Sunday, 23 January 2011

Pietre Dure

Today I came across a magnificent example of pietre dure (Italian for "hard stone"). The term refers to the artistic cutting of semiprecious stones, such as agate and lapis lazuli, to create ornate luxury objects. The image above is a detail from Console Tabletop with Allegory of Air designed by Giuseppe Zocchi for the Galleria dei Lavori in Florence (1766). The entire picture is made from pietre dure in an alabaster ground. The frame is gilded bronze. Click the title link to see the full picture. Its artistry is brilliant, but also it appears to be accurate in its depiction of moths, butterflies and plants. In this corner I can see a red-and-black cinnabar moth, its orange-and-black striped caterpillar and the plant the caterpillar feeds on: ragwort. Both the plant and the caterpillar are poisonous. So this tabletop is more than a beautiful object; it's an educational tool and an historic record of European moths and butterflies in 1766. What a treasure! It belongs to the Musée du Louvre, Paris.


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