The annular plaque embellished with a scene depicting a goldfinch perched on a tree branch defending its nest with chicks from a serpent coiled beneath it, signed 'Giacomo Raffaelli Fece Roma 1796' to the reverse.
Note: A well known allegory of loyalty, this scene appears in variations in a few examples by Raffaeli, two of which are now in the Wallace Collection and one in the Hermitage Museum.
As a distinctive bird, coveted for its beautiful song as much as its colourful markings, the goldfinch has been held captive by humans for thousands of years and so it is understandable that it was given symbolic meaning. Allegories were very popular during the Middle Ages in Europe and whilst the logic behind much of it is sometimes obscure to a modern mind, echoes of these ideas are still imbedded in our beliefs to this day.
Christian scholars wrote many birds into biblical contexts. The Goldfinch finds himself in the midst of this tendency due to three of its attributes; its consumption of thistles, its golden back, and its red facial markings. As early as the Ancient Greeks birds with yellow eyes (and then increasingly any other yellow markings) were imbued with curative powers, especially in alleviating the symptoms of jaundice. This element gives weight to the idea of the goldfinch as a benevolent and magical creature, one that has its source in its main food source, the thistle. Thistles were thought to help fight against the plague and generally seen as blessed plants (having their own symbolic connection to the crucifixion). Indeed a study was made by American ornithologist Herbert Friedmann that found the height of the goldfinch representation in painting roughly coincided with the Black Death in the second quarter of the 14th Century with their presence in a painting thought to protect the owner or viewer of the art work. The final feature that found the goldfinch woven into allegorical lore was its red plumage around its beak. Like the robin and the barn swallow, the goldfinch was thought to have gained its red stained feathers as a badge of honour after having frantically plucked at the thorns of Jesus's crown to free him. It is around these three ideas that grew the symbolism of the goldfinch, especially in Italy.
By the time of these micro mosaics in the 18th Century, the goldfinch had become an implicitly protective emblem and an allegorical symbol of devotional love and loyalty.
Jeanette Hanisee Gabriel, Micromosaics Private Collections, 2016, P.121 plate 74. page dedicated to this plaque confirming that it was in the Dario Ghhio Private Collection in Monaco.
Anna Maria Massinelli, Giacomo Raffaeli (1753 -1836) Maestro di stile e di mosaico, Inprogress S.r.l. 2018, P.85 plate 72 for a fireplace with a central plaque of the same design (without the chicks in the nest). P.16 plate 10 for a goldfinch in the same pose. P.227 plate 245-249 for four examples of goldfinches, P.230 plate 256b for a plaque of the same design (with no nest in the tree)