The Rosalinde & Arthur Gilbert Collection
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.
Locket with the Four Seasons . Museum no. Loan:Gilbert.301-2008
Locket with the Four Seasons
Enamel on gold
Blois or Paris, France
Museum no. Loan:Gilbert.301-2008
In the workshops of Blois, Châteaudun and Paris, watches, jewellery and other small items of silver and gold were often decorated with enamelled allegorical figures. Many of the earliest portrait enamellers came from jewellery, watch-making or goldsmithing backgrounds.
One side of this locket depicts Autumn, personified as a woman in a gold cape, and Winter, an elderly man with a beard. The other side depicts Spring, a woman with a garland of flowers in her hair, and Summer, a woman with ears of corn in her hair and holding a sickle. On the inside of the lid are two peasant figures holding a lamb.
Gold, copper, silver and iron were all used as supports for enamel portrait miniatures. Copper became the most common support as it was less expensive and could be fired at higher temperatures than gold. The metal for the support was first cut into a panel, often less than 1mm thick, and then hammered to create a slightly curved surface.
George Washington. Museum no. Loan:Gilbert.230-2008
Enamel on copper in gilded copper-alloy frame
Henry Bone (1755-1834), after Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828)
Museum no. Loan:Gilbert.230-2008
Henry Bone, the best known English enameller, began his career as apprentice to a porcelain manufacturer, painting landscapes and floral scenes. He experimented with enamel techniques throughout his career, and his time working with porcelain was probably an important factor in this. By 1779 he was working in a London enamel workshop, painting decoration for watches and jewellery.
Enamellers often copied well-known oil paintings, and this miniature is after the 1796 portrait of the first US president, George Washington (1732-99), by Gilbert Stuart, one of four known enamels by Bone from this source.
The inscription on the reverse -'cracked in the fifth fire'- reveals how difficult the firing process was, particularly when making larger pictures such as this one. As each colour has a different melting point, they were painted on and fired separately, beginning with the colour that melted at the highest temperature. With each firing there was an increased risk of damage - the enamel might bubble or pit, or the colours could burn. It was not possible to correct mistakes. In around 1800 a clear glaze was perfected which gave a shiny finish that helped to hide irregularities created by the firing process.
Young woman in blue dress. Museum no. Loan:Gilbert.248-2008
Young woman in blue dress
Enamel on copper in silver and diamond frame, border possibly later
Jean-Baptiste Weyler (1747-91)
Museum no. Loan:Gilbert.248-2008
Born and trained in Strasbourg before moving to Paris, Jean-Baptiste Weyler is regarded as the best French enamel painter of his time. He painted miniatures on ivory and in pastels, as well as in enamel. This was not unusual as by the 18th and 19th centuries, many renowned enamellers were also pastellists or oil painters, not goldsmiths, jewellers or watchmakers as earlier portrait enamellists often were.
Some enamellers painted their sitters from life, as Weyler seems to have done in this miniature, using great skill to translate the woman's lively beauty into enamel. He was popular with contemporaries for his production of multiples of an image for commercial purposes, but this miniature shows that his strength was in 'real' portraits, of which he did very few.
Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. Museum no. Loan:Gilbert.263-2008
Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire
Enamel on copper in original gilded metal frame probably made or supplied by Hurter
Johann Heinrich Hurter (1734-99)
Museum no. Loan:Gilbert.263-2008
Johann Heinrich Hurter's career began as an enamel painter, miniaturist and pastellist. In around 1777 he settled in London where he was reputedly appointed as a court painter. No documents exist to prove this, although he did make a number of portraits of Queen Charlotte, George IV, and some of their children.
This enamel miniature is based on a full-scale oil painting by Angelica Kauffman of John Spencer of Althorp with his sisters. Many enamellers used existing paintings or prints as the basis for their portraits. Miniatures could also provide new and portable versions of family portraits or offer the public an image of a famous sitter. Although painted in 1779, the Duchess is portrayed as she appeared in 1774, the year of her marriage to the 5th Duke of Devonshire, Two slightly different versions of this miniature exist.
The Young Pretender, Charles Edward Stuart
The Young Pretender, Charles Edward Stuart, 'Bonnie Prince Charlie'
Enamel on copper in original papier-mâché frame with gilded copper-alloy mounts
Denis Brownell Murphy (about 1745-1842), after an unknown version
Museum no. Loan:Gilbert.240:1, 2-2008
Denis Brownell Murphy was born in Dublin and worked in England, Ireland and Scotland before finally settling in London in around 1803.
This portrait comes from a set of miniature enamel portraits painted by Brownell Murphy illustrating the lineage of the House of Stuart, using portraits in Scottish collections as source material. The series starts with Mary, Queen of Scots (reigned 1542-67) and ends with James Francis Edward Stuart (1688-1766) and Charles Edward Stuart (1720-88), neither of whom became king. While they are depicted in a way that emphasises their part in the royal succession, the frames of their portraits are missing the symbolic crowns of kingship present on the other portrait frames in the series.
This portrait shows Charles Edward Stuart, known as 'Bonnie Prince Charlie', dressed in Stuart tartan with a blue velvet tam, with blue sash and star, and the Order of the Garter, which he was awarded in his exile despite the rebellion.
Henry, Prince of Wales. Museum no. Loan:Gilbert.245:1
Henry, Prince of Wales
Enamel on copper in gilded metal frame
Henry Pierce Bone (1779-1855), after Robert Peake (died 1626)
Museum no. Loan:Gilbert.245:1, 2-2008
Signed, inscribed and dated on counter-enamel 'Henry Prince of Wales / Son of James 1.st / London Oct. 1845. Painted by / Henry Pierce bone. Enamel / Painter to Her Majesty & H.R.H. / Prince Albert &c From the Original by Vansomer in the / Collection of the Earl of / Craven, Combe Abbey'
Henry Pierce Bone was the son of the famous enamel painter Henry Bone. Like his father, whose style he emulated, many of his enamels were copied from full-scale paintings. He enjoyed royal patronage and was appointed enamel painter to Queen Caroline, the Duchess of Kent, and Princess Victoria in 1833 and Prince Albert in 1841.
Henry, Prince of Wales (1594-1612) was the eldest son of James I (reigned 1603-25) who died of typhoid fever aged 8. Painted some 235 years after his death, this appears to be a copy of the full-length portrait by Robert Peake, dated about 1610, in the National Portrait Gallery, London.
Jupiter and Antiope. Museum no. Loan:Gilbert.299:1, 2-2008
Jupiter and Antiope
Jean-Pierre Huaut (1655-1723) and/or Ami Huaut (1657-1724)
Enamel on copper in gold and copper-alloy frame; gilded silver on reverse, with glazed reverse made in France, about 1900
Signed on counter-enamel 'Huaut p'
Museum no. Loan:Gilbert.299:1, 2-2008
The Huaut brothers started mass-production of colourful enamel plaques depicting mythological or erotic scenes, such as this one of the Roman god Jupiter disguised as a faun, uncovering the sleeping Antiope, daughter of the king of Thebes. This myth was frequently used as a way of portraying the female nude.
This plaque may have originally been intended as a lid or cover for a casket or a box. Images created in enamel were ideal for decorating small objects such as watches, snuffboxes and small caskets (this enamel measures just 4.5 x 6.5 centimetres), and many were decorated with portraits, allegorical or mythological scenes. Depending on their size, enamels could also be set into jewellery so that they could be worn close to the body.
Queen Caroline. Museum nos. Loan:Gilbert.279-2008
Enamel on copper in gold frame with ivory backing
Christian Friedrich Zincke (about 1683-1767)
Museum nos. Loan:Gilbert.279-2008
The son of a Dresden goldsmith, Christian Freidrick Zincke was apprenticed to his father, and also studied painting. In 1706 he came to London to work at Charles Boit's studio, and when Boit left for France in 1714 it appears Zincke inherited many of his fashionable clients. He went on to become the most successful enamel painter of his era.
This enamel portrait was made in the same year that Zincke spent time at the English court drawing portraits of the royal family. It shows Queen Caroline (1683-1737), consort of George II (reigned 1727-60), in the same dress she wears in a full-scale painting by Kneller of 1716. This miniature closely relates to two in the Royal Collection. Zincke painted using existing portraits for reference, as in this case, but also paint from life. To create skin tones he used a stipple technique of tiny red dots, sometimes described as 'measles'.
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.
Table with ‘Beautiful Sky of Italy’. Museum no. Loan:Gilbert.894:1, 2-2008
Table with 'Beautiful Sky of Italy'
Michelangelo Barberi (1787-1867)
Glass micromosaic and gilded bronze
Museum no. Loan:Gilbert.894:1, 2-2008
This tabletop, made for Francis Needham, Earl of Kilmorey (1787-1880), closely resembles one made for Tsar Nicholas I (reigned 1825-55) depicting sites he visited on a tour of Italy. It may have been commissioned in a similar spirit, in order to commemorate an Italian trip including visits to popular monuments. The image in the centre of this table, which Barberi later described as a 'vast field of translucent air' won a Council Medal (the highest honour awarded) at the Great Exhibition in London in 1851.
Micromosaics depicting popular attractions became a sought after and convenient souvenir for the Grand Tourists of the 18th and 19th centuries. Mosaic, which originally flourished during the Classical period, was an ideal medium in which to depict the ruins of Classical Italy. The mosaics were also often small enough to be affordable and easily portable, yet still amply demonstrated the highly prized skill and virtuosity of mosaic.
Mosaic cabinet and clock. Museum no. Loan:Gilbert.74:1, 2-2008
Mosaic cabinet and clock
Pietre dure (hardstone mosaic), ebony, gilded bronze, brass, mother-of-pearl and ebonised wood
Cabinet: Italy, Florence; upper section Grand Ducal Workshops, Giovanni Battista Foggini (1652-1725)
Clock: Germany, Bonn; Johannes Hittorff (1757-1836)
Upper section and central panel below: 1700-5. Lower section: 1700-1800
Museum no. Loan:Gilbert.74:1, 2-2008
Foggini made this clock cabinet for Anna-Maria Luisa de' Medici (1667-1743), who had a large collection of pietre dure. Great skill was needed to make these hardstone mosaics, and the representation of pearls in particular was a demonstration of the craftsman's knowledge of the materials he worked with and the techniques he used.
The top half and central mosaic below predate the cabinet's enlargement, probably in the late 17th century. Hittorff's clock movement has replaced an earlier English movement by Ignatius Huggeford. The central panel in the base, added at the same time as the new clock movement, may originally have been intended to form part of a tray. It would appear that the panel was meant to be viewed horizontally, so that it would look like the pearls are lying on a flat surface, rather than as they are now.
Click here to watch a pietre dure panel being made
'Return from the Market’. Museum no. Loan:Gilbert.75:1, 2-2008
'Return from the Market'
White and grey marble, onyx, gabbro and albarese limestone with gilded wood frame
Mario Montelatici (1894-1974)
Arte del Mosaico workshop, Florence, Italy
Museum no. Loan:Gilbert.75:1, 2-2008
This work was part of a commission by the American heiress and art patron Marjorie Merriweather Post, and is one of Mario Montelatici's most impressive works. The subject is derived from a painting by Stefano Bruzzi (1835-1911) that received a prize in the 1888 Parma Exhibition.
Montelatici had great skill in exploiting Tuscan marbles and hardstones, using the naturally occurring variations in colour and tone to reflect the movement and mood of the scene. The success of the picture was dependent on the colours of the stones. Finding the right stones could involve a long, and often expensive, search even before any stones were purchased. The grey bardiglio marble has white veins that realistically evoke the stormy skies, and white carrara marble has been used to depict the snow on the street. The resulting mosaic is made using finely cut stones, which are carefully fitted together to give detail to the figures and create the effects of light and shadow.
Glass micromosaic with gilded wood frame
Decio Podio (born about 1860)
Museum no. Loan:Gilbert.170:1, 2-2008
In 1762 George Spencer, fourth Duke of Marlborough, received a tigress for his menagerie at Blenheim as a gift from Lord Clive, Governor of Bengal. The Duke commissioned the English painter George Stubbs (1724-1806), well known for his paintings of horses, to paint a tigress. This painting was published as an engraving by John Dixon in 1772, which in turn inspired this micromosaic. The micromosaic displays great naturalism, with subtle details such as the small rounded head, short nose and lack of ruff indicating this is a female tiger.
Panoramic view of Rome from the Janiculum Hill. Museum no. Loan:Gilbert.893:1, 2-2008
Panoramic view of Rome from the Janiculum Hill
Antonio Testa (born 1785), after an etching of 1756 by Giuseppe Vasi (1710-82)
Museum no. Loan:Gilbert.893:1, 2-2008
Reputed to have taken Antonio Testa 20 years to complete, this extraordinarily accurate depiction of Rome is taken from an etching of 1765 by Giuseppe Vasi, which was executed as part of a project to record all of the ancient and modern monuments of Rome. St. Peter's Basilica and the Vatican can be seen on the right of the panorama, and the Corsini Palace and gardens in the centre foreground. In the left foreground there is also a wolf suckling Romulus and Remus (the legendary founders of Rome), with figures in folk costume and ancient artefacts scattered across the foreground
Specimen block with butterfly mosaics. Museum no. Loan:Gilbert.109:1, 2-2008
Specimen block with butterfly mosaics
probably Giacomo Raffaelli (1753-1836)
Glass micromosaic, malachite, lapis lazuli, marble and gilded bronze
Museum no. Loan:Gilbert.109:1, 2-2008
This hardstone block was made to display a group of early micromosaics. It is unusual to find malachite used outside Russia, its country of origin, before the early 19th century. The Russian nobility, however, were avid collectors of micromosaics, and it may be that a Russian collector commissioned this piece or took the mosaic plaques back to Russia to be mounted in the malachite. You can still see many micromosaic tabletops and plaques by Giacomo Raffaelli in the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. Micromosaics were first made by Raffaelli in Rome in 1775, and he was even asked by the Tsar to found a Russian school of mosaics, though he declined to do this.
Butterflies are a recurring motif in Raffaelli's work, and in this case may derive from Greek and Roman mythology, in which the butterfly symbolised the soul leaving the body at the moment of death. It is also significant in Christian art, as the lifecycle of the butterfly from caterpillar to chrysalis to insect represents life, death and resurrection.
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.0618Stevens, 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.