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Micromosaic Gold Mounted Jasper Snuff Box Early 19th Century Italian Gioacchino Barberi #2932

An Exceptional and Highly Important Micromosaic Gold Mounted Jasper Snuff Box, most probably by Gioacchino Barberi with the box likely by Moulinié, Bautte & Moynier. 

Rome & Possibly Geneva circa. 1810 


Of green-coloured jasper, mounted in gold, the cover inserted with a micro mosaic panel of the finest quality, worked with a composition of the Capitoline Doves, having a later leather carrying box.

This fine box features a micro mosaic panel of exquisite quality, probably by Gioacchino Barberi of the Barberi workshop in Rome. The panel shows the Capitoline doves, also known as the doves of Pliny. The original Roman mosaic was re-discovered in Hadrian's Villa as part of excavations there in 1737. This is one of the more commonly-encountered panels seen on boxes and other micro mosaic objects but there are several aspects to our panel that make it very rare indeed. As pointed out in Micromosaics: The Gilbert Collection, a summary of the pre-eminent Rosalinde and Sir Arthur Gilbert collection of such pieces currently housed in the Victoria and Albert Museum, it is very rare to find a micro mosaic of this subject that features the reflection of the central dove drinking from the water. Sir Arthur had six versions of this panel mounted on boxes in his collection and even with his exacting standards, only three of these pieces feature the reflection. When looking at micro mosaics in collections more generally, those without Sir Arthur's enormous bank balance behind them, the contrast in numbers is much more marked. Most of the examples that do show the dove's reflection fail to show the ripples in the water caused by the dove's beak breaking the surface and again this fine detail is present in our piece.


A comparison with this box in the Gilbert collection is instructive.




It is always difficult to reproduce curves effectively in this medium and the box in the Gilbert collection is much more blocky-see for example the execution of the mouldings on the base of the bowl from which the doves drink. The Gilbert box features silver gilt mounts and an opaque glass body whereas our piece features gold mounts and a jasper body, further proof that our piece was destined for a truly elite client as the price would have been extremely steep indeed when new.


The Attribution to the Barberi Workshop


Several members of the Barberi family in Rome were involved in the production of micro mosaics. Michaelangelo Barberi seems to have concentrated on large tops produced for furnishing purposes, particularly table tops, but his uncle Gioacchino Leone Ulisse (1782-1857) is recorded as a leading producer of miniature micro mosaic items. The Barberis enjoyed the patronage of an elite clientele of tourists and native consumers, clients including Emperor Napoleon III and countless members of Britain's aristocracy throughout the 19th century. A rare example of a table top made by Gioacchino Barberi was sold at Sotheby's New York 12 April 2011, lot 254. The piece was originally made for Prince Anatole Demidoff.


Gioacchino's workshop was located at 99 Piazza di Spagna and he is believed to have pioneered the use of black enamel smalti, utilised by his firm when reproducing wall paintings from Herculaneum in the micro mosaic technique. A very fine animal subject snuff box by Barberi is illustrated in Jeanette Gabriel, The Gilbert Collection, Micromosaics, 2000, cat. 18. This piece was mounted in a box by A. J. Strachan of London and hallmarked for 1807-1808.


Barberi is known to have entered in to a partnership with the Geneva-based firm of box makers Moulinié, Bautte and Moynier and a small number of boxes by the firm with Barberi micro mosaic plaques survive (see for example one which sold at Sotheby’s London, 10 May 2016, lot 254). Given the outstanding quality of our piece, it is likely to have been one of the joint productions of these two wonderful firms of artisans

Width: 3 1/3 inches - 8.5cm
Height: 1 inch - 2.5cm
Depth: 2 1/2 inches - 6.5cm

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