Although the Romans produced mosaics for use in floors and on walls, the creation of miniature mosaics did not appear until the late 18th century. Tiny glass mosaics became known as ‘micromosaics’. They are so small that it is difficult to see the individual mosaic tiles with the naked eye. There were two main impetus for the creation of micromosaics. The first was that, in 1737, a Roman mosaic was excavated in Tivoli, Italy, one which appeared to have been described by Pliny. The mosaic was a picture of doves drinking at a bowl, becoming known as the Doves of Pliny, and it was created out of small stone tesserae , about one tenth of an inch square, which were the smallest ever discovered. The mosaic became a popular tourist destination in Rome. The second impetus was that a craftsman in around 1731 had produced glass in a range of new colours that were matt and opaque and that were an improvement on the glass produced in Venice. The enormous range of colours meant that mosaic craftsmen could produce very realistic pictures with lovely shading and depth.

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Victorian 18ct micromosaic ring

The end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1821 saw an influx of tourists travelling on the European Continent over the next century and items like micromosaic became popular as souvenirs that took up little room. Rome was the centre of the micromosaic craft. In the earliest stages of development, tiny squares of glass or tesserae were cut from thin canes of coloured glass. but later on, rectangular and wedge shaped tesserae were also used, some set at angles to provide perspective.

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Victorian micromosaic brooch/pendant

Early subjects of micromosaics were copies of Roman mosaics with animals and birds, and imitations of marbles statures and busts. Then Roman ruins, particularly tourist attractions, became popular, as well as copies of landscapes by 18th century painters. Other popular subjects were baskets and bouquets of flowers, again inspired by newly excavated Roman mosaics.

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Vintage 14ct micromosaic and enamel earrings (in Navette on Ruby Lane)

The popularity of micromosaics continued throughout the 18th century but standards had begun to drop by the second half of the century and images became simpler. High quality jewellery was still being produced, such as by the firm of Castellani, but there was a huge tourist market.