A c. 1850-70 micromosaic of two doves of peace, remounted in the mid-20th century as a chunky 18k solid gold bracelet weighing a substantial 59 grams. The circular micromosaic center, accentuated with Etruscan revival wirework and granulation, was most likely originally a brooch. A stylistically similar brooch in the Etruscan revival taste, also with a micromosaic of an olive branch bearing dove, once belonged to the celebrated poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861) and is today in the Philadelphia Museum of Art (1899-923). The brooch’s likeness is preserved in a 1858 portrait of Browning by Michele Gordigiani (National Portrait Gallery NPG1899). In 1853, Browning’s friend wrote from Rome to offer a micromosaic dove brooch, which the poet declined, replying that she also owned a brooch just like it. The portrait and letter helps to definitively pin the Browning brooch to the 1850s decade, and offers an earliest possible dating to the stylistically similar present brooch. A pendant with a colorful but somewhat coarser micromosaic of doves is in the Victoria & Albert Museum (M.225-1976) and dated by the museum to c. 1870. Generally speaking, later micromosaics tend to be more saturated in color, but more clumsy in execution. The V&A pendant therefore offers a possible latest date for the present piece.
During the mid-Victorian era, transport innovations like trains and steamships had ushered a shift in travel: the European Grand Tour became available to travelers from a wider socioeconomic spectrum, bringing increased visitor flow to the heritage sites of Italy. A tourism-facing jewelry industry emerged in Italy as a result, producing archaeologically inspired jewelry, as well as micromosaics, pietra dura, carved coral, and cameos. As early as 1817, the novelist Charlotte Eaton noted the popularity of micromosaics: she found “hundreds of artists, or rather artisans, who carry on the manufactory of mosaics on a small scale. Snuff-boxes, rings, necklaces, brooches, earrings, & c. are made in immense quantities; and since the English flocked in such numbers to Rome, all the streets leading to the Piazza di Spagna, are lined with the shops of these musaicisti” (p. 491, Jewellery in the Age of Queen Victoria by Gere & Rudoe). While mosaics are rooted in antiquity, micromosaics emerged during the late 18th c, invented by Roman musaicisti workshops associated with Giacomo Raffaelli. Craftsmen pulled opaque glass into long strips known as smali filati, a process which produced enormous ranges of color shades. Each trip was then cut into tiny slices called tessera, enabling micromosaicists to execute detailed compositions in a wide color palette.