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The Flora of Two Sicilies

  • Object:

    Table

  • Place of origin:

    Rome (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1850 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Barberi, Michelangelo, born 1787 - died 1867 (maker)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Micromosaic with cast and chased gilt-bronze support.

  • Credit Line:

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

  • Museum number:

    LOAN:GILBERT.190:1, 2-2008

  • Gallery location:

    Gold, Silver and Mosaics, Room 73, The Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Galleries, case East EXP []

Micromosaics developed into a popular Roman souvenir in the 19th century. The works shown here are among the most ambitious works ever created in this technique which uses minuscule glass pieces just as a painter uses brush-strokes.

Cavaliere Michelangelo Barberi (1787-1867) trained as a painter and mosaicist. He nonetheless postulated that technical perfection was not an aim in itself, but rather a ‘service to Rome’ and Italy. The ancient art form mosaic, its revival and further evolution were part of a revolutionary message: at a time when Italians were fighting for political union, Barberi’s monumental tables brought together iconic views showcasing the shared cultural identity of Italy and its ancient roots.

The two Sicilies consisted of the southern Italian kingdom around Naples and the island of Sicily. The six Sicilian and Neapolitan landscapes and their lush vegetation shown on the table top are labelled in the border. Ruled by the Bourbons from 1731, the two states were officially united in 1816. The table was commissioned by the Russian Tsar Nicholas I (reigned 1825-55), and shows the profile of his daughter Olga in the centre.

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

Circular micromosaic tabletop featuring views of six landscapes in Southern Italy framed by foliage. A mosaic ribbon border is inlaid in mosaic with names of the sites in capital letters. In the centre of the tabletop on a sky-blue ground is a profile of the Grand Duchess Olga (daughter of Tsar Nicholas I). The chased gilt-bronze base consists of a four-sided pyramidical pedestal supported by four lion's paw feet below lion masks, all on an incurved four-sided plinth.

Place of Origin

Rome (made)

Date

ca. 1850 (made)

Artist/maker

Barberi, Michelangelo, born 1787 - died 1867 (maker)

Materials and Techniques

Micromosaic with cast and chased gilt-bronze support.

Marks and inscriptions

The names of the sites inscribed read 'POMPEIA', 'NAPOLI', 'PESTUM', TAORMINA', 'PALERMO', 'TINDARI'

Dimensions

Diameter: 104 cm, Height: 79.4 cm

Object history note

Provenance: Tsar Nicholas I. Sale, Sotheby Parke-Bernet, Monaco, lot 639, 06/06/1981.

Historical significance: Nicholas I visited Italy in 1845 and the table known as 'The beautiful sky of Italy' made by Michelangelo Barberi and shown at the 1851 Great Exhibition in London recorded the Italian cities which the Tsar visited (see LOAN:Gilbert.894-2008).

Historical context note

The table was commissioned by the Russian Tsar Nicholas I (reigned 1825-55) and shows the profile of his second daughter Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaevna (1822-1892, later Queen Olga of Württemberg) in the centre.

Descriptive line

Circular table with Flora of the Two Sicilies, Michelangelo Barberi, Rome, ca.1850.

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

Art at Auction: The Year at Sotheby's. London; New York: Sotheby & Co.,1980-81, p. 436.
Petochi, Domenico et al. I mosaici minuti romani dei secoli XVIII e XIX. Rome: A.B.E.T.E. c.1981, fig. 41.
'Le mostre: i che si portavano in tasca'. FMR, November, 1986, No. 66. [Milan] : Franco Maria Ricci, ill. p. 220.
Gabriel, Jeanette Hanisee. 'Mosaic Tables in the Gilbert Collection'. The Antique Collector, vol. 60, November 1989, fig. 6.
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. 32, pp. 86-87. ISBN 0856675113.
Schroder, Timothy, ed. The Gilbert Collection at the V&A. London (V&A Publishing) 2009, p. 76, plate 58. ISBN9781851775934
Branchetti, Maria Grazia. 'Il romanticismo a tessere', Italian Antiques, no. 15, April, 1992, ill. p. 83.

Labels and date

1. Table with ‘The Flora of the Two
Sicilies’
About 1850

The Two Sicilies consisted of the southern Italian kingdom around Naples and the island of Sicily. They were united in 1816. The six Sicilian and Neapolitan landscapes and their lush vegetation are labelled in the border. The table was commissioned by the Russian Tsar Nicholas I, possibly to commemorate the fact that his daughter Olga, depicted at the centre, met her husband in Sicily.

Top: Rome, Italy; Michelangelo Barberi (1787–1867)
Support: St Petersburg, Russia
Glass micromosaic and gilded bronze support
Sites depicted: Pompeii, Naples, Paestum, Taormina, Palermo and Tindari
Museum no. Loan:Gilbert.190:1, 2-2008 [16/11/2016]
The Russian Tsar Nicholas I commissioned this table. In the centre is a small profile portrait of his daughter Olga. Around the edge are six Sicilian and Neapolitan landscapes with lush vegetation. From the late 18th century, Roman workshops were inspired by recently discovered mosaics of classical antiquity. They used tiny tesserae, a technique known as 'micromosaic', to create objects popular with affluent tourists. [22/05/2014]
The Two Sicilies consisted of the southern Italian kingdom around Naples and the island of Sicily. Six Sicilian and Neapolitan landscapes and their lush vegetation are shown here and labelled in the border. Ruled by the Bourbons from 1731, the two states were officially united in 1816. The table was commissioned by the Russian Tsar Nicholas I (reigned 1825-55) and shows the profile of his daughter Olga in the centre. [April 2009]

Materials

Mosaic glass; Gilt-bronze

Techniques

Micromosaic; Gilding; Casting; Chasing

Categories

Furniture; Metalwork

Collection

Metalwork Collection

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