Miniatures have been treasured throughout history for the detail, their size and their artistic expression, so it is no surprise when these micromosaics made from spun enamel glass, that they too would be treasured and collected. Though this art was exemplified in the Byzantine times, then in Rome, there are very few creative studios that still produce them using the age old techniques that created incredible collections like those seen in London and the Hermitage in Russia. In fact, Traversari is one of the few that still study and utilize the skills developed 100’s of years before to create original and beautiful works of art.
The miniature originally grew as a way to convey the story and meaning of the written word. In fact, the art of miniature painting is directly connected to illustrations in books. As time passed, the images were cut out of books or documents so that they could be carried more easily. From this came the idea of the “portable” portrait miniature and artists were commissioned to paint small portraits – paintings that were used as we use wallet sized photographs today.
These micro mosaics made from Murano glass or enamel basically have the same idea – to make an image or memory portable – are made from sticks of glass and/or enamel or what they call wands – which look a bit like a squashed straw (about 30cm in length and about 1mm in thickness). These sticks are then cut into little pieces (about 3mm high) and placed together to create an image such as a floral, a landscape of Roman ruins or a copy of other well known works of art. It is an art of patience, carefully cutting the pieces and then compiling them to create an image.
The micro mosaic was born in Rome in the second half of the 1700’s when the decoration in the Basilica in Rome was nearing completion, resulting in putting many mosaic craftsmen out of work. These craftsmen returned to their own workshops and began to produce mini mosaics. These works of art in fact quickly became popular with the tourists on the Grand Tour since there were easily packaged and carried home. Typical scenes were landscapes of Roman views and ruins, sometimes micromosaics were used as small panels in furniture, inlays on snuff boxes, framed images or even as jewelry.
A distinctive feature of micromosaics is that the tesserae, which is the Italian name for the tiny elements of glass or enamel that make up the image, are usually oblong rather than square. Many images will also show tesserae which have more than one color in them, these pieces of Murano glass are actually a work of art in themselves. Amazing but beautiful, some of the best work can achieve 3,000 to 5,000 tesserae per square inch.