Divine Provenance: The Vatican Micromosaic

  • March 29, 2018 10:52

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The Martyrdom of Saint Valeria and Saint Martial by the Vatican Mosaic Studio was displayed at St. Peter's Basilica and the Studio for nearly a century.
M.S. Rau Antiques, New Orleans
The inscription on the bottom tells of the the original 17th-century painting upon which the micromosaic is based and its creation by the famed Vatican Mosaic Studio, dated 1895.
M.S. Rau Antiques, New Orleans

Everyone loves a good story. In the realm of fine art and antiques, a good story, or what we call “provenance”, has the power to take a work of art from exceptional to awe-inspiring.

In terms of workmanship, subject matter and sheer size, this incredible micromosaic detailing the Biblical story of Saints Valeria and Martial has it all. Measuring over 10 feet tall, the precision and detail required to execute such a piece is baffling. Combined with the high cost of materials, micromosaics of this immense size and artistry are beyond rare.

When you factor in its provenance of being crafted by the prestigious Vatican’s Mosaic Studio and displayed in St. Peter’s Basilica, you’re dealing with an undeniable masterpiece of historical significance.  

It took a team of seven skilled mosaicists over two and a half years to complete this majestic masterpiece. Given that Vatican relics, especially ones on such a grand scale as this, almost never leave the holy site, it is clear to discern that this is the most important artwork of its kind to come on the market in many years.

The micromosaic is based upon the 17th-century Baroque painting of the same subject that was created for St. Peter’s Basilica in 1627. That work hung above the holy site’s altar of St. Martial until 1824. This prompted cardinals and bishops from Limoges, France (where the saints depicted hailed) to tirelessly request for over 60 years to have the painting re-installed. By the time their request was given an audience, the painting had already found its way into an Italian museum’s collection.

Pope Leo XIII agreed to have the painting recreated in mosaic form and displayed where the original painting once hung. A team of seven artisans, led by head Vatican mosaicist Salvatore Nobii, completed and installed the masterpiece in 1895. It was removed in 1963 and taken to the Vatican Mosaic Studio where it was prominently displayed for two decades. Eventually, Pope John Paul II gifted the mosaic to a very generous parishioner.

Pictured in author Frank DiFederico’s 1983 book The Mosaics of Saint Peter's: Decorating the New Basilica, this stunning tour de force is inscribed, including with the initials R.F.S.P.V. (Reverend Workshop of St. Peters) and dated. The only known work of its caliber not housed in a museum, this micromosaic brings new meaning to the term “masterpiece”.

Currently on offer at M.S. Rau Antiques, the Vatican Micromosaic of Saints Valeria and Martial along with numerous other treasures, is included (in giclée form) in the gallery’s latest exhibition Vice & Virtue: An Exhibition of Sex, Saints and Sin, open from April 7 – June 9, 2018.

This map shows the location within St. Peter's Basilica where this micromosaic was displayed.
M.S. Rau Antiques, New Orleans

About M.S. Rau Antiques:
M.S. Rau Antiques has spent over 100 years earning the trust of discerning collectors world-wide. Located in the heart of New Orleans’ historic French Quarter, our peerless showroom houses one of the world’s most extensive and stunning collections of museum-quality fine art by artists such as  Claude Monet and Pablo Picasso, 18th- and 19th-century antiques, and breathtaking jewelry, including rare colored diamonds.

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Founded in 1912, M.S. Rau is one of North America’s most respected galleries supported by a team of experts who ensure each piece is vetted for quality and authenticity. A commitment to quality and beauty underpins each of the gallery’s acquisitions; it is a commitment that allows Rau to present only the most exceptional in fine art, antiques and jewels.

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