What is Pietra Dura?
Pietra Dura, commonly known as Florentine Mosaics but sometimes called marquetry in stone, is a highly skilled and little known craft using semi-precious stones, hard stones and marbles to create exquisite and life-like “paintings in stone”.
The History of Pietra Dura.
This ancient 16th Century technique originated in Italy and was sponsored by the Medici family in Florence throughout the Renaissance. By the 18th Century Pietra Dura had spread throughout Europe and was a must-have collectors item for any aristocrat doing the Grand Tour, the results of which can be seen in many National Trust houses and private stately homes today.
Having declined since the world wars Florentine Pietra Dura is kept alive by a handful of dedicated artists, most, but not all, in Florence. Thomas Greenaway is the only English craftsman producing original pieces in the traditional style. From his workshop in Northamptonshire Thomas produces a range of eye-catching and unique works of art including tabletops, jewelry boxes, paperweights and framed panels. He also restores rare and antique Pietra Dura tables and makes bespoke items to commission, which are sold worldwide.
Various different methods can be employed to create Pietra Dura depending on the object being made. Panels are made in two ways: Commesso (where pieces are fitted side by side to the edge of the panel) or Intarsia (where pieces are inlaid into a marble background).
In order to create a typical intarsia panel carefully selected stones (such as lapis lazuli, jasper, chalcedony and many Tuscan stones) are sliced to a thickness of approx. 3 mm and backed onto slate. A design is traced in detail and paper templates are made for each individual part of the design. The most skillful part of the process is to find a piece of stone with the right colour, shading and texture to exactly match the design, giving the finished object a life-like perspective and depth.
Once the pieces of stone have been selected and the template has been glued on, using a natural bees wax and pine resin glue, the chosen area of stone is then accurately cut out by hand, following the template using a bow saw (archetto) with a plain taught iron wire. Carborundum abrasive is applied to the wire to help it cut the stone. The pieces of stone are then very accurately filed by hand to ensure the join is perfect before being glued together with the bees wax resin and inlaid into a marble panel. Finally the completed work is painstakingly polished by hand using finer grades of carborundum and a hard Agate stone to produce a high glass-like finish.
About Thomas Greenaway.
Thomas discovered Pietra Dura on a visit to Italy where he stumbled across the Opificio delle Pietre Dure in Florence, a cultural heritage institute, which evolved from the Medici Workshops andwhich houses an excellent collection of Pietra Dura. He was instantly smitten with this beautiful and precise work and spent the next four years training in the Pietra Dura workshops of Florence before returning to Northamptonshire to start up his own business, Greenaway Mosaics.
Having previously trained at The Chippendale School of Furniture & Restoration Thomas had already developed a liking for detailed marquetry work in wood but after encountering Pietra Dura, he realised he had found his calling. Stone had so much more to offer, the skills involved being both challenging and satisfying, requiring skill, patience, dedication and, of course, prodigious talent. Working every day in this ancient and delicate art, making the stones come alive is what Thomas loves and through him the art of Pietra Dura lives on.
For more information see www.greenawaymosaics.com