton (1830-96) was born in Scarborough in 1830, the son of a physician. After receiving an all round education, he studied art at Frankfurt under Steinle, and at Brussels, Paris and Rome. In 1852 he began to work independently and spent the next three years in Rome.
Leighton's painting Cimabue's Madonna carried through Florence (1853-55) was his first major work, and an immediate success. When it was shown at the Royal Academy in 1855, it was bought by Queen Victoria.

Leighton settled in London in 1859, though he frequently travelled abroad; he was elected ARA in 1864 and RA in 1868, and attained the Presidency of the Royal Academy in 1878. He was the most influential of the Victorian Classical painters, and an important exponent of the 'subjectless' painting associated with the Aesthetic Movement, in which pictorial narrative is suppressed in favour of beauty and atmosphere. Leighton died on 25 January 1896 and is buried in St. Paul's Cathedral.

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 following the cartoons of professional artists by female students, 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. 1865 (made)

Artist/maker

Leighton, Frederic Lord, born 1830 - died 1896 (designer)
Salviati & Co. (maker)

Materials and Techniques

Glass mosaic

Marks and inscriptions

'N PISANO.'

Dimensions

Height: 2.675 m approximate, Width: 0.905 m approximate, Depth: 0.045 m approximate, Weight: 170 kg approximate

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. Apart from the South Kensington Valhalla the mosaics of the Albert Memorial, Albert Memorial Chapel at Windsor, and at 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 are 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 always regarded as one of the most precious and long-lasting techniques for adorning walls and floors. The enormous costs of mosaics limited its success in the 19th century.
The early mosaics for the South Court were made using the traditional material glass. They were created by the Venetian company Salviati & Co., the most successful mosaic makers of the time who had 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 Nicolo Pisano, by Salviati after a painting by Frederic Lord Leighton, Britain, about 1865

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. 3.

Materials

Mosaic glass

Techniques

Mosaic

Categories

Portraits

Collection

Sculpture Collection

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