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  • Place of origin:

    Rome (made)

  • Date:

    1795-1800 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    de Vecchis, Nicola (maker)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Marble, hardstone, micromosaic, silver-gilt

  • 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 73, The Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Galleries, case 1, shelf 2

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. He donated his extraordinary collection to Britain in 1996.

In the 1700s and 1800s, vases were prized objects that highlighted their owner’s status. Makers employed innovative techniques, adapting materials to new shapes, like the use of glass mosaics on the curved marble surface of these vases. They were most likely given by Pope Pius VII to Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte on the occasion of his coronation in December 1804.

To find out more about the making of micromosaics, watch the video <i>How was it made? Micromosaics </i>here:

Physical description

One of a pair. White marble two-handled vase, the lower body with a band of vertical acanthus leaves carved in relief below a band inlaid with coloured lozenges and palmettes of jasper and lapis lazuli. Framed by incised colonnaded bands and rows of beading, the upper body displays a micromosaic frieze depicting two griffins each holding a vase. A candelabrum between the griffins supports two festoons of flowers, the ends of which are held up by two birds. The waisted neck is inlaid with varicoloured hardstones as are the handles.

Place of Origin

Rome (made)


1795-1800 (made)


de Vecchis, Nicola (maker)

Materials and Techniques

Marble, hardstone, micromosaic, silver-gilt


Height: 65.3 cm, Diameter: 22 cm, Weight: 18160 g

Object history note

Giacomo Raffaelli was a Roman mosaicist credited with the invention of a new technique which allowed the creation of mosaics with incredibly small pieces of glass in a seemingly infinite range of colours. He was a fantastic businessman and worked with his sons Vincenzo, Filippo, Giovanni, in designing, creating and developing his name through Europe. Based in Rome, he also had a shop in Milan and received commissions from European and Russian sovereigns, including Emperor Napoleon I, Empress Josephine, and King of Poland Stanislas August II Poniatowski (1732-1798). Raffaelli worked also in hardstones and bronze to create most fantastic pieces, from gold boxes to fireplace, jewellery to clocks, in the utmost neoclassical fashion.

Vases were one of his most sought-after objects, produced often in conjunction with a fireplace. Such presents were chosen by the sculptor Antonio Canova for Pope Pius VII among the gifts he was intending to give on the occasion of the imperial coronation of Napoleon as Emperor in December 1804. While the fireplace is still in the Château of Malmaison, the vases were sold after Napoleon’s fall in 1815. This present vase and its pair (Loan-Gilbert. 110-2008) were considered as the lost gifts, but the description in the inventory reads: ‘formés vers leur panse de tableaux mosaïques’ which refers to mosaic medallions into the body of the vase instead of a large frieze as here.

By tradition Pope Pius VII to Napoleon on the occasion of his coronation, December 1804.
Empress Josephine, Chateau de Malmaison.
Jacques Kugel, Paris, 1975.

Historical context note

There is a similar vase in a private collection in Rome. A mantelpiece in the Louvre, Paris , is decorated with a frieze of scrolling vines, animals including griffins similar to those on these vases. The subject matter was inspired by ancient classical mosaics including those at the Baths of the Seven Sages, Ostia.

Descriptive line

Vase, micromosaic, marble and hardstone, Rome, Nicola de Vecchis, 1795-1800.

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

Grandjean, S. Inventaire après décès de l' Impératrice Josèphine à Malmaison. Paris: Ministère d'état - Affaires culturelles, 1964, p.197.
Gonzalez-Palacios, Alva. 'London: The Mosaics of the Gilbert Collection and new Aquisitions at the Victoria and Albert Museum', Bolaffi arte, no. 53, October 1975, ill. p. 19.
Hillier, Bevis. 'The Gilbert Collection of Mosaics'. The Connoisseur, vol. 188, no. 758, April 1975, p. 62.
Gonzalez- Palacios, Alvar. The Art of Mosaics: Selections from the Gilbert Collection, Los Angeles (Los Angeles County Museum of Art) 1977, p. 143 , ill. cat. no. 23. ISBN: 0875870805
Zucker, A. 'A great collection of tiny artistry- how it was made'. Smithsonian, May 1977, vol. 8, no. 2, p.86.
Gonzalez-Palacios, Alvar and Steffi Röttgen with essays by Steffi Röttgen, Claudia Przyborowski; essays and new catalogue material translated by Alla Theodora Hall. The Art of Mosaics: Selections from the Gilbert Collection. Los Angeles (Los Angeles County Museum of Art) 1982. 224 p., ill. Cat. no. 24. ISBN 0875871097.
Richardson, Nancy. 'All About Style'. House and Garden, June 1985, vol.157, no.6. New York: Condé Nast, pp. 54-8.
Bertelli, Carlo, ed. Mosaics, New York: Gallery Books, 1988, p. 282.
Wheeler, Daniel, ed. with introduction by Alexis Gregory. Princely Taste: Treasures from Great Private Collections. Exhibition catalogue, Jerusalem: Israel Museum, 1995, vol. 369, ill. p. 77.
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. 13, pp. 65-66. ISBN 0856675113.
Schroder, Timothy, ed. The Gilbert Collection at the V&A. London (V&A Publishing) 2009, p. 81, plate 64. ISBN9781851775934
Massinelli, Anna Maria. Giacomo Raffaelli (1753-1836), Maestro di stile e di mosaic. Florence: Aska Edizioni, 2018, fig.98, p.95.

Production Note

Inspired by ancient Roman mosaics, possibly from Baths of the Seven Sages, Ostia.


Marble; Hardstone; Mosaic glass; Silver-gilt; Jasper; Lapis lazuli; Chalcedony; Malachite; Quartz; Material


Carving; Setting; Micromosaic

Subjects depicted

Vase; Birds; Griffins; Palmettes; Festoons; Anthemions; Flowers; Butterflies; Acanthus; Lozenges; Beading




Metalwork Collection

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