from ancient times to the xviii century

the art of micromosaic

An essential part of Roman culture

An historical outline of Micromosaic

Micromosaic is an essential part of Roman culture. Romans used mosaics to decorate walls in villas, floors, table tops and other objects. This tradition was handed down for centuries up to the 1300s, when the increased need to preserve paintings from moisture found a solution in reproducing them with micromosaic.

A closeup view of a mosaic in Saint Peter's basilica, Rome
"Smalto filato", soon to be broken into micro tiles

the vatican mosaic studio

In the mid 1700s the Vatican Mosaic Studio (also known as Reverend Factory of Saint Peter) invented a new kind of mosaic. Technically the same as the classic one but with spinned enameled oxide tiles, much smaller and thinner than the old tiles made from hard stone or marble.

To get an idea of the difference in size between the two types of mosaic, just think about the thickness of a tile: 1 cm in mosaic, up to 0.1 cm in micromosaic. Once created, the new art expanded itself in every field allowing miniature work.

Souvenirs for the Grand Tour

Small Roman Mosaic was a flourishing trade between the XVIII and the XIX century

A flourishing trade (but not for those who produced micromosaic) started then, ranging from pieces of jewellery like brooches, bracelets, necklaces and earrings, to snuffboxes, small paintings, paperweights, tables and so on – mainly intended as souvenirs for Grand Tour travellers.

Back then micromosaic was regarded as craftsmanship, but recently it gained the art status it deserved: the two rooms in the Vatican Museums (as well as in other important museums worldwide) now dedicated to fine pieces of micromosaic are well worth a visit. The production of micromosaics stopped for various reasons just before the end of the XIX century.

Mosaic artist at work (photo by David Pitts)

is small roman mosaic still alive?

The Reverend Factory of Saint Peter is still active and produces tiny mosaics, but they’re definitely different from the ancient ones, as far as dimensions, size of tiles and finishing techniques are concerned.