Thursday, September 12, 2013

Florence inspirations - Painting with (semiprecious) stones

We all know what painting is, and many of us own jewelry pieces with semiprecious stones.
But have you ever heard of paintings created with semiprecious stones?

A few years ago, I took a few painting lessons.
Mainly learning to use charcoal and watercolors.
When you start drawing a picture, you select the subject, take a piece of charcoal and...start to draw.
Obvious, right?

Take a look at this picture.

Girlandaio, who was Michelangelo teacher, coined the term 'painting with stone'.
Actually, it is painting with semiprecious stones.

Imagine you are the artist. Probably live in Florence - as this is the center of this craft.

In order to create this picture - you first need to select the stones.
Selecting the right pieces of stone, is of uttermost importance. It can take months to find the right colors and shades.

Some of the stones would be from Italy - Onyx, Calcedony, Verde Arno. Others would be imported from faraway lands: Blue Lapis lazuli, green Malachite, Jade.

Then you would draw the picture full scale, divide it into sections. Each section with need to be cut out from a slice of stone, exactly in the right shape. Just look at the flower petals in this picture - doesn't look easy - does it?

Work in process in the workshop of Renzo Scarpelli.
The plan is ready, the stone selected, now it is time to cut the stone.
The paper template is glued onto the slices of stone - and now the sawing starts.
As sometimes there are thousands of pieces required to make a single picture or tabletop - it can take month and even years to complete sawing all pieces.

Master Scarpelli at work, using the traditional bow and iron wire for cutting the stone.

Take a look at the stone selection in the drawers behind the bench!

Notice the grey paste behind the stone that is being cut?
It contains an abrasive powder that enables to cut through the stone.

How do you cut the pieces exactly in the needed shape to fit the picture perfectly?
The only answer I got was "maybe it is the 52 years of experience ...".

Pieces of stone all cut?
Now glue them together with beeswax and resin, placed on slate backing, polished and ...voila!

An art piece I now proudly own - The cat looking at the moon, by R. Scarpelli.

Florence was for centuries famous for the art of 'painting with stones'.
The institute of 'Pietre Dure', created by the Medici as a workshop - turned into a gem of a museum today, well worth a visit in order to see the wonderful art pieces and learn a bit about the process.

Here is a sneak preview:

Tabletop with parrot, flowers and military trophies - photographed by us at the museum

Just look at the incredible details, the parrot in the center

The parrot
...and one of the vases

Some of the old work benches are displayed on the first floor of the museum as well:

Yep, this is me looking at the beautiful wooden benches.
Notice the stone collection on the wall?

If you happen to be in Florence, and want to experience the art of painting with stones - here are a few places for you to visit:

Opificio delle Pietre Dure
Via degli Alfani, 78, Florence, Italy

The Medici Capella in Basilica de San Lorenzo - a marvel of Pietra Dure art.
Truly unbelievable.

If you want to see one of the very few artists in action in his workshop in Florence - 
stop by Scarpelli workshop and galleria at 
Via Ricasoli 59/r - 50122 Firenze  

Looking at this beautiful and demanding work, I realize how much I came to appreciate craftsmanship.
After all, art is something very subjective, and beauty is in the eyes of the beholder - but it is impossible not to appreciate the type of craftsmanship, honed by decades of experience that creates these unique one of a kind art pieces.

A very interesting counterpoint to our ready made / replicated / immediate results oriented world.

What do you think?

Bursting full of experiences from my 2 week stay in Florence, probably some of them will end up in the next posts.

Bye until then,

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