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Picture - St. Mark's Basilica, Venice

St. Mark's Basilica, Venice

  • Object:

    Picture

  • Place of origin:

    Rome (possibly, made)
    Venice (possibly, made)

  • Date:

    1875-1900 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Micromosaic, marble, gilt wood

  • Credit Line:

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

  • Museum number:

    LOAN:GILBERT.126:1,2-2008

  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

Venice has been a centre of mosaic production since early Christian times. This exquisite micromosaic depicts the main façade of the Saint Mark's basilica with its famous mosaics. To present a mosaic in micromosaic form is a particular challenge for the mosaicist. The hue of colours appears warmer and earthier than that of many Roman works of the period. The glass pieces are rather small for a micromosaic of this size and are set unusually close to one another with hardly any visible interstices. The tesserae used are especially beautiful and multicoloured - the rosettes of the lancet windows for example are formed by one single orange-and-black piece of glass. Such technical aspects render the mosaic almost photorealistic. The mosaic and its comparatively thick, moulded slate frame are also set in metal backing. All these characteristics are unusual for a Roman micromosaic of the period and - in combination with the subject matter - allow for the possibility that it was made in Venice.

The glass manufacturers of Venice - especially Salviati - became the leading providers of traditionally-made wall mosaics, whilst Roman craftsmen remained unrivalled in creating exquisite micromosaics in the smalti filati technique. Today, it is still not entirely clear to what extent Venice competed with Rome in this market in the late 19th century. The Tigress by Decio Podio in the Gilbert Collection appears to show the traditional cube tesserae alongside masterly used smalti filati. It is still unknown whether or not Podio worked for Salviati & Co. An oval mosaic portrait miniature of Prince Albert in the Victoria & Albert Museum proves experiments with minuscule cube tesserae had being taking place in Venice since the 1860s. This, in combination with the mosaic of Saint Mark's basilica and The Tigress by Decio Podio, highlights the importance of further research into Venetian contribution to the art of mosaics in the nineteenth century.

The question of this particular mosaic's origin is closely linked to the date of its creation. As well as the depiction of Saint Mark's façade (which was altered and restored in the 19th century), the appearance of the square and the clothing of the figures also hint towards a dating of the piece. Together, they suggest a date after the collapse of the Campanile in 1902, as shown in photographic images from the time.

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

Rectangular micromosaic set in black marble depicting the facade of St. Mark's Basilica, Venice. The roof of the church has multiple domes with ogee-shaped finials. The top of the facade has one central arch and four side arches, while the lower facade has five arches over the portals. All but the central top arch contain figural mosaics.

Place of Origin

Rome (possibly, made)
Venice (possibly, made)

Date

1875-1900 (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Micromosaic, marble, gilt wood

Object history note

Provenance: Florence Goldman Galleries, New York, ca. 1950; Phyllis Hammond, Arlington, 1995.

Historical significance: The Basilica of St Mark's, Venice is a highly important example of Veneto-Byzantine architecture, incorporating Byzantine, Romanesque and Gothic elements. The extensive mosaic programme was begun after the completion of the structure using both Greek and Venetian mosaicists.

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.

The Basilica of St Mark was begun by Doge Domenico Contarini in the 11th century to demonstrate the wealth and power of Venice. After the church's completion, both Greek and Venetian mosaicists were employed to decorate the basilica. The lunettes of the façade shown in this picture depict scenes of the translation of St Mark's body to the basilica.

The present basilica of St Mark is the third structure built on the site. It has been the Cathedral of Venice since 1807.

Descriptive line

Picture depicting St Mark's Basilica, Rome or Venice. Micromosaic, gilt mosaic and marble, late 19th 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. 102, p. 170. ISBN 0856675113.

Labels and date

St Mark's Basilica
1875-1900

The Basilica of St Mark was begun by Doge Domenico Contarini in the 11th century to demonstrate the wealth and power of Venice. After the church's completion, both Greek and Venetian mosaicists were employed to decorate the basilica. The lunettes of the facade shown in this picture depict scenes of the translation of St Mark's body to the basilica.

Rome or Venice, Italy
Glass micromosaic and marble
Museum no. Loan: Gilbert.126:1,2-2008 [2009]

Materials

Mosaic glass; Marble; Gilt wood

Techniques

Micromosaic; Setting; Framing; Gilding

Categories

Christianity; Metalwork; Religion

Collection

Metalwork Collection

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