Spotlight on the Art of Micromosaics
Although the term “micromosaic” is nowadays associated with mosaics created in the 18th century, the drive to produce the finest mosaics possible with miniature glass (or stone) elements, existed since the ancient times.
They were first made in Mesopotamia some six thousand years ago. In the late 18th century this long surviving technique became a decorative art and was often used in jewellery.
It has a large presence in Switzerland and GemGenève is on a mission to make it fashionable again. Which is why this autumn they dedicated an entire exhibition space to the Magnificent Art of Micromosaics!
From Switzerland to Italy, from Villa Boscéaz to the Gilbert Collection at the V&A Museum, from the the Doves of Pliny to the The Dream of Karpa Koï bracelet by Maurizio Fioravanti, the exhibition “Micromosaics Through The Ages” offers visitors an overview of this lost art and expertise through unpretentious scenography.
The exhibition combines fragments of Roman mosaics from the Avenches archaeological site (Switzerland) and geometric motifs from one of the magnificent mosaics from the Villa Boscéaz site near Orbe (Switzerland), with pieces of late 18th – early 19th century jewellery, including micromosaics in figurative elements typical of the Grand Tour period and fashion of the time. In addition, there will be some absolutely exceptional pieces from the contemporary micromosaic artist Maurizio Fioravanti (Vamgard); thereby tracing the line across almost 2000 years of expertise.
Conferences & Round Tables
In French: L’art de la micro-mosaïque, origines, inspirations et techniques (The art of micromosaics, origins, inspiration and techniques) Sophie Bärtschi, curator for the collections from the Roman Site and Museum at Avenches, and Alice Minter, Curator of the Rosalinde & Arthur Gilbert Collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, will discuss this topic in detail. The conference will be hosted by jewellery historian Gislain Aucremanne.
In English: Splendida et Minuta – Fashionable Roman Micro Mosaic Jewels. Presentation by Anna Maria Massinelli (professor, author and former curator of the Gilbert Collection). A Grand tour around the XVIII and XIX century production, from the origins in Rome to the Napoleonic court and the archaeological revival.
In English: From Cracked Paintings to Micromosaics – The Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Collection of Micromosaic (V&A Museum). Overview of the richness of this collection of micromosaic pieces, the most significant collection of this art in the world. Hosted by Alice Minter, curator of the collection.
Treasures from private collections of the Roman Museum in Avenches and the Gallo-Roman Villa of Orbe-Boscéaz gathered at GemGenève to exhibit World’s Best Micromosaics through the ages!
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Mosaic of the Deities
Discovered in 1862 – Villa Bosceaz, Orbe (VD)
This mosaic is the most remarkable one in Switzerland and one of the richest mosaics in the West. It has been very finely and carefully made (the tesserae in the geometric structure have sides measuring between 5 and 8 mm). Its thirteen figurative medallions were made with tesserae between around 3 to 5 mm. The rich colour palette of the tesserae – almost twenty colours – is ensured by the materials used: natural or baked rocks, coloured glass paste, ceramic. This tiling decorated a relaxation area in the bath suite at the villa. The entrance to the room faces west, at the level of the gap in the tiling.
Figurative representations, laid out in a spiral, correspond to seven planetary deities honoured in Roman times. They are the gods who gave their names to the days of the week as they are still called today (mainly in French). According to the order of reading the medallions in a centrifugal motion, from the entrance to the room marked by a geometric panel, you can see:
Saturn, the god of time, harvests and viticulture, holding a serpent in his left hand (Saturni dies – Saturday – samedi) ;
Sun, the Sun god driving his quadriga* (Solis dies – Sunday) ;
Moon, the goddess Luna guiding her chariot* (Lunae dies – lundi) ;
Mars, the god of war, on a seat carried by two Victories (Martis dies – mardi) ;
Mercury, the divine messenger sitting astride a ram (Mercurii dies – mercredi) ;
Jupiter, king of the gods, riding his eagle and holding a lightning bolt and sceptre (Jovis dies – jeudi) ;
Venus, the goddess of beauty, looking at herself in a mirror and enthroned on a bench carried by two Cupids (Veneris dies – vendredi) ;
On the north-south axis, two other medallions illustrate mythological characters: Ganymede taken by Jupiter’ eagle to serve as cup-bearer to the gods and Narcissus admiring his reflection in the water.
Associated with Venus, the sea gods – fish-tailed Tritons and Nereids – frame the composition, symbolising the ocean surrounding the terrestrial world.
Busts of the Seasons punctuate the corners of the rug, completing the cyclical time marked by the deities of the week. Only Spring and Autumn are still visible.
All around the central panel, the frieze shows a hunting scene with animals in full flight: dogs, horses, wild boar, a lion, a bull, a panther, stags and hinds, as well as a bearded hunter with a hound on a lead. It illustrates the hunts which took place in the field and in amphitheaters.
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In the 2nd century AD, the largest Roman farm (villa rustica) north of the Alps was on the Boscéaz plateau, to the north of what is now town of Orbe.
Following a latifundium model, the villa comprised a farm and its owner’s luxurious residence, located at the centre of an enclosed area of 16 ha in size. In the surrounding area, fields, pasture, forests and water courses, formed part of the property, the fundus, which was exploited by around ten farm workers, free men and/or slaves.
The residential area, symmetric in design, spread over 230 m long and comprised buildings, courtyards, colonnades, and ornamental gardens. From a 300 x 30 m terrace, it looks out onto the plain and the panorama of the Alps. This big palace of around one hundred rooms included around ten decorated with mosaic floors.
Discovered between 1845 and 1994, nine mosaics have been preserved in situ and eight are currently accessible to the public. They are the most significant set of Roman mosaics visible in Switzerland.
Given that out of a corpus of 500 mosaics discovered in Switzerland, only around forty, concentrated around the regional capital, Avenches, have figurative themes, the significance of villa d’Orbe Boscéaz is evident, where six out of ten of the mosaics are figurative!
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Mosaic of the Seasons, Roman Site and Museum in Avenches / Aventicum (VD)
Fragments from a prestigious mosaic created in AD 200 and rediscovered in 1822 in Avenches. It represents personifications of the seasons, as well as animals (lion, stag, bird, etc.), and is the finest mosaic to have been excavated at the Roman town of Aventicum.
The building it adorned, a huge country house built near the Roman urban area, is known only by aerial views. The undocumented excavations of 1822 only uncovered a few fragments of this particularly fine mosaic, which must have covered the floor of a large reception room.
The Roman town of Aventicum, capital of the Helvetian people, administered a territory that spread from Lake Leman to Lake Constance, between the Jura Massif and the Alps. One hundred and twenty mosaics, including this one, have been rediscovered there since 1676.
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The Dream of Karpa Koï, by micromosaic artist, Maurizio Fioravanti, 2017
A micromosaic, carbon fibre and diamond bracelet.
© Collection G. Torroni SA
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Lapis-lazuli and aventurine box depicting a dog.
Believed to be made by Vicenzo Raffaelli. Circa 1850.
© Collection G. Torroni SA
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Rare two-sided bracelet depicting monuments from Ancient Rome on a white background and allegorical animals on a blue background. Circa 1800.
© Collection G. Torroni SA
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Antique Micromosaic and Paste Frontlet, Circa 1810
Composed of a translucent opalescent paste plaque, centering an oval micromosaic depicting a bird on a chariot drawn by butterflies, framed by two smaller micromosaic depicting butterflies, each inlaid within a sunstone imitation surround (goldstone), the frontlet comprising gold wirework of scroll design, with granulation details and sead pearl accents, the micromosaics attributed to Giacomo Raffaelli (Rome 1753 1836), circa 1810, frontlet circa 0.8 x 12.0 x 14.0cm, central micromosaic circa 2.0 x 3.0cm, side micromosaics circa 0.8 x 1.0cm
Notes: This is an allegory of the Myth of Psyche. The bird represents Eros on a chariot drawn by psyche, represented by a butterfly
© Faerber Collection
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Antique Micromosaic and Gold Brooch, Circa 1860
The circular brooch centering upon a micromosaic on an ocher resin base, depicting the Lamb of God wearing a gold halo and carrying the vexillum with the Latin Cross, on a starry background, within a surround of Etruscan revival design, decorated with gold granulation and vector motifs, bearing the inscription ECCE AGNUS DEI (Behold the lamb of God), mounted in yellow gold, circa 1860, circa 5.3 cm diameter
© Faerber Collection
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Micromosaic on a Diamond Cage Bracelet by Vamgard
The bracelet composed of articulated rectangular-shaped woodcarbon panels, joined by gold frames bordered with a row of single-cut diamonds for a total weight of 6.89 carats, the panels decorated with butterflies, a snail, a cricket and a red berry branch motif, mounted in 18k pink gold, with Italian marks 1263RM, signed VAMGARD and numbered ROMA 01, one panel featuring the artists signature, dated 2016, 19.0 x 8.0 cm, with grey leather VAMGARD original fitted case.
© Faerber Collection
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Micromosaic Parure, Circa 1809
Comprising a comb, a necklace, a pair of earrings and a brooch.
Given by Caroline Bonaparte, sister of Emperor Napoleon, wife of Joachim, Prince Murat, Marshal of Empire, Grand-Duke of Berg and Clèves, Prince of the French, King of Naples between 1808 and 1815, on the occasion of the marriage of Alphonse de Colbert Chabanais, Count of Chabanais, and Eugenie Petiet.
Joachim Murat, Grand-Duke of Berg, King of Naples, Marshal of Empire, and Caroline Bonaparte, Princess of the French, Countess of Lipona, Queen of Naples, were witnesses for the marriage of Alphonse de Colbert Chabanais, Count of Chabanais, and Eugenie Petiet, on 9 March 1809. Then by descent.
© Private collection. Special thanks to Phillips Auctioneers.
Project created on the instigation of Mathieu Dekeukelaire (GemGenève), with the collaboration and support of the Faerber Collection, the G.Torroni SA collection, Vamgard, the Roman Site and Museum at Avenches in the person of its curator Sophie Bärtschi, Villa Boscéaz in the person of Yves Dubois, and the Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Collection in the person of its curator, Alice Minter.
The idea is to highlight and popularize the expertise and lost arts of the jewellery business at GemGenève through exhibitions, round tables, conferences, workshops, partnerships with museums and educational institutions. In May 2022 the programme L’émail : l’Art du feu et des couleurs (Enamel: The Art of fire and colours) was created with:
- An exhibition of several Cartier, Fabergé, and Lalique pieces loaned by exhibitors and private collectors;
- A conference led by the Fondation Igor Carl Fabergé;
- A round table with interventions from the curators of MAH, Fondation Baur, MIH and the famous enameller Anita Porchet;
Enamel workshops with students from CFP Arts de Genève with the support of Richard Carbonnelle, Head of training in Fine Jewellery / Costume Jewellery.
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