Monday, September 5, 2011

Pietra Dura

       Here is another quite amazing craft technique that I discovered by accident, while searching for something interesting videos on Vimeo. I’ve seen some small examples here and there, but since I’ve never been to Italy, I guess I’m missing on the most spectacular pieces. Unfortunately, I can’t manage post the first video I found, so I’m replacing it with another one, but if you are interested, you can still see it at  

       Pietra dura or pietre dure, called parchin kari in South Asia, is a term for the technique of using cut and fitted, highly-polished colored stones to create images. It is considered a decorative art. The stonework, after the work is assembled loosely, is glued stone-by-stone to a substrate after having previously been sliced and cut in different shape sections; and then assembled together so precisely that the contact between each section is practically invisible. Stability is achieved by grooving the undersides of the stones so that they interlocked, rather like a jigsaw puzzle, with everything held tautly in place by an encircling 'frame'. Many different colored stones, particularly marbles, are used, along with semiprecious, and even precious stones. It first appeared in Rome in the 16th century, reaching its full maturity in Florence. Pietra dura items are generally crafted on green, white or black marble base stones. Typically the resulting panel is completely flat, but some examples where the image is in low relief were made, taking the work more into the area of hard stone carving.

        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 /a style of geometric decorative inlay stonework typical of Medieval Italy/  and small columns 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. 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".