September 05, 2008

Treasures in Pietre Dure at The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Since Biblical times, when Moses inscribed the Ten Commandments on two tablets, objects of stone have been associated with importance and power. During the Renaissance, the belief that princely grandeur should be evidenced by luxury and magnificence, both in public and private, was manifested again in works made of stone. It was in 16th Century Italy that the art of pietre dure, literally "hard stones", was developed and its popularity quickly spread throughout the royal courts of Europe.

This summer The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is presenting an outstanding selection of some of the finest examples of these works from imperial households in Florence, Venice, Papal Rome, Paris, The Holy Roman Empire and Russia. There is even an 18th Century commode lent by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, with hardstone mosaic panels by Galleria dei Lavori, Florence, the original grand ducal workshops founded by the Medicis.

Exotic colored stones, such as lapis lazuli, amethyst, malachite, colored marble and rock crystal were transformed into practical and decorative objects such as tabletops, collector's cabinets, clocks, devotional pieces and jewelry boxes with intricately inlaid motifs of flowers and fruit, landscapes and geometric patterns (see "The Barberini Cabinet" above). The imagery is as fine as a Realist painting - some works actually trompe l'œuil in effect. The natural properties of stone ensured the colors did not fade and these antique pieces remain as drop dead gorgeous now as the day they were made.

The Met curators have assembled a breathtaking collection of over 150 pieces showcasing the finest that noble artisans could produce. I promise you, "Art of the Royal Court: Treasures in Pietre Dure from the Palaces of Europe" will not disappoint!

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