This impressive micromosaic shows a panoramic view of the Roman Forum. The three columns to the left are those of the Temple of Vespasian, behind them is the Arch of Septimius Severus. The Temple of Saturn is to the centre, with the foundations of the Basilica Julia to its right, the Temple of Castor and Pollux beyond and the Colosseum in the far distance. The Roman Forum was the ancient city centre where the religious, judicial and commercial life of the Romans took place. It was not until the early 19th century that the process of clearing the forum after centuries of neglect began with earnest. The Forum was a must-see for the Grand Tourists, and the mosaic captures just such visitors wondering amongst the ruins. There is a mosaic by Luigi A. Gallandt of the same view and scale in the Gilbert Collection (see J. Gabriel, The Gilbert Collection Micromosaics, London, 2000, cat. no. 57, p. 116).
This mosaic is thought to be one of three bought in Europe in circa 1902 by General Sardar Mohtasham Bakhtiar. One of the three is now possibly in a Roman collection and the other, a view of St. Peter's Square, also by Cesare Roccheggiani and in a matching frame to the present lot, sold Christie's, London 29 April 2010, lot 268 (£481,250).
The master mosaicist Cesare Roccheggiani was active at the Vatican workshops from 1856 to 1864, but like many of his contemporaries sought to supplement his meagre income by establishing his own workshop making mosaics for dealers and tourists. His private atelier is recorded firstly at 125 Via Babuino and then, by 1874, at 14 & 15 Via Condotti (ibid p. 289). By this time there were as many as ninety-six mosaicisti operating in Rome largely producing small plaques, miniatures and cameos for the tourist trade. The best workshops continued to produce micromosaics on a massive scale but such magnificent and costly examples as the present lot remained the preserve of the wealthy and powerful. Monumental mosaics were bought as souvenirs by visiting aristocrats, given as diplomatic gifts, commissioned by monarchs and displayed at the Great Exhibitions.