As the name would suggest micro mosaics are the very small version of mosaics, usually made to be worn as jewellery, or set into decorative arts pieces. They are created using tesserae packed very carefully, selected with incredible care & skill to produce a variety of images. These tesserae are tiny pieces of every coloured glass set into a complementary background. To produce these works of art, a craftsman heats vitreous beads of glass enamel, to melt the glass together and achieve a unique and uniform colour. Once sufficiently heated, the liquid glass is drawn out in long viscous strings or fileti to dry. The fileti are then cut into millimetre long oblong pieces called tesserae. A silver or gold piece of jewellery was used as the framework of the mosaic, and in preparation of the tiling, it was lined with a gum like substance. This adhesive takes up to three months to dry giving the artisan time to painstakingly lay each tesserae into place. In higher quality pieces of micro mosaic, each square inch of the piece of jewellery will contain between 3,000 and 5,000 individual tesserae tiles! Often more complicated pieces were made in individual cells as this period of 3 months was still not enough time to create the entire piece. Once all of the tiles had been laid a grout of sorts made with powdered marble was applied to hold the piece together.
There are very few master artists left that still know the entirety of the method to produce these miniature works of art. The actual term ‘micro mosaic’ was coined by wealthy 20th century collector Sir Arthur Gilbert in reference to Roman mosaics. The ancient Romans were masters of mosaic, as seen in pieces surviving Pompeii, so were the Byzantine artists, who made religious images of fine quality.
Wearing micromosaic jewelry became popular during the Grand Tour period (17th – 19th Century). Members of rich European families would travel around Europe, taking in the sights and cultures of different countries. Italy was a very popular tourist spot as it had a long and prestigious history in arts and culture – a favourite subject in aristocratic circles. A very productive relationship between glass producers & and Italian craftsmen quickly turned their glass making skills to making stunning miniature micromosaic pictures for their rich visitors.
As part of these trips, travellers would brush up their language skills, take up fencing, commission paintings of themselves amongst the ruins of Rome, and naturally, take home a few precious baubles they found along the way. Chief among these for visitors to Rome was micro mosaic.
The history of these intricate beauties dates back to the Vatican Mosaic Studio founded in 1567 established to recreate the masterful alter pieces in St Peter’s Basilica that had started to deteriorate due to the humid atmosphere of the crowded building. As Rome was such a popular destination for tourists of the day, these mosaics provided a wonderfully luxurious remembrance of their journey that was easy to transport home. Early artisans of the mosaics made small oblong plaques that could be sent home and inset into furniture and snuffboxes, with recreations of famous paintings and pastoral scenes.
Mosaic work jewellery of this period usually depicted famous Italian landmarks such as the Colosseum, the ancient ruins at Pompeii and St. Peter’s Basilica, though occasionally Roman mythology was a subject too. The richest tourists would commission their own mosaics, with animals and famous works of art being favourite subjects. The small size of the micromosaic was appealing; micro mosaics could be worn on the Grand Tourists’ continuing journey, or sent back home to loved ones like a kind of fore-runner to modern postcards. Micro mosaics were most commonly found as brooches and pendants but were also sold in large parures, demi parures, and as individual bracelets, necklaces and pairs of earrings. Cemented to a glass, stone or metal background and framed, the glass tesserae were originally so small, these brooches appeared to have been painted or enameled, until they were examined under a microscope. At first, the tesserae were rectilinear or square, but after a while, each piece could be individually shaped to resemble brush strokes. In the early 1800’s, commercial mosaic studios opened in Rome, offering the rapidly growing tourist market, micro mosaic mementos.
Inspired by the great mosaics of antiquity, the most direct inspiration for micro-mosaics was the so-called Doves of Pliny, a wall panel measuring roughly 3 by 2.5 feet, discovered in 1737 at Hadrian’s Villa outside Rome. The earliest micro-mosaics produced during the first half of the 19th century depicted naturalistic landscape scenes either incorporating monuments of ancient Rome or copied from 17th century landscape paintings. Flower bouquets and animal subjects were also popular motifs of early 19th century micro-mosaics.
Other than being sold in Italy, many micromosaics were exported to jewelers in London and Paris to be set into larger pieces.
Doves were another subject often depicted as they were symbolic to Romans of love but also emblematic to Christians of the Holy Spirit. The dove is commonly found in sentimental miniatures of the neoclassical period where it represents peace, love, purity and gentleness. When shown with an Olive Sprig it means Hope or Promise.
The Victorians were well versed at conveying messages through images & this could well be an engagement gift conveying the message of hope & promise to a particularly lucky lady. As a suite they very sweetly illustrate the two individual birds seeking the Promised Land, then united in the majestic brooch sharing one sprig & perched upon the bow & quiver of arrows of Cupid, united at last & immortalized forever.
The language of flowers was universally understood by the Victorians. The language of flowers, sometimes called floriography, is a means of cryptological communication through the use or arrangement of flowers.
Roses were used to represent love as they are currently, the colour did affect meaning however, as did their stage of bloom. Our exquisitely executed suite is quite three dimensional; with a flat white background set in concentric circles acting as a stark contrast to the explosion of colour & form that creates the bouquet on each of the pieces. It also reintroduces the bright white of the central chrysanthemum, each petal specially shaped and perfectly balanced, as they are in life.
This is no artists’ impression of some flowers; this is a very lifelike & supremely skilful wearable sculpture that tells the world a message.
What is that message?
Each of the roses are full blown, shown as golden yellow, red & pink. I found several lists with some variation in meanings, but I have reached consensus with these:
Red, love & respect
Yellow, joy & friendship
Dark Pink, thankfulness
Forget-me-not, remember me, memories
White Chrysanthemum, you’re a wonderful friend, truth
Then the tricky one, the tiniest four petalled yellow one…it took some searching but I found it!
Potentilla erecta – TormentilTormentil has tiny flowers, usually 1cm to 1.5cm across and the colour of buttercups. This wildflower is easily distinguished from a buttercup because, although its leaves are similar to those of buttercups, the flowers of Tormentil have just four petals, unlike most other members of the botanical family Rosaceae, which have five. This wildflower is widespread and common throughout Britain and Ireland, and is found also across most of northern Europe. This dear little flower is often known as Cinquefoil, & its meaning is found to be Beloved Child, Maternal Affection.
There is also a meaning ascribed to a bouquet of full blooms, that of Gratitude.
Whether this was a gift to a mother from a thoughtful son or daughter, or a wonderful gift to soothe a child not taken on the tour, or another explanation entirely we cannot know, can they be adored purely for their gorgeousness? Absolutely!