The Art of Hard Stones

Another adventure off the typical tourist route in Florence is the small museum Museo Opificio delle Pietre Dure which showcases the art of Pietre Dure. Perhaps more familiar are the artistic techniques of mosaic, using small pieces of cut stone or marquetry, applying pieces of wood veneer to form patterns and pictures, but Pietre Dure requires the cutting of thin colored stone in the exact pattern shapes that are fitted together like a puzzle, with invisible seams. Petre Dure’s work dates to the 1600’s. Commissioned by Popes and wealthy patrons, you will find his work on chapel walls, tables and other decorative items for private homes.    

The workshop in Florence was commissioned by Ferdinando I de’Medici in 1588 to provide elaborate pieces. Today, in addition to the museum, there is a library, workshop and programs training new artisans. The museum is housed in a renovated, historic building that wraps around a central garden. The traditional floor plan was altered to expose a two-story gallery that adds more light than you usually find in original buildings.    

Without the large crowds in other museums, you can enjoy your visit at your own pace. No tours are offered, and the signage is mostly in Italian. However, in every room there were laminated information sheets for visitors to use as they examine the pieces on display. The tables and the intricate altar piece are some of the larger pieces. Most walls are covered with works that appear to be paintings but are completed with different colored stone to create florals, geometric patterns and portraits.   

The second floor houses the ancient machinery and tools that are used to create Pietre Dure art. A film explains the detailed process of selecting the perfect color, grain and transparency of stone and the precise cutting of each piece to fit the pattern and complete the design.