The Rosalinde & Arthur Gilbert Collection

Portrait miniature of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, by Horace Hone, London, 1812. Museum no. LOAN:GILBERT.264:1-2008

Portrait miniature of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, by Horace Hone, London, 1812. Museum no. LOAN:GILBERT.264:1-2008

Portrait miniatures

Portrait miniatures in enamel form the smallest part of the Rosalinde & Arthur Gilbert Collection, but though they are relatively few in number, they represent most leading artists and centres of production. The miniatures offer a comprehensive view of enamel portrait miniatures from the 17th to the 19th centuries.

Sir Arthur first encountered this type of object as part of the decoration of a number of snuff boxes that he acquired. The colourfastness of the miniatures greatly appealed to him, as did the great technical demands of the process of enamelling. It is this interest in virtuosity and painstaking craftsmanship that can be seen throughout the collection.

Sir Arthur's particular affection for these portrait miniatures was also due to the fact that the sitters were often the people responsible for the commissioning and use of other objects in the collection.

'Lavinia as Flora', glass micromosaic by Luigi Moglia, Rome, Italy, about 1830. Museum no. Loan:Gilbert.886-2008

'Lavinia as Flora', glass micromosaic by Luigi Moglia, Rome, Italy, about 1830. Museum no. Loan:Gilbert.886-2008

Mosaics

In an auction house in Los Angeles, Sir Arthur Gilbert was drawn to what he believed to be a pair of paintings only to realise that he was in fact looking at a pair of micromosaics made from miniscule glass pieces. These micromosaics formed the beginning of a collection that would become one of the world's most comprehensive, second only to those of the Vatican Museum, Rome, and the Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg. Sir Arthur's collection also contains hardstone mosaics, also known as pietre dure, where the finished effect is achieved by the careful combination of semi-precious stones to create a harmonious whole.

The ancient technique of mosaic was revived in Europe during the 16th century after Roman antiquities, including mosaics, began to be unearthed in archaeological excavations. Techniques developed and improved, with mosaic images becoming increasingly subtle as the individual glass pieces, known as tesserae, became smaller, and the range of available colour pigments grew larger. In 1588 Ferdinand de' Medici established the Grand Ducal workshop in Florence, which supported and patronised the specialised art of hardstone mosaics. Many craftsmen were trained in Florence before setting up studios around Italy. Pietre dure mosaics were produced in Florence, Milan and Rome, and were emulated in Prague and St. Petersburg. Soon craftsmen were attempting to create the perfect 'stone paintings' through the clever exploitation of the natural variations in pigment of the stones. As techniques quickly improved, the mosaics became more figurative than geometric. In the 18th century the glass micromosaic technique was developed in the Vatican Mosaic Workshop in Rome.

Micromosaics and pietre dure can be found on a great variety of objects such as tabletops, cabinets, vases, pictures and jewellery.

Information in the V&A Archive:

Gilbert collection records (GC): object files, exhibition files, research and administration files, photographs and transparencies

MA/1/G572: Nominal file – Arthur Gilbert

MA/29/207: Mosaics from the Gilbert Collection, 17 Jul - 14 Sep 1975 (preview/opening papers, object photographs)

MA/33/65: Exhibition of Arthur Gilbert's silver collection, proposed (correspondence with lender, object list)

Selected printed sources

Coffin, Sarah, and Bodo Hofstetter. Portrait miniatures in enamel. London: Philip Wilson Publishers in association with the Gilbert Collection, 2000. NAL press mark: 603.AA.2152

Gabriel, Jeanette Hanisee, and Anna Maria Massinelli. Micromosaics. London: Philip Wilson Pub. in association with The Gilbert Collection, 2000. NAL press mark: 604.AA.0616

Massinelli, Anna Maria, and Jeanette Hanisee Gabriel. Hardstones: The Gilbert Collection. London: Philip Wilson Pub. in association with The Gilbert Collection, 2000. NAL press mark: 604.AA.0618

Stevens, Timothy. ‘Gilbert, Sir Arthur (1913–2001).’ In Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005. NAL pressmark: 920.041 DIC

Schroeder, Timothy. The Gilbert Collection of Gold and Silver. Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, c1988. NAL press mark: 513.A.110

Schroeder, Timothy, ed. The Gilbert Collection. London: V&A Publishing, 2009. NAL press mark: 602.AK.0454

To locate material in the National Art Library, please search the Library Catalogue.

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The Gilbert Collection at the V&A

The Gilbert Collection at the V&A

Arthur and Rosalind Gilbert began collecting in the 1960s and over a period of about 40 years formed one of the world's most magnificent private colle…

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Event - Personal favourites: Gold and Silver from the Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Collection

Sat 01 November 2014–Sat 24 October 2015

DISPLAY: Superlative silver was the first area in which Sir Arthur Gilbert (1913-2001), one of the great collectors of the twentieth century, collected. From the 1960s onwards the London-born Los Angeles property tycoon sought expert advice, but also made some idiosyncratic choices.

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