Or are you looking for Search the Archives?

Please complete the form to email this item.


  • Place of origin:

    Rome (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1810 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Gold set with micromosaics, glass beads and enamels

  • Credit Line:

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

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Gold, Silver and Mosaics, Room 72, The Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Galleries, case 6, shelf 2

The oil lamps and butterflies depicted in the micromosaics on this comb were probably inspired by those in ancient wall paintings which had been discovered in Italy in the mid-eighteenth century.

The term 'micromosaic' is used to describe mosaics made of the smallest glass pieces. Some micromosaics contain more than 5000 pieces per square inch. The earliest attempts at micromosaic revealed visible joins between the pieces (known as tesserae) and a lack of perspective. Later artists such as Antonio Aguatti made huge advances in micromosaic technique, resulting in renderings that were truer to life. Glass micromosaic technique developed in the 18th century, in the Vatican Mosaic Workshop in Rome, where they still undertake restoration work today.

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

Tall gold comb decorated on top with three small oval mosaics depicting a basin-shaped fountain on which two butterflies are perched between a pair of antique oil lamps. Each mosaic is set between two acanthus leaves in frames of leafy scrolls and small blue glass beads, all above gold and blue enamel swags joined by florets. On the bottom of the central swag is a round faceted bead.

Place of Origin

Rome (made)


ca. 1810 (made)



Materials and Techniques

Gold set with micromosaics, glass beads and enamels


Height: 9.7 cm, Width: 8.5 cm, Depth: 1.9 cm

Object history note

Provenance: Sale, Christie's Amsterdam, lot 591, 30 November - 1 December, 1993.

Historical significance: Micromosaics of butterflies are regarded as the trademark of Giacomo Raffaelli (1753-1836) the earliest known master of micromosaics. He mounted an exhibition of micromosaics in his studio in 1775. Raffaelli's butterflies feature on the specimen block on display in the wall case in Gallery 73.

Historical context note

Antique oil lamps and butterflies, the subjects of the mosaics on this comb, were probably inspired by wall paintings at ancient ruins discovered in Italy in the mid eighteenth century. The lamps are attributes of Lucca, the Persian Sibyl and of Vigilance and Night personified. Butterflies were symbols of the soul.

Descriptive line

Comb with micromosaic plaques of oil lamps; enamel, glass and gold, Rome ca. 1810.

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

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.168, p. 234. ISBN 0856675113.

Labels and date

2. Comb
About 1810

Rome, Italy
Glass micromosaic, gold and enamel
Museum no. Loan:Gilbert.159-2008 [16/11/2016]
Comb with oil lamps
About 1810
Rome, Italy
Glass micromosaic, gold and enamel Museum no. Loan:Gilbert.159-2008

Rome, Italy
Glass micromosaic, gold and enamel
Museum no. Loan:Gilbert.159-2008 [2009]


Gold; Mosaic glass; Glass; Enamel


Setting; Micromosaic; Beading (process); Enamelling

Subjects depicted

Butterflies; Oil lamps


Jewellery; Metalwork; Personal accessories


Metalwork Collection

Large image request

Please confirm you are using these images within the following terms and conditions, by acknowledging each of the following key points:

Please let us know how you intend to use the images you will be downloading.