Polychrome Mosaic Inlay

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Polychrome Mosaic Inlay

1st Century B.C. to 1st Century A.D.
H: 3cm  x W:3.5cm



A Roman mosaic glass inlay of a female theatre mask, formed from two halves. The features of the opaque white face of the woman are outlined in thick blue-green lines, with brown-gold irises in the eyes. The dark-brown purple hair is pulled up into an elaborate style, with tightly coiled curls and beaded ringlets at the side. A red and yellow fillet with white beads sits on the top of her head, with yellow ribbons hanging on either side. The background is made of pale blue glass.

During the early Roman Imperial period, glass inlays were a popular decorations across various Roman provinces. Colourful glass formed part of the serving wares alongside silver and gold, with many fragments such as this one brought together into mosaic dishes. The mosaic pattern would have been made by sagging molten glass into bowl-shaped moulds, in a technique similar to the modern glass-making method of millefiori, where tiny coloured glass rods are bundled together, wrapped in a sheet of glass, fused and drawn out into a long bar, which was then sliced at right angles to create small patterned tiles. The tiles were then smoothed and polished. These were then sometimes arranged next to each other and fused together with heat to form the full image, or in the case of a symmetrical image made from two parts, one tile would be placed next to a reversed tile from the same rod to form a complete whole.


Collection Julien Gréau: Verrerie Antique, Tome I (Paris, 1903), Pl. LXVII, no. 3.
Cypriote & Classical Antiquities: Duplicates of the Cesnola & Other Collections [Part Two], The Anderson Galleries, New York, 20-21 April 1928, Lot 3 or 4.
Antiquities, Bonhams, London, 24 October 2012, Lot 21.


Previously in the Private Collection of Julien Gréau (1810-1895), France.
Private Collection of John Pierpont Morgan Sr. (1837-1913), London, acquired from the above after his death in 1895.
Thence by descent to John Pierpont Morgan Jr. (1867-1943), New York.
Gifted to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, in 1917.
Private Collection of Joseph Klein (1941-1980), New York, formed between 1941 and 1980.
Sold at: Antiquities, Bonhams, London, 24 October 2012, Lot 21.
ALR: S00236806, with IADAA Certificate, this item has been checked against the Interpol database. 

Note on the Provenance

Julien Gréau (1810-1895) was born in Troyes in 1810, but moved to Nemours, where his uncle, Baron Charroy, had returned from the Napoleonic Wars in Syria and Egypt. Gréau would listen eagerly to what he was told about the sights of the Nile valley, to the point where his uncle would have to get out pencil and paper to draw what he was describing: palm trees, camels, sphinxes, and pyramids. At nine, Gréau returned to Troyes, already with a keen interest in collecting antiques. He first looked for small Roman bronzes, which were plentiful in France at the time. He went on to study at the municipal college of Troyes, the Trecopithœanum, where he learned Latin and Greek, but was largely focused on sciences and mathematics. From 1828 to 1867, Gréau worked in industry, travelling frequently for his work. He witnessed the clearing of the remains of Arles and Nimes, and was greatly enthused, but it was not until 1855 that he made his debut as an antiques dealer at the Universal Exhibition.

After his father’s death in 1855, Gréau returned to Troyes to take over his seat in the Société Académique de l’Aube. Gréau was named president several times and presented papers on his precise research, on subjects ranging from Merovingian coins, to the excavation of a tomb in Aulnay. He also commissioned artists to produce copies of antiques in Troyes and the surrounding areas. In 1867, Gréau retired from business and wanted to settle in Paris, but when his mother died in 1868, he had to return to Nemours to administer the family properties. He spent twenty-four years conserving the region and the landscape, before passing the duties on when he became too old to continue. For the rest of his life, he spent his summers in Nemours, and his winters in seclusion in Paris, where he kept his collection in cases in his study, which overlooked the garden of the Missions étrangères. Here he studied glassware, of which he also had a large collection, trying to uncover the chemical processes used by Egyptian glassmakers.

Gréau built his collections throughout his life, selecting pieces for their style and degree of conservation. His pattern was to form a collection on one theme or material, and then sell it to begin another. Each of Gréau’s collections were catalogued by William Froehner, in multiple volumes. He first formed a numismatic collection, then a collection of bronzes. In 1873, he began developing a collection of terracotta, acquiring pieces from excavations in Tanagra and Asia Minor, and then a collection of Gallo-Roman pottery. His largest endeavour was that of glass, gathering about 5,000 glass objects, around 1,000 of which were still intact. Almost all of these pieces were engraved by the artist Massias, who recorded nearly 3,000 coloured objects, glass and enamels, spanning the Egyptian and Phoenician periods and continuing to the first Christian art. Gréau also collected ancient ceramics, and wall paintings from Rome and Pompeii, and medieval paintings on glass, Renaissance paintings, and miniatures. His works were exhibited in a room of their own at the 1878 Universal Exhibition in the Palais du Trocadéro, and expanded to fill three rooms at the 1889 exhibition.

John Pierpont Morgan Sr. (1837-1913) was born in 1837, and grew up in Hartford and Boston. He moved to London with his family in 1854, when his father joined an Anglo-American merchant bank. Morgan studied at school in Switzerland, and then the Germany university in Göttingen, before beginning an apprenticeship with a banker in New York. Together with his father, Morgan provided a sense of security for investors on both sides of the Atlantic on stocks and bonds in America’s emerging capital markets at Wall Street. They also financed America’s railroads and industrial corporations (including U.S. Steel, General Electric, International Harvester, and AT&T). If a Morgan railroad faced bankruptcy, Morgan would fire the managers, hire new ones, restructure the finances, and appoint a board of trustees to supervise the company during its recovery (a process now known as Morganisation). In a period in which there was no central bank in the United States, Morgan also served as the country’s unofficial funds in times of crisis. When the federal government was running out of gold I 1895, Morgan raised $65 million for the Treasury, and in 1907 he supplied liquidity to crashing markets in New York, briefly making him a national hero, before the Federal Reserve was founded. Much of Morgan’s authority came not from vast personal wealth, but from his sterling reputation, which allowed him to conjure support from international bankers, statesmen, and industrialists.

Morgan had many other interests beyond the financial sphere, and took two yearlong sabbaticals to Egypt, first in 1871-1872, and then in 1876-1877. Morgan built a private library next door to his brownstone on East Thirty-sixth Street to house his collections of rare books, illuminated manuscripts, and drawings. The London Times reported on Morgan’s library, saying ‘One out of ten has taste; one out of a hundred has genius. Mr. Frick, Mr. Altman, Mr. Widener in America, and the late Rodolphe Kann in Paris, come under the former category; but the man of genius is Mr. Pierpont Morgan’. Morgan provided little information about how he selected items for his collection, but he was buying far more than his seven houses and his library could contain. He had a good eye for art and a voracious appetite, often purchasing entire collections from others; for instance, he bought the complete glass collection of Julien Gréau after Gréau’s death in 1895. He would commissioned experts to find the best works of art and literature in the world to sell to him, and he would exhibit his purchases in his London house, for visiting scholars to judge, before he would complete payment. He would return objects that did not pass scrutiny, and developed relationships with dealers who would offer him their best pieces in order to maintain him as a client. Morgan was particularly interested in ancient Egyptian, medieval, eighteenth-century French decorative arts, and objects from the early Christian church. Over a period of just over twenty years, Morgan spent around $60 million on art. He kept most of his collections in his house in London, which King Edward VII once visited for a tour.