Italian, active early
The Ruins of Paestum, 1805–30
Micromosaic, 77.3 x 188 x 14
Bequest of the Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation, Los Angeles, to American Friends
of the Israel Museum
In the late 18th century, artisans in Rome started using minute enamel tesserae – the small pieces of glass, stone, or enamel that make up a mosaic – to produce the first of what we now call micromosaics. This creative process was so refined that at times it was difficult to tell the difference between these works and oil paintings. Thousands of tiny tesserae were made by pouring molten enamel in a vast range of colors, perfected in order to reproduce the many hues of paint, onto a steel slab. After it had cooled, the material was cut into minute cubes or rods, and artisans assembled the compositions on a hollow marble base.
Framed like paintings, micromosaics could be landscapes, still lifes, portraits, or genre scenes – often copies of famous paintings by well-known artists. They were enormously popular with wealthy tourists in the mid-1800s, but by the end of the century, this magnificent yet extremely demanding art form had almost completely disappeared.