Monday, August 5, 2013

Her Majesty's Furniture: The Beautiful Sky of Italy Table, 1845


The Beautiful Sky of Italy Table
Michelangelo Barberi, 1845
The Victoria & Albert Museum

This masterpiece of micromosaic and furniture-making was made for Francis Needham, Earl Kilmorey, and was exhibited in London at the Great Exhibition of 1851 where it received a Council Medal, the highest honor awarded.

Made in Rome in 1845 by Michelangelo Barberi (1787 -1867), the circular micromosaic tabletop depicts a central group of four genii floating in the open sky—each bears the attributes of painting, music, architecture and sculpture. Around the circumference of the table are eight views of Italian cities: Piazza del Duomo, Milan; St. Mark's Square, Venice; Piazza della Signoria, Florence; St. Peter's Square, Rome; the Coliseum, Rome; the Riviera di Chaia, Naples; St. Rosalia, Palermo and the Harbor at Genoa. The table base is gilt bronze and is made up of four legs surmounted with rams heads.

More than just majestic sites in Italy, the views depicted on this tabletop are those that were visited by Tsar Nicholas I on his Italian tour of 1845. In 1846 the Tsar commissioned a tabletop directly from Michelangelo Barberi who referred to the composition as “Il bel cielo d'Italia” (the beautiful sky of Italy). The original table made for Tsar Nicholas I, showed a central composition of a group of putti holding a portrait of the Tsarina Alexandra. That work is now at the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. Barberi next made this similar table for the Earl.

Michelangelo Barberi was known as “Cavaliere” and was the leading micromosaicist of the Nineteenth Century. One member of a celebrated family, his brothers were painters and his father Camillo was an architect, painter and designer who served as Director of Fortifications and Prisons for Italy following his meeting with the Emperor Napoleon in Milan in 1804. This illustrious family lived in Paris for a spell, but later returned to Rome during the reign of Pius VII (1800-1823).

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