A Roman Micromosaic Plaque Depicting a Basket of Flowers

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Object Description

A Roman Micromosaic Plaque Depicting a Basket of Flowers.

Inscribed verso ‘From The Townshend Colln.’, ‘Poe 200, Florentine Mosaic’, ‘Christie’s’, with a printed label ‘Ramus Bros. Dealers in Works of Art, 87 Piccadilly, London, W’.

16.5 x 18 cm, the plaque
18.5 x 20 cm, overall

Italy, Circa 1810-30.

Object History

Probably Rev. Chauncy Hare Townshend (1798-1868), poet and collector.

The term ‘micromosaic’ refers to mosaics made of the smallest glass pieces, and some contain more than 5000 pieces per square inches. The depiction of flower filled baskets are popular in mosaic art and are thought to derive from a large ancient Roman floor mosaic discovered in 1790 at the Quintilii. By the 19th century, mosaicists working at the Vatican Mosaic Workshop in Rome had perfected thin strands of pulled glass in a limitless pallet of colours which could be cut into miniscule tesserae and placed with unbelievable dexterity to create painterly compositions which at first glance appear to be oil paintings. Only on close inspection can it be observed that, on the contrary, these phenomenally detailed paintings are made from thousands of minute glass tiles. The perfection of the mosaicist’s art is evident in the present work whereby the tessarea are placed vertically, horizontally and even at angles, and combine vivid colours with expert shading to create a most lifelike depiction.

Outside of the Vatican itself and the Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, the most comprehensive collection of micromosaics forms part of the extraordinary Gilbert Collection, one of the world’s great decorative art collections, at the V&A Museum, London, formed by Sir Arthur Gilbert and his wife Rosalinde and given to Britain in 1996. In the Gilbert Collection there is a closely related plaque with basket of flowers measuring 5 x 7.4 cm (LOAN:GILBERT.215-2008). A source of inspiration is the mosaic floor panel of a flower filled basket at the Vatican Museum.

Floral subjects were popular with the Vatican Mosaicists of the 19th century, who also set up commercial workshops and galleries to sell micromosaics to Grand Tourists visiting Rome. The exceptionally fine detail of the mosaic and the different shapes of tesserae give an attribution to Antonio Aguatti (d.1846). Located at 96 Piazza di Spagna in Rome, Aguatti’s studio was responsible for the increase in different shaped and fused colours of tesserae, both of which allowed for a more painterly quality in the medium.

A pencil inscription to the reverse of the frame notes provenance ‘from the Townshend Collection’. This most likely refers to Chauncy Hare Townshend (1798-1868), poet and collector. He was a collector of gems and geological specimens and bequeathed his important collection of 154 gems to the South Kensington Museum (now the V&A) in 1869. As such a collector, it is befitting that Chauncy Hare Townshend was the owner of this fine example of the art of micromosaic.

Object Details

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