Micromosaic “Rest at the Tritons Fountain”, Rome, last quarter of the 19th century


Small rectangular mosaic picture in an iron box. There is depicted a group of commoners parked at the Fountain of the Tritons in the square of the Bocca della Verità. On the right the Temple of Hercules and a drinking trough with figures. Golden box frame, carved, partially engraved with burin with elements of classic taste.

Dimensions: 31 x 41 cm 52.5 x 62.5 cm (with frame)

( 12,2 x 16,1 in ; 20,6 x 24,6 in with frame )


Historical-critical analysis:

As Alvar González-Palacios writes, “The great mosaic activity in the center of Christianity, linked to the decoration of St. Peter’s Basilica, begins during the pontificate of Gregory XIII”. Giovan Battista Calandra will be the mosaicist of Pope Paul VI and will create the first mosaic placed in St. Peter’s, the San Michele Arcangelo by Cavalier D’Arpino, will then be commissioned to create the mosaics for the chapel of the Annunciation for the Cardinal Filomarino in Naples in 1647: mosaic paintings were in fact considered more expensive but preferable because they are eternal.

In 1727 it can be considered that in the Vatican there was now a real Studio for the production of the Mosaic; it was in fact in those years that the chemist Alessio Mattioli invented a formula that allowed the manufacture of glazes based on stucco and linseed oil, which allowed the production of very small tesserae; this allowed, under the direction of Pietro Paolo Cristofari (superintendent of the Vatican Studio) to produce the first mosaic paintings of reduced dimensions of excellent quality which became one of the usual gifts of the popes to the great of the earth.

A further step forward in the technique of realization will be given by the ability, in the second half of the eighteenth century, to create thin rods by melting the glazes so as to be able to cut the small colored tiles as needed. At the end of the century there are several workshops and mosaicists, among the best known we remember Giacomo Raffaelli and Cesare Aguatti.

It was in fact from the mid-18th century to the end of the 19th century, with the development and growth of the Grand Tour and slowly with the rediscovery of classic taste, driven by the findings in progress in the excavations of Pompeii and Herculaneum, that the micro mosaics became very fashionable items. Several shops flourished that produced boxes and paintings, frames, but also table tops. These mosaics look to the classical world by reproducing the paintings and mosaics that came to light thanks to archaeological excavations but also famous paintings or landscapes with Roman ruins.

The success of the Grand Tours brought scholars and aristocrats from all over Europe to Italy who provided the shops with new customers willing to spend. In Rome, some shops of stonecutters, bronzers and specialized mosaicists took action to supply products suited to the wishes of this clientele, often collaborating with each other. For a visitor who had just finished the Tour of the excavations and Roman ruins, taking possession of one of these objects was not only the purchase of a souvenir, but satisfied the desire to search for beauty and culture, making the buyer a perfectly fashionable enlightenment.

Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein - Goethe in the Roman “Campagna” during his Grand Tour

The tiles were laid out on a marble surface or on iron boxes and could have bronze frames or carved and gilded wood, the quality of the support depended above all on the recipient of the gift. The object described here is evidently made for the Grand Tour market.

The evidence is expressed by the choice of a square in which both ancient Romanism through the temple of Hercules and the Baroque one expressed by the Triton Fountain are visible. To these elements must be added a characteristic that is found with success also in painting, that of resuming a sunny landscape in which commoners are inserted in characteristic and colorful traditional clothes.

The construction of the micro mosaic panel in an iron box as well as the late classical decoration allow us to date this object between the seventies and eighties of the nineteenth century.


Alvar González-Palacios, Il tempio del gusto, ed. Longanesi 1984;
Alvar González-Palacios, Pittura per l’eternità, ed. Longanesi 2001.

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