Sunday, December 2, 2012

Pietre Dure, a Florentine Art Form

Flowers of stone, ready to be fitted into a background.
Florence, Italy, is known as the center of the Renaissance. With French influences, the residence of great artists like Michelangelo and the patronage of the Medici Family, probably the richest family of the time, it was able to build a glorious city and reputation. To this day, long after its time as capital of Italy and the Renaissance, it hosts the world's best artists working in inlaid stone.

Derek and I spent a rainy afternoon at the Palazzo Pitti, the grand home of the Medici family. It is now a museum that should require two full days for the average tourist, more for those who have a true interest in art. Inside are, of course, vast collections of sculptures and paintings. In addition, the Medici family had inlaid stone table tops, floors, furniture and jewelry. Each piece of a stone inlay was carefully selected to provide the impression of whatever it was intended to portray. Azure stone with sweeps of white create wide blue skies, malachite with wavy patterns makes for a perfect hedge, smooth swaths of cream and brown stones create roads, walls of houses or the chestnut hair around a baby's face. The "paintings" created from these inlaid stones were so impressive that we consequently visited a studio where a well known artist, trained by his famous father, is still working in this medium.

Leonardo Scarpelli gave us a demonstration of Pietre Dure (hard stone) -  how he plans a piece, creates small paper patterns, finds the perfect section of stone from many drawers full of thin sheets, all cut to the same thickness, and finally cuts out the section to fit perfectly with the hundreds of others in any given work. His assistant then showed how the finished piece is polished to perfection, mounted on a board and framed. Their shop, Le Pietre nell'Arte, is filled with pietre dure pieces for sale by both father and son, as well as a book filled with projects they've done such as a 15 foot long tabletop for wealthy Americans that took four years to complete. The Medici family started a workshop to develop this art form in 1588, and it exists to this day as the Opificio delle Pietre Dure Museum. 

Leonardo cutting a sheet of stone with a superfine
blade fitted on a bow.

A "painting" in progress

The pieces fit together perfectly,
without any gaps in the seam.

For a wonderful video on this process, click on this link: