April 22, 2007

Hard Stones and Rain Flower Pebbles

Pietre Dure (literally, ‘hard stones’), as previously mentioned here, is ‘the technique of using small, exquisitely cut and fitted, highly-polished coloured stones to create what amounts to a painting in stone.’ The first thirteen of the images below are details of scans from a book entitled Pietre Dure and the Art of Florentine Inlay by Annamaria Giusti (and translated from the Italian by Fabio Barry) published last year by Thames & Hudson. In the book, Giusti traces the antecedents of pietre dure work in the opus sectile floor and wall mosaics of classical Rome, in mediæval ‘Cosmatesque’ work, and in the intricate marble table-tops of Renaissance Rome, before examining the flowering of the technique proper in Medici Florence, Rudolfine Prague and elsewhere.

Detail of a pietre dure panel with a design in the style of Baccio del Bianco, Florentine, 2nd quarter 17th C.

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Detail of a pietre dure tabletop with a parrot, vases of flowers and panoplies, after a design by Jacopo Ligozzi, ca. 1600.

From the time of the first Medici Grand Duke, Cosimo I., there had been a great appreciation and demand for this kind of decorative stonework in Florence, a demand that at first had to be met by recruiting suitably skilled craftsmen from elsewhere in Italy, and even from as far afield as Flanders. Cosimo also encouraged local production, which was further cultivated by his successors Francesco I. and Ferdinando I., with the latter duke establishing an official workshop, known as the Galleria dei Lavori, at the end of the 1580s, ‘which immediately acquired an international reputation […] for its refined hardstone creations.’ Ferdinando’s workshop survives even to the present day, in the form of the Opificio delle Pietre Dure.

Detail of part of a pietre dure tabletop known as 'the table of strewn flowers,' after a design by Jacopo Ligozzi, 1614-21. Detail of part of a pietre dure tabletop known as 'the table of strewn flowers,' after a design by Jacopo Ligozzi, 1614-21.

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Detail of part of a pietre dure tabletop with landscape and birds, Florentine, ca. 1650. Detail of part of a pietre dure tabletop with landscape and birds, Florentine, ca. 1650.

Several of the present images are in pairs: this is because many of the best reproductions in Giusti’s book fall across double-page spreads, and thus I was unable to scan them in full, so instead I scanned as large a portion of each facing page as I could. The first detail above shows part of a pietre dure panel based on a design by Baccio (or Bartolommeo) del Bianco (1604-1657), which could easily pass as one of Callot’s gobbi. The second shows the central portion of a tabletop completed by the grandducal workshop in 1604, after a design by Jacopo Ligozzi (1547-1627), a prolific painter, draughtsman and printmaker who was eventually appointed the Florentine workshop’s capomaestro.

Detail of part of a pietre dure panel with landscape design, a product of the Castrucci workshop, Prague, ca. 1596. Detail of part of a pietre dure panel with landscape design, a product of the Castrucci workshop, Prague, ca. 1596.

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Detail of part of a pietre dure panel with a view of the Port of Livorno, after a design by Giuseppe Zocchi, Florence, 1750s. Detail of part of a pietre dure panel with a view of the Port of Livorno, after a design by Giuseppe Zocchi, Florence, 1750s.

Ligozzi was also responsible for the design of the exquisite ‘table of strewn flowers,’ parts of which are highlighted in the first set of twinned details, above. This tabletop was assembled at the granducal workshop between 1614 and 1621, and is one of the most extravagant examples of the most typical Florentine pietre dure style, where brightly-coloured stones are set against a background of black marble. The next pair of images show two parts of a ‘tabletop with birds and landscape,’ another product of the Galleria dei Lavori, this time dating from the mid-17th century. The next brace of details shows an entirely different style, that typical of the Castrucci workshop in Prague, notable for its preponderance of green and red jaspers.

Detail of part of a pietre dure panel with a view of the Port of Livorno, after a design by Giuseppe Zocchi, Florence, 1750s. Detail of part of a pietre dure panel with an 'Allegory of Water,' after a design by Giuseppe Zocchi, Florence, 1750s, with 19th-century additions.

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Detail of part of a pietre dure panel with an 'Allegory of Air,' after a design by Giuseppe Zocchi, Florence, 1750s.

The remainder of the images above belong to a later, post Medicean period, when Tuscany was ruled from Vienna by the Grand Duke (and later Emperor of Austria) Francis Stephen of Lorraine, during which time production at the Galleria dei Lavori came under the direction of the French goldsmith, Louis Siriès, who engaged the services of the Florentine artist Giuseppe Zocchi to design a spectacular series of pietre dure panels destined for the Habsburg court. The penultimate set of twinned details above show parts of a ‘View of the Port of Livorno,’ while following that are details from a vibrantly-coloured ‘Allegory of Water,’ and a close-up of part of a similarly vivid ‘Allegory of Air:’ all of which were based on studies painted by Zocchi.

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Rain flower pebble with banded pattern. Another rain flower pebble with bands and whorls.
Rain flower pebble with 'landscape' pattern. Another rain flower pebble with 'landscape' pattern.

I first heard of ‘rain flower pebbles’ by way of a comment on my previous post about ‘pictorial stones.’ These pebbles, variously of crystal, agate, jasper and quartz, are thought to have been formed In the ancient Yangtze river some three million years ago, thereafter being deposited in the Nanjing region of China. They have been admired and collected for a millennium: some of them include patterns resembling skyscapes or landscapes, birds, beasts or human figures, such as Athanasius Kircher would have been delighted to possess. The last eight of the present images were scanned from a book entitled, simply Rain Flower Pebbles, published in 1990 in Hong Kong, by the Jiangsu People’s Publishing House.

Rain flower pebble with bird-like pattern. Rain flower pebble with rabbit-like pattern.
Rain flower pebble with tree-like pattern. Rain flower pebble with sunset-like pattern.

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Posted by misteraitch at April 22, 2007 05:51 PM
Comments

Thanks for all these!

I actually did something about your prior post on pictorial stones, and now have a story, "Rain Flower Pebbles," forthcoming in "Postscripts" (U. K.)--issue 11 (Spring/Summer 2007).

Posted by: marly on April 23, 2007 10:57 PM

That may well be the visually finest post I've yet seen.

cheers
juke moran

Posted by: juke moran on April 24, 2007 09:34 AM

visiting your site is sometimes like wandering in to a vegas casino and hitting the jackpot ... many thanks

Posted by: tristanforward on April 25, 2007 08:21 PM

I had never seen rain flower pebbles. How fascinating that comparison with Kirchner is: what he finds in nature conforms to his culture and ideology, and, yes, the rain flower pebbles do too, but so much less obtrusively. Thanks as always.

Posted by: roy booth on May 12, 2007 09:55 PM

Thanks for share. That is amazing!

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