Michelangelo Barberi (1787-1867) was one of the most famous micromosaic masters of his time. He and his brother Gioachino Barberi had large mosaic workshops near the Spanish Steps in Rome. Michelangelo is best known for his countertops. Gioacchino is also known as an outstanding master of mosaic miniatures. In 1827, Michelangelo visited St. Petersburg at the invitation of Nicholas I and received a flattering offer to establish a mosaic school in Russia, but the master turned down the emperor’s invitation, citing poor health.
In 1851, Barbary participated in the World Exhibition in London, where he received the only gold medal awarded to the Papal States for the mosaic table “The Beautiful Sky of Italy”, following the example of the one he made for the Russian emperor. This table by Michelangelo Barberi, called “Views of Italy” is still in the collection of the State Hermitage.
Table with Roman mosaic “Views of Italy”
The tabletop, 105 cm in diameter, was made by order of Nicholas I. It depicts views of the Italian cities that the Russian emperor visited during his trip in 1845. The medallions contain copies of the works of the great Italian masters of the Renaissance: Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, Titian and others. Ordering the work directly from the master, Nicholas I called it “The Beautiful Sky of Italy”. The central medallion contains a portrait of the Emperor’s wife Alexandra Feodorovna.
Flora of the Two Sicilies
The second table, dated circa 1850, entitled “Flora of the Two Sicilies”, is also inspired by the Emperor’s 1845 trip to Europe. In Michelangelo Barberi’s 1856 book, he describes the emperor’s visit in 1845 and his wishes: “The Tsar also requested that the portrait of his daughter, Grand Duchess Olga, be in the center of the table, symbolically placed inside the star that obscures the sun, so that one could say: ” C’est une beauté qui efface le soleil” (This is the beauty that outshines the sun).
The Two Sicilies consisted of the southern Italian kingdom around Naples and the island of Sicily. The two states were officially united in 1816. Six Sicilian and Neapolitan landscapes and their lush vegetation adorn the table (Pompeii, Naples, Paestum, Taormina, Palermo Museum and Tindari). In the center of it is a profile of the daughter of Tsar Olga, later Queen Olga of Württemberg.