Thursday, February 19, 2015

Antique Italian Micromosaics - A Grand Tour Souvenir

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Micromosaic (or micro mosaic) jewelry has a long and storied past. Micromosaics are created with extremely small tesserae, or mosaic pieces of glass. Historically, micromosaics date as far back as the ancient Byzantine and Roman empires. Byzantine micromosaics were especially fine, with tesserae as small as those found in the finest quality micromosaics of the 19th and 20th centuries. Byzantine mosaics are very rare and were almost all religious icons. The best known Byzantine micromosaic, depicting the Twelve Great Feasts of the Greek Orthodox Church, is located in the Bargello in Florence.

Micromosaics reached the height of their popularity during the mid 19th century. During this time period, anyone who was anyone would take a Grand Tour through Europe, inevitably spending an extended period in Italy. Rome became the center of production for micromosaic pieces which were then sold to the Grand Tour visitors. The souvenir micromosaics took many forms: jewelry, snuffboxes and trinket boxes, small panels to be set in furniture, paperweights, and small framed art pieces. Micromosaic jewelry quickly became extremely popular as the Grand Tour souvenir of choice.

Many pieces made for the tourist trade were standard Italian landscape scenes and were of nice but average quality. Usually, the pieces would depict such landmarks as the Colosseum or St Peter's Basilica, or ancient motifs like Pliny's doves and were a nice souvenir for the average visitor. However, certain jewelers in Italy concentrated on elevating the micromosaic to a glorious work of art.

This 19th century micro mosaic depicting Cupid (or Eros) in a chariot pulled by lions is signed Barberi, and is one of the most beautiful we've seen in a while. The mosaic itself is finely detailed and is surrounded by a Classical frame in 18k gold. The finest micromosaics used very small tesserare in a subtle color range to create delicately detailed scenes; the depth and realism of a  fine antique micromosaic is quite marvelous.

Examine this antique Italian micromosaic brooch in greater detail.

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