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Picture

Picture

  • Place of origin:

    Rome (made)

  • Date:

    late 18th century (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Mosaic, steel, giltwood

  • Credit Line:

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

  • Museum number:

    LOAN:GILBERT.225:1-2008

  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

Since ancient times, Tivoli and its dramatic landscape has been a refuge for Romans and a place of pilgrimage for every grand tourist. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe visited Tivoli on several occasions, and noted in his diary on 16 June 1787 that Tivoli "is one of those experiences which permanently enrich one's life". Grand tourists like Goethe were also the target group for marketing micromosaics, such as this piece. It is an example of the early period of experimentation with small-scale mosaics that were created not as architectural elements, but as portable pictures (often depicting Rome's famous classical monuments and its hinterland), and assembled from minuscule tesserae.

During the course of the 18th century, the Vatican workshop developed a nearly infinite range of colours. From as early as 1750, mosaicists at Saint Peter's could choose from approximately 28,000 different shades. This mosaic has been created with a much more restricted palette of colours that is particularly noticeable in the depiction of the sky, which has been created with only very few different hues. Instead of infinite shades of colour, here the mosaicist has used different sizes of tesserae of one colour to represent different shades of blue. This constitutes a certain degree of abstraction and artistic license that appears to be typical for micromosaics from the period. For example, the figures have been depicted with very few tesserae, even if they appear in the foreground of the picture.

Apart from glass, stone has also been used as a material for the tesserae, especially in the depiction of the cella of the temple that can be seen between the columns. In contrast, these have been made with very long, slender pieces of glass. This mixture of different materials goes back to the tradition of ancient emblemata mosaics, such as the Doves of Pliny in the Capitoline Museums in Rome, and shows that such works might have been the starting point for the development of micromosaics since the eighteenth century.

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

A view of a ruined classical temple, circular with fluted columns and composite order capitals. To the left of the temple are buildings of a town and on the right rear is a Christian church with a bell tower supporting a cross. A mountain peak rises in the distant right, and in the lower-centre foreground are a peasant woman and a child; micromosaic set in steel backing, in 20th century rectangular giltwood frame

Place of Origin

Rome (made)

Date

late 18th century (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Mosaic, steel, giltwood

Object history note

Provenance: Stephen Lewis, London, 1969.

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

Micromosaic picture of the Temple of Sibyl at Tivoli, Rome, late 18th century

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. 81, p. 148. ISBN 0856675113.

Materials

Mosaic glass; Giltwood; Steel

Techniques

Mosaic; Carving

Collection

Metalwork Collection

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