Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
Europe 1600-1815, Room 1

Mosaic Picture

ca. 1800 (made)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

Ancient Greek and Roman mythology inspired artists from the Renaissance onwards. In the neoclassical period these ancient legends were depicted in a style that itself was inspired by rediscovered ancient art.

In this micromosaic picture two aspects of the neoclassical style which are directly drawn from the study of ancient art can be seen: the reduction of compositions to clear, crisp lines with a limited colour range that emulates the marble surfaces associated with ancient sculpture (known as en grisaille), and a schematic stillness even in a scene that depicts a moving chariot. Interestingly enough neither of these characteristics was shared by ancient art as such: ancient sculpture is nowadays known to often have been painted, while the approach to depicting movement depended very much on the period of ancient art itself, the medium and the ability of the artist.


object details
Category
Object Type
Parts
This object consists of 2 parts.

  • Picture
  • Frame
Materials and Techniques
Micromosaic and marble
Brief Description
Micromosaic picture, Cupid in a chariot, Rome, 1800; in 20th century giltwood frame; one of a pair
Physical Description
Rectangular en grisaille micromosaic depicting the ancient Roman god Cupid as a winged boy in a chariot pulled by two swans, the figures against a blue background, bordered with millefiori tesserae within a red and yellow band, set in red marble support, Rome, ca. 1800; in a 20th-century giltwood frame; one of a pair
Dimensions
  • Height: 20.3cm
  • Width: 27.9cm
Gallery Label
Cupid in a Chariot Pulled by Swans About 1800, with modern frame In 1737, a famous ancient mosaic was discovered in the villa of Emperor Hadrian. It had been described by the Roman writer Pliny the Younger as the ultimate example of illusionism in the field of mosaics. This discovery might have influenced contemporary Roman craftsmen to create ever more painterly mosaics with ever smaller pieces. From 1800, micromosaics were particularly fashionable. Italy (Rome) Glass micromosaic; marble The Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Collection on loan to the Victoria and Albert Museum, London (09/12/2015)
Credit line
The Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Collection on loan to the Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Object history
Provenance: Sale, Christie's, 24 April 1865, lot 5; Fairclough, London, 1973.



Micromosaics



The discovery of the Doves of Pliny, an ancient mosaic described by ancient Roman author Pliny the Younger as the ultimate example of illusionism in the field of mosaics, in 1737, might have triggered the interest among Roman mosaicists to create ever more painterly mosaics with ever smaller pieces. By 1800 such micromosaics became particularly fashionable as a technique that expressed neoclassical taste even in the very choice of its medium. Their portability made them the perfect souvenir to take back from Rome.



Inspiration from Antiquity and Renaissance Art



This micromosaic, on of a pair, emulates the style of ancient Roman wall paintings from the first century AD, such as the decoration of the House of the Vettii in Pompeii where a cycle of putti racing against each other in chariots drawn by a variety of beasts has survived. The Queen of Naples herself owned the fragment of a Pompeian wall painting depicting a Cupid in a chariot drawn by swans (Naples, Museo Archeologico Nazionale)



Roman artists Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720-1778) and Michelangelo Maestri (died 1812 in Rome) created well known images of putti in chariots that were widely circulated and copied at the time. Their inspiration was in turn a Renaissance version of ancient material: their respective compositions are based on Giulio Romano’s (1499-1546) fresco cycle in the salone of the Villa Lante, near Rome (detached in 1890, now Rome, Palazzo Zuccari). Piranesi’s cycle shows his new, distinctly neoclassical style that he had derived from the study of both ancient art and its Renaissance interpretation.



The micromosaic version here goes even further in its reduction of lines and colours, and introduces parallel lines throughout the composition: The arms and wings of Cupid are reduced to one, the feet, bodies, necks and heads of the swans are stacked behind one another.



Several works in micromosaic of this type are known, most of them either signed or attributed to Giacomo Raffaelli who is credited with the invention of micromosaics and was one of the most celebrated mosaicists around 1800. A signed pair of comparable en grisaille plaques with classical subjects is also in the Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Collection, while several micromosaics with a similar blue background and reduced palette are mounted in a pair of console tables by Giacomo Raffaelli at The State Hermitage in St Petersburg. Two plaques with putti in chariot after Giulio Romano are set in chimneypieces in the Old Hermitage building of this institution.



The Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Collection



Sir Arthur Gilbert (1913-2001) and his first wife Rosalinde (1913-1995) formed one of the world's great decorative art collections, including silver, mosaics, enamelled portrait miniatures and gold boxes. Arthur Gilbert moved his extraordinary collection to Britain in 1996.
Subjects depicted
Summary
Ancient Greek and Roman mythology inspired artists from the Renaissance onwards. In the neoclassical period these ancient legends were depicted in a style that itself was inspired by rediscovered ancient art.



In this micromosaic picture two aspects of the neoclassical style which are directly drawn from the study of ancient art can be seen: the reduction of compositions to clear, crisp lines with a limited colour range that emulates the marble surfaces associated with ancient sculpture (known as en grisaille), and a schematic stillness even in a scene that depicts a moving chariot. Interestingly enough neither of these characteristics was shared by ancient art as such: ancient sculpture is nowadays known to often have been painted, while the approach to depicting movement depended very much on the period of ancient art itself, the medium and the ability of the artist.
Associated Objects
Bibliographic References
  • Avery, Charles, assisted by Arthur Emperatori. Mosaics from the Gilbert Collection: summary catalogue. Exhibition catalogue Victoria & Albert Museum. London: H.M.S.O. 1975, cat. no. 27.
  • Gonzalez-Palacios, Alvar. The Art of Mosaics: Selections from the Gilbert Collection, Los Angeles (Los Angeles County Museum of Art) 1977. 143 p., ill. Cat. no. 26. ISBN 0875870805.
  • 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. 26. ISBN 0875871097
  • 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. 82, p. 149. ISBN 0856675113.
Other Number
MM 129A - Arthur Gilbert Number
Collection
Accession Number
LOAN:GILBERT.173:1-2008

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record createdJune 26, 2008
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