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Micro-mosaics are particular types of mosaic, created in a highly skilled process using very small mosaic pieces of glass or enamel-like material to form figurative images. These tiny pieces of mosaic are called tesserae; the higher the volume of tessarae in a space - i.e. the smaller the size of the individual tessera - the greater the value of the micro-mosaic.
The micro-mosaic technique originated in Europe, with the ancient Romans creating beautiful designs using impressively small tiles. However, it was not until the Byzantine period that micro-mosaics reached a quality similar to that which we recognise today. The Byzantine examples boast tiny tesserae, which would have required a meticulous level of craftsmanship to work into the beautiful designs that we see.
In the Renaissance period however, Italy became the centre of micro-mosaic production. The height of micro-mosaic popularity occured in the 19th Century, when the delicate objects became highly prized by members of the European nobility. Particularly desired were micro mosaics that depicted architectural elements of Italy, such as the Roman ruins or famous churches. These creations would be purchased by wealthy aristocrats on their Grand Tours around Europe, and taken home as mementos of the trip. Often the micro-mosaic panels would then be set into larger works of furniture or framed for display on return. Such was the demand for micro-mosaic portrayals of the most famous architectural feats that workshops sprung up around the Roman monuments, vying with each other to produce the very highest quality works.
Today, mirco-mosaics remain highly prized for their beauty and skillful craftsmanship. The finest examples of micro-mosaics come from 19th Century Italy, the delicacy and appearance of which are unsurpassed.