A reminder of a trip to Italy, the ubiquitous souvenir T-shirt is a wearable image that displays a special affinity for a place or brand associated with your travels. Victorian ladies in the early and mid-19th century traveling in Rome were also drawn to wearable images of their trip. Micro-mosaic brooches made from tiny pieces of glass tile, called tesserae, 1500 to 5000 pieces per square inch. Cemented to a stone or metal background the glass tesserae created images of the beautiful scenery, evocative ruins and architectural sights of their travels. The settings so small that these brooches appeared to have been painted or enameled, until they were examined under a microscope.
Archeological themes were popular motifs for Italian micro-mosaic jewelers of the time. Miniature versions of ancient architectural mosaics and classical antiquities were highly favored by Victorian travelers as a keepsake and memento of their Grand Tour of Italy. Other subject matter included images of flowers, pastoral scenes, Italian peasant life and animals, particularly portraits of dogs. Among the most famous dog images is Antonio Aguatti’s seated spaniel. The detail of the dog’s fur looks like a painting yet is made up of thousands of glass tiles.
The years 1810 to 1840 marked the height of the micro-mosaic with fine pieces of jewelry designed by artisans in Florence and Vatican craftsmen who used glass tesserae to make replicas of famous paintings to replace fading originals. In the mid-1800s the quality of micro-mosaic declined due to increased demand, unskilled workmanship and less discriminating tourists who were satisfied with pieces of lesser quality.