Brooch, Castellani, c.1875

Gold and micromosaic

A13189 Wartski micro mosaic brooch 27802

decorated with a circular micromosiac panel depicting the head of a male lion against a cream ground, set within a gold frame flanked by two tied batons highlighted with twisted gold wire.

Length: 4cm – Height: 3.5cm

Signed to the reverse with Castellani’s mark of two interlaced C’s. Rome, circa 1870

See page 58 of ‘Castellani and Giuliano: Revivalist Jewellers of the 19th Century’ for a similar brooch.

It was during the late 18th Century that Italian craftsman started to produce the first micromosiacs. This new medium incorporated thousands of tiny glass tesserae to build up extraordinarily detailed scenes which were small enough to be fitted into the lids of snuff boxes or into pieces of jewellery. It was the Castellani family in particular who appreciated its potential for jewellery design, as Augusto Castellani wrote:

“in 1852 Caetani, Duke of Sermoneta and the Castellani family had the idea of combining mosaic with goldsmith’s work. Directing the mosaicist’s work according to the taste for the antique, they raised it to finesse and perfection that harmonized superbly with their jewels and that mosaic had never reached.”

The firm was hugely ambitious in its use of this new medium, often choosing to produce miniatures of complex ancient Roman and Byzantine mosaics found in churches and ruined temples, to an astonishing degree of delicacy and detail. The mosaic panel set in this brooch, for example, is very redolent of a Roman floor mosaic discovered in the House of Doves in Pompeii, which depicts a lion killing a leopard.

As a subject for a micromosaic, the lion was particularly apt as it appears a great deal in Roman art work and clearly had a special significance. The lion was a key character in the gladiatorial arena; a terrifying beast from a distant world, captured and tamed by the might of the Roman Empire. The lion became a symbol of Roman prosperity because, despite its immense natural strength, it had been conquered by Rome.

Castellani may not, however, just be referring to this particular connotation (that of Roman pride) in this particular work of art. There is something serene about the face of the lion depicted in this micromosiac (particularly when compared to the snarling visage of the lion in the Pompeian mosaic), which suggests an alternate meaning. In the middle ages, the lion became a symbol of the Resurrection, because according to bestiaries, it was believed that the cubs of the lion when born lay dead for three days before the father breathed life into them. It is likely that Castellani will have known about this later association and may well be alluding to it in the passive face of this traditionally savage beast.