Di Pietre Dure - A Florentine Mosaic
(1967 - 14" x 16")
above caption in Italian literally means the placing together of pieces
of gemstone to form what the English refer to as a Florentine Mosaic. "El
Picaro" is Spanish for "The Rascal." This is the title of
my latest intarsia which will be described in this article.
conversing with the many thousands of people who attend our gem and mineral
shows throughout the nation I find a very small minority who really understand
the composition of a gemstone intarsia such as "El Picaro.'
word or two on the history and types for those in the hobby wishing to do
something of this sort might prove interesting and enlightening. To refer
to an intarsia as being a mosaic can be confusing unless one has studied
this form of art. Probably the most familiar to us are the small square
ceramic tiles set in mastic and used so much in the craft classes to make
ornamental objects such as table tops and ashtrays.
the oldest form of mosaic was made by ancient man using bits of shell and
stone to form crude outlines of man and beast as a means of self expression.
We do, however, have some fine examples of the art of Mosaics in Florence
Italy dating back several centuries. The Roman and Byzantine mosaics were
mostly constructed of square tiles of ceramic sometimes stone and shell
set ina cement or mastic to form the outlines of a design or the human form
on large panels to form ornamentation. Later the Romans were responsible
for a better technique, that of breaking, or cutting the tiles into shaped
segments and fitting the pieces much closer giving the whole a much more
realistic appearance. Perhaps this was the forerunner of the true Florentine
mosaic. At least it took the Florentines to perfect the techniques used
in what we commonly call an intarsia.
became the center of this particular form of art. They succeeded in developing
the mosaics to a point where the pieces fitted together so perfectly that
the mastic did not show form the viewing side. This is what we of the gemstone
hobby try to do today when making an intarsia.
is very time consuming and therefore the Florentine mosaics were hard to
come by and only the wealthy could afford them. So other means were devised
to meet the demands of the conservative tourist. Large slabs of stone were
fitted together making land, sea, and sky, then the details of buildings,
figures, flora and fauna were painted on the slabs in oils al of which was
obvious on close inspection and never very popular.
type of mosaic is constructed of pebbles, glass and sometimes gemstone polished
and in baroque form these are a conglomerate and referred to as pebble mosaics.
the art shops of Germany and finds yet another form of intarsia constructed
of thin laminae of wood some natural, some sections dyed and made to look
like Florentine mosaics. The pieces are tightly fitted and inlaid in wood
panels and called wood intarsias. The grain and pattern of the wood is used
in the same manner we use patterns in gemstone for our present day Florentine
my travels here and abroad I viewed closely a number of works of art that
were referred to as Florentine Mosaics. Many were extremely beautiful and
defied the eye to discern the joins in any light, nor in any portion of
the composition. This bothered me considerably because I don't think anyone
could have tried harder than I have to eliminate joins. Perfection is what
I strive for and I have since come to the conclusion that only under certain
conditions is this possible in true Florentine mosaics. This is especially
true of portraiture.
little research on the subject of Florentine mosaics proved very enlightening
and confirmed my conclusions regarding some of the art objects I had seen.
Numerous references are made to a material called Scagliola. This material
had been used in the making of imitation marble for a long period of time.
Scagliola is made of finely pulverized selenite of high quality made into
a plaster or gesso. Sometimes gypsum was used. It could be colored and after
dying, fired and polished to a high luster.
the early 18th century, a few enterprising craftsmen developed Scagliola
as a medium for stone mosaics in order to satisfy the demands of the tourist
trade. Scagliola was suitably colored and used like paint on a gesso background,
fired, sanded, polished and sold as Florentine mosaics for they were stone.
The men apparently were very successful because I have seen more of this
type in this country that I have of genuine Florentine mosaics. The astonishing
realism and well defined structure defied the eye to detect joins. This
aroused my curiosity and prompted me to delve into the subject of mosaics.
It is quite understandable why scagliola was used when one realizes the
time, effort, material and patience that goes into the making of what I
nave always referred to as a gemstone intarsia. Florentine mosaics are highly
valued and in those days only the very rich could afford them.
I should mention the ostentatious undertaking by a group of craftsmen in
1633. This monumental task was commissioned by Grand Duke Ferdinando II.
It was for the grate octagonal table now in the museum of the OPTIFICO in
Florence, Italy. Done in pietre dure (Florentine mosaic) it took thirteen
men sixteen years to complete. Consisting of porphyry, chalcedony, jasper,
malachite, lapis lazuli and countless other materials inlaid on a background
of black Flanders marble. This can give only a fragmentary idea of the inestimable
worth of some of these beautiful relics of the past.
far as I can determine the first portrait in Florentine mosaic was done
in 1598 by Francesco Ferruci taken from a portrait painted by Domenico Creste
and titled "Il Passignano." This mosaic is in the "Museo
dell Optifico delle pietre dure" in Florence Italy. The stone portrait
is titled Cosimo I and is considered less realistic than the painting; but
it must have taken a lot of something to have achieved a work of this order
in those days when they didn't have the modern tools and methods we have
. . . . . . . . . .
. . . . .. ."Gypsy Rhythm"
. . . . . . . .. .. . . . . . . . . .. .. . .. .. . . .Geisha
. . . . . .. . . .
mosaics in pietre dure, in the round and in high relief were never very
plentiful. Few remain I existence today. From my personal experience in
this field I derived a great deal of pleasure and satisfaction. Well known
to many is my "Gypsy Rhythm" an 18" x 24" gemstone mosaic
consisting of five-hundred pieces, carved in relief, depicting male and
female dancers in Spanish costume. Each gemstone piece had to be carved
and polished before it could be assembled. Another of my carved intarsias
is "Geisha" written up in the Lapidary Journal in 1959. Also I
have done a few pieces in the round. I do not find them easy; and a great
deal of planning is required to figure the placement of materials, plus
plenty of experience with the diamond saw and other special tools.