Luigi Cavaliere Moglia (1813-78), based at 134 Via del Babuino with workshops in the Studio Vaticano del Mosaico, ranks high among the greatest of the micro-mosaicists operating in Rome in the mid-19th century.
His expertise was in making remarkably detailed mosaic on copper copies of the famous artworks of Rome, receiving a gold medal at the 1851 Great Exhibition of London for a rendition of ‘The Ruins of Paestum’.
While small works on copper – typically box lids and plaques – come to market occasionally, large- scale, fully signed works are rarities on the market.
The pair of 15 x 12in (37 x 30cm) pictures offered for sale at the Cotswold Auction Company in Cirencester on October 19-20 were renditions of the Cumaean Sibyl after Domenico and the Persian Sibyl after Guercino. The V&A has a similar mosaic by Moglia titled Lavinia as Flora after Titian that is on loan from the Alfred Gilbert collection.
This pair (the Persian Sibyl suffering a series of small cracks) came from a local deceased estate.
Auctioneer Elizabeth Poole said: “When I first saw them, my initial impression from across the room was that this was a fine pair of oil paintings. However, on closer examination the minute workmanship could be seen. They were quite breathtaking.”
The giltwood and gesso frames have labels for Thomas Agnews of Manchester and a later inscription reading Purchased by Guy B Martin, 1930s, from a sale in Bourton-on-the-Water.
The estimate of £10,000- 15,000 – a modest sum given that a palm-size plaque can bring over £5000 – guaranteed numerous potential suitors. The winning bid was £100,000 (plus 22% buyer’s premium).
“We had seven phone bidders, ranging from US and Italian collectors, London galleries and local trade interest” said Poole. “It was finally an Asian buyer who triumphed over an online underbidder.”