Michela Calasso was born in Lecce in 1964 where, in 1980 she attended the art school. She moved permanently to Rome in 1985 where she attended her studies at the faculty of architecture at the “La Sapienza” university, and at the same time she attended great artists of the Roman school of painting. She began her artistic career as a painter and graphic designer, creating works for interior, exterior and architectural surveys. And it is in these years that he approaches the technique of the ROMAN MINUTE MOSAIC, collaborating with the greatest Mosaic Masters of the Vatican school in the “Fabbrica di San Pietro”. He passionately dedicates himself to the realization of mosaic works, reproducing ancient paintings, both from the ancient, modern and contemporary period, or depicting religious and allegorical subjects. He currently works with private individuals and with the most important galleries on St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican. His mosaics are the property of collectors from all over the world, especially America, Japan and the United Arab Emirates.
The technique used for the micromosaic consists in using glazed glass pastes of various colors, which following a crushing by means of a vidiam hammer with a wedge-shaped etremintà, and a cutting edge, are then inserted into a directioned crucible on a high temperature flame (1500 degrees). Subsequently, with the help of two props, the now melted glass mass is modeled and spun with the use of pliers. This allows the artist to obtain “rods” of different color ranges. After the cooling phase, they are then ready to be used. They are carefully sectioned through a diamond powder file. These micro-cards are inserted for the realization of the mosaic, and adhered by means of a sticky paste called “stucco”, made according to the ancient traditions of the ‘700.
After the great achievements of the Roman, Byzantine and medieval eras, the modern mosaic established itself in Rome with the creation in the Vatican of the Mosaic Study, which, starting from the end of the 16th century, oversaw the installation and maintenance of the ornamental structures of St. Peter’s Basilica. An integral part of the church’s decorative program was the replacement of the original paintings with mosaic copies that were not perishable over time. The achievement of this objective gave rise to the need to replace the stone tesserae, traditionally used in mosaics of the classical and medieval ages, with glass-based enamel tesserae and to improve their processing until reaching a compact texture and a refinement of representation comparable to those of painting. At the end of the 18th century, the production of minute mosaics dates back, which, unlike the “large” mosaics, were made to be seen up close, in the form of plaques generally applied on snuff boxes or table objects, more rarely set on brooches or grouped in series forming bracelets and necklaces. The subjects represented, no longer relevant to the religious sphere, were initially connected to the neoclassical taste for allegory, finding their source of inspiration directly in the ancient; at a later stage, the repertoire extended to representations of flowers, animals and ruins grandly set in landscape scenes and lived with a lyricism of romantic extraction. With the consolidation in the repertoire of views of Rome and its countryside, the genre acquired a more markedly “Roman” connotation. The spread of demand and the formation of the first collections led the Fabbrica di San Pietro to formalize this production and the mosaic “in small” entered the Mosaic Studio alongside the traditional “large” manner (1795). The international circulation of the most precious artifacts, donated by the Pontiffs to diplomats and sovereigns on a state visit, further increased the prestige of the micro mosaic, which became a purchase favored by the rich and cultured travelers of the “Grand Tour” to Rome. EXECUTIVE TECHNIQUE OF MINUTE MOSAICS The elements that make up the mosaic are traditionally called tesserae from the Greek word τέσσαρες. (four), with reference to their outline which is normally quadrilateral. The tesserae are made of a glassy material called enamel, obtained by the fusion of silica mixed with mineral components that give it its color. These glazes were produced by Roman alchemists, who jealously guarded their recipes, and were delivered in the form of compact “loaves” of approximately circular or quadrangular shape. In the minute mosaics, whose tesserae have a section of less than a millimeter in size and a length of no more than two or three millimeters, it replaced the technique of cut enamel, adopted in the larger compositions, that of “spinning”: the enamel, melted in front it was reduced to flame in long, thin sticks from which the artist, with the use of tweezers and lime, obtained the small tesserae. The technique of making the micromosaics consisted, first of all, in transferring the preparatory sketch of the image onto a support, generally plaster, reporting the charcoal features. We then proceeded to remove small portions of the support, taking care to smear the cavity thus obtained with putty and insert the tesserae in it. Instead of chalk, drawn paper could sometimes be used. In the following phase, colored wax was made to fill the interstices. Finally, once the latter had hardened, the surface of the micromosaic was smoothed, sanded and polished.
EVOLUTION OF THE TECHNIQUE
The maturation process of the minute mosaic was marked by important stages in the evolution of the execution techniques. Between the end of the eighteenth century and the first years of the nineteenth century, the work was very accurate and meticulous. An essential improvement occurred with Antonio Aguatti who developed a new type of dough by combining multiple colors and half-shades in the same yarn and changing the perimeter of the traditionally quadrilateral tesserae. The enamel thus obtained (called “malmischiato”), together with the freer workmanship of the tiles, allow new and greater chiaroscuro passages that facilitated the rendering of flowers, trees, architecture and, in particular, sleeping animals. The “badly mixed” technique was further perfected by Giuseppe Mattia who, under the direction of Michelangelo Barberi, adopted the new procedure of mixing the glazes with the use of the goldsmith lamp: thus obtaining colors that will be called ” puffs, brighter and clearer than those spun with the traditional method. In the mid-nineteenth century, attempts were made to recover, rather than hide, the compositional layout through the arrangement of larger tiles, which defined the image with colors set quickly and distinctly. As the century progressed and the ever more pressing requests from the market followed, faster execution techniques were devised, through which an entire motif, such as columns or frames, was created in a single card.
Allegorical subjects, especially the Allegories of Love, constituted for the neoclassical taste of the late eighteenth century one of the favorite themes of the minute mosaic together with the mythological ones, executed in monochrome on a dark background. Among the most replicated was the Cup with Pliny’s Doves. The archaeological discoveries, made starting from the beginning of the eighteenth century, and the consequent interest they generated in iconographic choices, also influenced the field of micromosaic. The most reproduced monuments were the Tomb of Cecilia Metella, the Pyramid of Caius Cestius, the Pantheon, the Temple of Vesta, the Flavian Amphitheater, the Temple of Minerva Medica and some Roman bridges. The source of inspiration were, first of all, the engravings produced from the mid-eighteenth century onwards, among which those of Domenico Pronti were particularly successful, gathered in the “New Collection of 100 ancient vedutines of the city of Rome and its vicinity engraved in a burin”. The landscape views were treated mainly under two aspects: with the insertion of ancient ruins in large and suggestive spaces or on the model of the paintings by Salvator Rosa and Claude Lorrain. The so-called “souvenir-views” of Rome were also reproduced over a rather wide period of time, among which the two favorite themes were the Roman Forum and the Basilica of San Pietro. Among the other most widespread iconographic themes, animals undoubtedly constituted one of the preferential subjects at the end of the eighteenth century and at the beginning of the following century. We went from the image of the isolated and motionless animal to that of the group, and then came to more free compositional schemes in the representations of struggle between them. The floral theme, whose reference is often the ancient mosaic, was instead chosen by the mosaic artists to show their skills in executive virtuosity and in the chromatic choices. Finally, the figures in traditional costume constituted one of the subjects of the most difficult adaptation to the technique of the minute mosaic, given that the softness of the physiognomies did not suit the geometric shape of the card; however, it was treated as a decorative element of necklaces, brooches or pendants.
It was not customary for mosaic artists to sign their compositions. When this happened, the presence of the signature did not signal the authorship of the individual works as much as the continuity of a commitment to guarantee the overall quality of the respective productions. Giacomo Raffaelli (1753-1836 to whom the sources attribute the discovery of the procedures for the “spinning” of the glazes, was the first to put his name on the delicate inventions conceived in the new technique. His stature as a recognized pioneer of the new genre led him to carry out a part of his activity outside his homeland and found a mosaic school in Milan, where he made a copy of Leonardo’s Last Supper, today in Vienna (Minoritenkirche), remembered in enthusiastic terms by the epitaph in the Church of San Stanislao dei Polacchi in Rome. After him, other mosaicists increased the expressive possibilities of the micromosaic, introducing substantial innovations in the shape of the tesserae and in the spinning processes of the enamels. We can remember the extraordinary floral figures of Domenico Moglia (c. 1780-1862) and the animalistic ones of his son Luigi (news 1847-1861), pervaded by a lively sense of line and relief and the landscape views of Antonio Aguatti (1846 ca.), specialized, together with Clemente Ciuli (active first half of the century XIX) and Liborio Salandri (news first half of the XIX century), in the re-enactment of the myths of a classical setting. Head of this genre, around the mid-nineteenth century, was Michelangelo Barberi (1787-1867), author of a magnificent series of table tops decorated with the representation of the major monuments of Rome and Italy. The artist was called to Russia to found the Imperial Mosaic Study of St. Petersburg, commissioned by Tsar Nicholas I on the model of the Vatican one.