Wednesday, June 11, 2003

An important Italian micromosaic and marble topped bronze centre table, the top signed by Michelangelo Barberi and dated 1828

An important Italian micromosaic and marble topped bronze
centre table,
the top signed by Michelangelo Barberi and dated 1828
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....The bronze base, second quarter of the 19th century
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MEASUREMENTS
76cm. high, 108cm. diameter; 2ft. 6in., 3ft. 6½in.
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DESCRIPTION
the circular top inlaid with the portrait of Bacchus within a red and black frame, supported by four amphorae on a white marble ground with a lion, leaping boar, bull and leopard, within a Greek key border and scrolling vines, the bronze base on amphora supports joined by a panther-belt undertier and terminating in paw feet; constructional break to one corner of the undertier.
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THE MICROMOSAIC TOP:
The central roundel on this table top depicts Bacchus the God of wine in a pelt of a panther, draped in vines and grapes, although the source for it remains unknown to date. It is worth noting however, that the cartoon for Barberi's celebrated `Triumph of Love ' table which was originally intended for Pope Pius VII's at the Campidoglio was supplied by the Russian artist Feodor-Antonowitsch Bruni (1801-74) who studied in Rome before establishing himself in Moscow.
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A related bacchic medallion which is signed by the mosaicist Clemente Ciuli and dated 1825 can be found on a table top which was purchased by Lord Weston on a Grand Tour and later purchased by Sir Harry Calvert (d.1894) for Claydon House, Buckinghamshire.
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It is entirely appropriate that the border of this top depicts amphora vases which were used for storing wine in Antiquity. The prancing animals depicted mid flight are in the manner of Pompeiian bronzes which were normally supported on plinths. The animals depicted are the lion, boar and bull and the Bacchic panther.
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THE BASE:
This extraordinary base cast with the legs in the form of amphorae supported on the feet of a bacchic panther, whose pelt also forms the stretcher remains to date the work of an unidentified bronzier. It continues the bacchic theme of the top and although Benedetto Boschetti (d. 1870) was a Roman bronze-founder who would be capable of such fine work, he was a mosaicist and it seems unlikely that Barberi would resort to a rival rather than employ his own bronzier possibly from the Vatican workshops.
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The other explanation may be that the stand was cast abroad-either in Russia, as it could have been commissioned following Barberi's second trip to Moscow in 1827 or possibly in Paris. François-Honoré-Georges Jacob (1770-1841) and Georges-Alphonse Jacob-Desmalter (1799-1870) are known to have made stands in bronze for mosaic tops acquired in Italy.
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Michelangelo Barberi (b. Rome 1787, d. 1867)
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He was the foremost micromosaicist in the early 19th century and differed with most of the mosaicists of the period who received their training at the Vatican, as his training was in the secular arts and his brothers were painters and his father Camillo Barberi (1746-1809), was an architect, designer and painter.
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The Barberi family moved to Paris to live with the Piranesi family, who made and sold prints and the Barberi family returned to Rome during the reign of Pius VII. Camillo left many sketches for decorative objects such a frames, lamps, coffee-pots and goblets in addition to his architectural projects.
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This artistic background must have had a profound influnce on Michelangelo Barberi's work. His designs utilise all the neo-classical repetory such as wreaths, putti, Imperial eagles, portrait medallions, and mythological figures and in around 1820 he was apprenticed to the mosaicist Cesare Aguatti and worked at the Vatican workshops.
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He completed in 1823 a table top `Triumph of Love' designed by Felice (Feodor) Antonovich Bruni (Russia 1801-1874), now in the Hermitage, St. Petersburg, which established his reputation which was purchased in 1827, by Czar Nicolas I on Barberi's second trip to Russia which was to prove the start of his long-standing trading relationship with Russia.
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Barberi's table tops were in demand by the European nobility from the 1820's onwards, and he set up shop at 148 Via Rasella near Piazza di Spagna, which his daughter Isabella eventually managed. He enjoyed the patronage of the English aristocracy on the Grand Tour and in 1847, he is known to have provided a mosaic top with the arms of the 13th Duke of Norfolk as well as a table for Matthew Boulton at Great Tew.
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The themes of Barberi's table tops were mainly based on literary subjects and he describes several of them in his publication of 1856; Alcuni mosaici usciti dallo studio del Cav. Michel'Angelo Barberi.
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He produced miniature mosaics based on secular and classical literary subjects. He was engaged to train in 1847, four Russian students from the Academy of Art in St. Petersburg and under his tutelage in Rome from 1847-51, they executed two copies of the mosaic floor of the Sala Rotunda of the Vatican.
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Barberi's table now in the Gilbert Collection, The Beautiful Sky of Italy, won the only Gold Medal awarded to the Papal State in the London Great Exhibition of 1852-4. He also executed a view of the Roman Forum and other views of Rome for the decoration of the mantelpieces and floors in the villa of Prince Demidoff (1813-70) in Florence.
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He was a member of several academies by 1856, including the renowned Institution of Virtuousos at The Pantheon, and was named Commander of the Order of St. Sylvester by Pius IX.
Sale: L03311 | Location: London, New Bond Street, Auction Dates: Session 1: Wed, 11 Jun 03 10:30 AM, LOT 153, 173,600 GBP
PROVENANCE: Private collection (SDK)
(Formerly Sold as lot 30, Christie's, London, 12th June 1997 for £287,500)