Victorian 14K Micromosaic Brooch Pin

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Seller: n.v-29 (77) 98.7%, Location: Tetbury, Ships to: Worldwide, Item: 392312338949 This is a wonderful example of a late victorian micromosaic brooch pin depicting a large bowl of colourful flowers set into a raised chiselled plaque of black onyx and framed in a 14K solid gold frame with milgrain edges, accented on the outside edges with a further gold chain border. The brooch is fastened with a 14KT 'C' clasp and pin. The brooch measures 5.3 cm x 4.3 cm (2 inches x 1 3/4 inches) and is sold in excellent condition, with not a single tesserae missing and only the slightest signs of wear and tear. The gold is not hallmarked which is typical for pieces of this age, but has been acid tested. Micromosaics are a type of mosaic created from tiny fragments of glass, called tesserae. The tesserae are mosaic pieces made from an opaque vitreous glass or enamel in a multitude of colors called smalto. The smalto is pulled into rods or threads, called smalti filati(spun enamel), and then left to cool. After cooling, it is cut into hundreds of minute cubes or tesserae and arranged on a copper or gold tray to create a scene, portrait or landscape. During the mid-nineteenth century, black Belgian marble or “Noir Belge” was carved out and used as the background or base. The metal or stone supports are then filled with mastic or cement upon which the tesserae are carefully placed and arranged into the desired image. Once the mastic has hardened, the gaps between the tesserae are filled with colored wax and the whole picture is polished to achieve a smooth and even surface. It is an extremely laborious and painstaking art form. The mosaicist uses tweezers to apply hundreds, sometimes thousands, of tiny tesserae to create incredibly detailed and beautiful scenes. These mosaics could be fairly large panels or plaques inset on table tops or mounted on the wall, but more commonly they were made into much smaller oval or circular plaques that were worn as jewelry, incorporated into pendants, necklaces, earrings, brooches, and rings. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, these plaques were often made in Rome, and exported to London or Paris where they were mounted in jewelry. The term “micromosaic” was coined by the noted British collector of decorative arts, Sir Arthur Gilbert (1913-2001). Previously referred to as “Roman mosaics,” this term was thought to be historically misleading as, although these mosaics referenced ancient art, they did not exist until the late eighteenth century History The Vatican Mosaic Studio, which still exists today, was initially a part of a larger operation initiated by Pope Gregory XIII (1572-1585) to work on the mosaics that were being installed in St. Peter’s and on the altarpiece in the Vatican Basilica. In 1727, the Vatican Mosaic Studio was officially opened. Its purpose was to convert some of the deteriorating oil paintings in the basilica to sturdier mosaics. Over 35 paintings were remade into mosaics.1With the opening of the Vatican Mosaic Studio and the increase in the number of papal commissions, there was naturally a rise in the number of artisans employed in this field. During downtime in papal work, many of these craftsmen began to experiment with the use of minute tesserae to make portable and much smaller works of art that could be sold to the private market for a profit. The demand for these new micromosaic plaques and pictures grew steadily, reaching its zenith circa 1840-70s. Their popularity was based on the stimulation of travel in Europe during the late eighteenth to nineteenth centuries. With the end of events such as the French Revolution and the following Terror, it was finally safe to travel again to the Continent. Coupled with the improvement of the political situation in Europe was the steady growth of the middle and merchant classes. Travel to Europe was no longer a privilege of the upper classes and nobility. British and American tourists flocked to the cultural capitals of Europe like Rome and Florence on what was called the Grand Tour.3The Grand Tour was seen as a rite of passage in the education of those from the upper class and nobility. The trip could last anywhere from a few months to several years. As transportation between Britain, the United States and the Continent became easier and cheaper, members of the middle and merchant classes undertook similar trips to Europe. The goal of each traveler on the Grand Tour was to soak in the culture of these cities and expose oneself to as much art and music as possible. It became incredibly fashionable to pick up mementos or souvenirs from these lengthy trips. One type, in particular, was micromosaic jewelry. These early pieces featured subject matter such as ancient Roman ruins, flowers, birds, animals, and images of bucolic Italian peasant life. Many of them were inspired by renowned Old Master paintings or contemporary landscapes. Later pieces featured subject matter inspired by the explosion of archaeological discoveries throughout Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East during this period. In particular, ancient Pompeiian mosaics, motifs from Etruscan tombs, early Christian symbols, and hieroglyphs and emblems inspired by Ancient Egyptian artifacts.These trinkets were wonderful reminders of the amazing art that was being seen on these trips. A visit to the micromosaic shop became as important as visiting the famous ruins and museums when in Rome.4An important early inspiration for micromosaics, both in subject matter and technique, was a wall panel measuring 3 x 2 ½ feet that was discovered at Hadrian’s villa outside of Rome in 1737. It was referred to as the “Doves of Pliny” and was one of the finest examples of ancient mosaics to be discovered. It was actually a Roman copy of a work by Sosos, a Greek artist from the Hellenistic Period (second century A.D.) and was constructed out of marble tesserae. Unfortunately, by the beginning of the twentieth century, the demand for micromosaics began to dwindle. New fashions and influences in jewelry overtook the need and desire for these miniature plaques. The Art Deco movement was now fashionable in all areas of the arts, including jewelry. It celebrated the modern world and derived its decorative vocabulary from geometry and advancements in technology, especially in the area of transportation. It did not look to the past and antiquity as micromosaics had but instead looked to the future for inspiration. Sadly the demand for these exquisite works of art never came back in fashion and the production of newer pieces was relegated to poor quality, cheap souvenir trinkets. There are still a handful of master mosaicists working today in Rome with great skill and technique, but it is, unfortunately, a dying art form. In the last few years, there has been a resurgence of interest in jewelry and decorative arts from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. A recent auction at Sotheby’s offered an exceptionally fine early nineteenth-century micromosaic snuff-box which realized $170,000. The level of expertise and artistry in this box showcases the best of nineteenth-century micromosaics. Hopefully, with the publicity of more of these miniature masterpieces, the micromosaic will find favour again. Condition: Excellent condition with remarkable little signs of wear and tear and no missing tesserae, Modified Item: No, Country/Region of Manufacture: Italy, Gold Quality: 14KT, Type: Brooch/ Pin, Sub-Type: Micromosaic, Metal: Yellow Gold, Designer: unbranded, Featured Refinements: Micromosaic Jewellery, Main Gemstone: Onyx

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