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What is Pietra Dura Process Pietra Dura History Pietra Dura
Literature Pietra Dura

Castles and museums

Pietra dura developed from the Ancient Roman opus sectile, which at least in terms of surviving examples, was architectural, used on floors and walls, with both geometric and figurative designs. In the Middle Ages cosmatesque floors and small columns etc on tombs and altars continued to use inlays of different colours in geometric patterns. Byzantine art continued with inlaid floors, but also produced some small religious figures in hardstone inlays, for example in the Pala d'Oro in San Marco, Venice (though this mainly uses enamel). In the Italian Renaissance this technique again was used for images. The Florentines, who most fully developed the form, however, regarded it as 'painting in stone'. It is stated that Domenico Ghirlandaio "dubbed the medium 'Pittura per l'eternità' -- that is, painting for eternity".

As it developed in Florence, the technique was initially called opere di commessi (approximately, "Works of the commissariat"). Medici Grand Duke Ferdinando I of Tuscany founded the Galleria di'Lavori in 1588, now the Opificio delle pietre dure, for the purpose of developing this and other decorative forms.

A multitude of varied objects were created. Table tops were particularly prized, and these tend to be the largest specimens. Smaller items in the form of medallions, cameos, wall plaques, panels inserted into doors or onto cabinets, bowls, jardinieres, garden ornaments, fountains, benches, etc. are all found. A popular form was to copy an existing painting, often of a human figure, as illustrated by the image of Pope Clement VIII, above. Examples are found in many museums. The medium was transported to other European centers of court art and remained popular into the 19th century. In particular, Naples became a noted center of the craft. By the 20th century, the medium was in decline, in part by the assault of modernism, and the craft had been reduced to mainly restoration work. In recent decades, however, the form has been revived, and receives state-funded sponsorship. Modern examples range from tourist-oriented kitsch including syrupy reproductions of 19th century style religious subjects (especially in Florence and Naples), to works copying or based on older designs used for luxurious decorative contexts, to works in a genuinely contemporary artistic idiom.


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