When in Rome, do as the Romans do? The conservation of an Italian marble and micromosaic tabletop

Elizabeth La Duc


A 19th-century Italian marble tabletop featuring micromosaic scenes of Rome was the subject of technical study and conservation treatment. The tabletop, part of the collection of Historic New England, is elaborately decorated with two distinct techniques: inlaid colored stones, known as commesso di pietre dure or Florentine mosaic, and micromosaics, also known as mosaici minuti. The tabletop was broken into four large pieces with areas of loss along the breaks and required extensive treatment before going on display in the recently  reinterpreted Josiah Quincy House in Quincy, Massachusetts. The materials and methods of manufacture were investigated using FTIR spectroscopy,  photomicrography, and art historical research. Issues concerning best practices for treatment of the tabletop are discussed with regard to the use of traditional methods versus the use of modern replacement materials. Losses to the pietre dure were isolated and then filled with bulked and tinted epoxy, using techniques developed to imitate colored stone as well as to increase reversibility. The losses in the micromosaics were filled and then inpainted using methods to replicate the complex appearance of the originals. Some traditional practices, such as the use of fine abrasives and wax coatings, were determined to be appropriate and satisfactory for the treatment.

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2016 | Montreal | Volume 23