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Necklace

  • Place of origin:

    Rome (made)

  • Date:

    early 19th century (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Micromosaic, gold, gilded brass, copper and pearls

  • Credit Line:

    The Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Collection on loan to the Victoria and Albert Museum, London

  • Museum number:

    LOAN:GILBERT.149-2008

  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

This necklace, with six oval micromosaic plaques depicting Bacchant boys, is an excellent example of smalti filati miniatures for jewellery produced in Rome in the early 19th century. In this piece, they are mounted alternating with gold and pearl leaves to form a necklace with two gilt-brass chains. The style of the necklace, with its elegant pearl elements, indicates a date at the beginning of the 19th century.

The choice of subject matter is as charming as it is frivolous. The cult of Bacchus appears acceptably on jewellery only in the guise of the seemingly innocent plays of the small boys. The thyrsus staff - an attribute of Bacchus, the god of wine, and a symbol of fertility - can be found on the plaques next to the Bacchant boys playing with goats as a symbol of lust. Wine appears on the remaining plaques, and might be instrumental in bringing the subjects of the other two together.

Napoleon Bonaparte dominated Europe at the time when this necklace was made. His fascination for micromosaics was well-known and, as a consequence, micromosaic jewellery was quite popular, especially during the first decade of the 19th century. For example, Princess Augusta of Bavaria (1788-1851), the wife of the Viceroy of Italy, Eugène Beauharnais, is depicted in her portrait with a gold tiara adorned with the micromosaic of the head of Bacchus. This shows that micromosaics were an acceptable and fashionable alternative to gems and diamonds.

The micromosaics are limited to a comparatively small range of colours with tesserae of 0.2 to 0.5 millimetres in width. Cube tesserae have been used, especially in areas depicting sky. The backing of the plaques is hidden by the mounts of the necklace. The interstices are surprisingly small and partly coloured to match the surrounding glass tesserae.

Sir Arthur Gilbert and his wife Rosalinde formed one of the world's great decorative art collections, including silver, mosaics, enamelled portrait miniatures and gold boxes. Arthur Gilbert donated his extraordinary collection to Britain in 1996.

Physical description

Necklace composed of six oval mosaics framed in gilded brass, blue enamel and pearls, alternating with six enamelled gold, lyre-shaped links set with pearls.These are joined at the top by one link and a pearls, and at the bottom with a gold festoon chain, which appears to have been added at a later date. Each micromosaic depicts either one or two cupids in landscapes. Clockwise from the top they portray: two cupids beside a wine cask; one playing cymbals; one seated facing a recumbent goat; two with a large wine vessel; one on a sleeping goat; one holding a goblet and a thyrsus.

(The chains are gilded brass, the matte leaves surrounding the pearls are gold and copper alloy and the surrounds of the single pearls are gold with small amounts of silver and copper)

Place of Origin

Rome (made)

Date

early 19th century (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Micromosaic, gold, gilded brass, copper and pearls

Marks and inscriptions

French guarantee mark for 1798-1809 (tbc)
on gold link

Dimensions

Length: 58.4 cm, Width: 4.7 cm oval mounts, Height: 2.5 cm mosaic plaques, Width: 3.3 cm mosaic plaques

Object history note

Provenance: Sale, Sotheby's, New York, lot 241, 19/11/1980.

Historical context note

Micromosaics have their roots in the larger mosaics of ancient Rome used to decorate their walls and floors. The first micromosaics were created in the 18th century, but it was not until Arthur Gilbert himself became interested in collecting them and invented the term 'micromosaics' that they became known as such. The tesserae are minute pieces cut from thin pieces of glass known as smalti filati, and some of the finest micomosaics can consist of as many as 5,000 tesserae per square inch (ca. 3 by 3cm). By the late 18th century Rome had become central to the production of micromosaics and sold them as souvenirs to wealthy foreigners visiting the city. From small elegant snuffboxes to large monumental tabletops, micromosaics could be used to decorate objects of all shapes and sizes. They could even be made to resemble full-sized canvas paintings, and indeed Arthur Gilbert himself mistook his very first micromosaic for a painting. When he brought it home to show his wife, he had to convince her that it was not in fact a cracked painting, as she supposed, but a mosaic.

Descriptive line

Necklace of six oval mosaic panels, gold, opaque glass mosaic and pearls, Rome, early 19th century

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

Sotheby's Art at Auction 1980-1981. London: Conran Octopus Ltd. p. 244.
Hanisee, Jeanette. 'Mosaic Mementoes', The Antique Collector, May 1993, vol. 64, no. 5, p. 78, fig. 2.
Gabriel, Jeanette Hanisee with contributions by Anna Maria Massinelli and essays by Judy Rudoe and Massimo Alfieri. Micromosaics: The Gilbert Collection. London: Philip Wilson Publishers Ltd. in association with The Gilbert Collection, 2000. 310 p., ill. Cat. no. 180, p. 244-5. ISBN 0856675113.

Materials

Mosaic glass; Gold; Enamel; Pearls; Copper; Silver; Brass

Techniques

Micromosaic; Setting; Enamelling; Setting; Gilding

Subjects depicted

Putti; Goats (animals); Wine cups; Vines

Categories

Jewellery; Metalwork; Mosaic

Collection

Metalwork Collection

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