UNDER THE HAMMER.
Byline: Mike Litherland
HEY say small is beautiful - and they don't get any smaller than micro mosaics.
The 19th-century Italian micromosaic picture below - depicting the falls at Tivoli - recently sold for PS2,800, and was probably originally bought in The Grand Tour period.
Micromosaics area special form of mosaic that uses unusually small pieces called tesseraea (small blocks of stone or glass); later Italian pieces used enamel-like material.
Surviving ancient Roman mosaics include some very finely worked panels using very small tesserae, especially from Pompeii, but only from Byzantine art are there very rare icons in micromosaic with tesserae as small as the best from the modern period.
From the Renaissance, they began to be made in Italy, reaching the height of their popularity in the mid-19th century, when Rome was the centre of production; there was a Vatican Mosaic Studio from 1576, set up to create mosaic replicas of the altarpieces in St Peter's Basilica.
They were popular purchases by visitors on the Grand Tour, typical scenes were landscapes of Roman views, and the micromosaics were small panels inset into furniture or onto snuffboxes and similar objects, or for jewellery which became popular during the Grand Tour period (17th - 19th century). Rich people would travel around Europe, taking in the sights and cultures of different countries. Italy was very popular, as it had a long and prestigious history in arts and culture.
Micromosaic jewellery of this period usually depicted Italian landmarks such as the Colosseum and St Peter's Basilica, though occasionally Roman mythology was a subject, too. The richest tourists would commission mosaics, with animals and famous works of art being favourite subjects. The small size was appealing; they could be worn on the journey, or sent home to loved ones as a kind of fore-runner to postcards.
Italian craftsmen quickly turned their glass making skills to making stunning miniature pictures for their rich visitors. Religious subjects were copied from paintings.
The best collections are in the Hermitage Museum and the Gilbert Collection, in London.