The butterfly is Raffaelli’s trademark, and he is also known to have specialised in micromosaic depictions of birds and wildfowl often sourced from paintings and engravings by Johann Wenzel Peter (1745 – 1829). The coupling of micromosaic inset into a grey Bardiglio or Bleu Turquin marble top is also indicative of his style, as Raffaelli was also a skilled artisan in hardstone.
Giacomo Raffaelli (1753-1836) was Roman by birth and achieved notable success early in his career. Trained as a sculptor and painter, by 1775 he was already best known for his work in micromosaic, a medium which he is credited with inventing, creating complex compositions using tiny tesserae made from spun enamel of exceptional finesse, a technical innovation made possible through the work of the chemist Alessio Mattioli. He was extensively patronised by Pope Pius XV (d. 1799), and worked in both the Vatican workshops as well as from his own studio in the Piazza di Spagna. Raffaelli was also a successful dealer in high quality works of art - not all of which were made by him. Following the French occupation of Rome in 1797, with its consequent decentralization of the Vatican's control over artists and the subsequent decline of the mosaic market in Rome, Raffaelli transferred his workshop to the Milanese Court of Eugene Bonaparte, Napoleon's brother, in 1804. With the collapse of the Court in Milan, Raffaelli returned to Rome between 1815-20, and his workshop in the via del Babuino continued to flourish, increasingly under the direction of his son Vincenzo, up to and beyond Rafaelli's death in 1836.
In Roman times, butterflies symbolised the belief that the soul leaves the body through the mouth at the time of death and so subsequently represented rebirth. The butterfly is a recurrent motif in Raffaelli’s oeuvre, as is the lapis blue ground within which the butterflies are here framed.
- M. Massinelli, Giacomo Raffaelli (1753-1836) Maestro di stile e di mosaic, Florence, 2018, pp. 225-226.
- Christie’s, London, 15 July 2020, lot 109 (circular micromosaic plaque depicting a colourful butterfly on a white ground, signed on the reverse 'Giacomo Raffaelli / Fece / Roma 1787', 2 ¾ in. (66 mm.) diam.)
- D. Petochi, I mosaici minuti Romani, Florence, 1981, p. 111, pl. 33.
- Specimen block, attributed to Raffaelli, The Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Collection on loan to the Victoria and Albert Museum, London (LOAN:GILBERT.109:1, 2-2008), see J. Hanisee Gabriel, The Gilbert Collection. Micromosaics, London, 2000, No. 9 (pp. 60-61).
Audrey Field kept an apartment in Paris between 1936 and 1940, at 19 Quai Malaquai. Photographs from a family album show this table as well as one of the eagle consoles from the foyer of the Teatro della Scala, Milan (lots 46-7) in her apartment.