By the Opificio delle Pietre Dure, Florence
ITALY, circa 1650
14 x smaller panels depicting birds and flowers:
Height: 3.75 inches (9.5cm)
Width: 5.25 inches (13cm)
Depth: 0.75 inches (2cm)
Large central panel depicting a parrot:
Height: 12 inches (30cm)
Width: 9.5 inches (24cm)
Depth: 1 inch (2.3cm)
Comparators: A close parallel is the plaque depicting a parrot on the branch of a pear tree which is the Opificio delle Pietre Dure (http://www.opificiodellepietredure.it/), a public institute of the Italian Ministry for Cultural Heritage in Florence (see image below). This panel was illustrated in two books by Anna Maria Guisti: ‘Il Museo dell’Opificio delle pietre dure a Firenze’ (Electa, 1978, fig. 109) and ‘Pietre Dure and the Art of Florentine Inlay’ (Thames and Hudson, 2005, p.151). The caption reads ‘Formella con papagallo su albero di pero. Commesso di alberese, lapislazzuli, breccia antica, verde antico et calcedonio di Volterra su fondo di marmo nero profilature de diaspro bianco di Caselli 26 x 18 cm in 469 n.48 inv 1789’.
Pietra Dura panels like these were often incorporated in cabinets, but the Rastatt Favorite Palace retains an extraordinary room where the panels were framed and inset in the walls: The Florentine Room (Florentiner Kabinett) at Rastatt Favorite Palace (Schloss Favorite Rastatt) on the outskirts of Rastatt-Förch in Baden-Württemberg, Germany, is still in its original condition when it was built as a Baroque summer residence and hunting palace for the young Margravine Sibylla Augusta of Baden-Baden, between 1710 and 1727. 758 framed pietra dura panels cover the walls; crafted from marble, granite and semiprecious stones (see image below).
Opificio delle Pietre Dure: In 1588, Ferdinando I de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, established a court laboratory which specialised in semi-precious mosaics and inlays. This institution, which remained active for around three centuries, was the core of the Opificio delle Pietre Dure, which still has its seat in the original location chosen in 1798 for the laboratories formerly housed in the Uffizi.
The so-called ‘Florentine brand’ dates back to the late 16th Century, and consisted of a mosaic technique which used natural colours and precious stones, cut in sections and matched to form a larger image. ‘Stone painting’ was the term used to define Florentine mosaics, as artisans used the technique used to represent a wide range of subjects. Flowers and plants were frequently depicted alongside fruit and birds.
From the early years of the 17th Century, the laboratory also contributed to the monumental project of the Chapel of the Prince. The mausoleum of the Medici family erected in 1604 by Ferdinando 1, who had planned to entirely decorate it with semi-precious stones. The incredible commitment of the laboratory is documented in the Museum with several works and projects, connected with different phases of an activity that covered several centuries.
Bibliography: Anna Maria Massinelli, ‘Hardstones: The Gilbert Collection’, Philip Wilson Publishers, London, 2000.