This jewelry parure, or suite, is indicative of a custom that was unique to its time and class. The Grand Tour was a traditional trip taken by upper class young men and women, with the goal of exposing them to the artistic riches of France and Italy, thereby completing their education. These long sojourns became a custom of the socially elite of Europe beginning in the late seventeenth century, and grew in popularity until the middle of the nineteenth century. These tours were so popular that by the second half of the eighteenth century wealthy young men and women from North and South America travelled abroad as well. As part of this tradition, travelers would collect artwork and souvenirs as mementos of their travels.
Jewelry parures were among the most popular of souvenirs from Italy. Designed for women, a parure traditionally consisted of a necklace with matching bracelets, earrings and a brooch or pin, although some also included accessories such as hair ornaments and tiaras. The intricate mosaic jewels, handset by the finest Roman craftsmen, captured the beautiful scenery of the Italian countryside. Commonly, each segment would depict ruins or monuments in Rome. The images are micro-mosaics, a specialty of Italian workshops, are comprised of tiny tesserae (small rectangles) of either semi-precious stones like marble and lapis lazuli, or as in this instance, colored glass.
To create the mosaic a craftsman would use tweezers to patiently arrange hundreds of the colored tesserae on a pane of glass. The finest craftsman could place up to 5,000 tesserae per square inch. Any gaps were filled with a colored wax and the piece was then carefully polished. It is estimated that there were between 150 to 200 workshops in Rome creating micro-mosaics by the middle of the nineteenth century.
The tesserae in this parure were mounted on gold filigree and ringed with a rich cobalt blue border. Its mosaics feature Italy’s scenes including the Pantheon, the Coliseum, the Temple of Vesta, and St. Peter’s Basilica.
Susan Teichman is a design historian who specializes in the history of jewelry and architectural history of synagogues.