FRAME | WORK is a weekly blog series that highlights an artwork in the Museums' permanent collections. This week, we feature a finely crafted work of European decorative art from 17th-century Florence, currently on display in Gallery 5 at the Legion of Honor.
This panel was produced in the royal Florentine pietre dure (or hard stone) workshops founded by Ferdinando de’ Medici in 1588. The Medici was the ruling family of Florence, and they demonstrated their prestige and artistic ambitions through the production of these mosaics made of semi-precious hardstones and marbles. The brilliant and glowing colors of the stones, combined with the technical virtuosity needed to work them made panels like these a luxury item that appealed to the rulers of Europe.
In emulation of the great palaces of ancient Rome, these sumptuous materials were used to decorate the walls and furnishings of the royal residences and churches of Florence. The Florentine workshops, however, innovated the use of hardstones in these panels by departing from the abstract patterns used by the Roman workshops before them. In addition, the Florentines demonstrated technical virtuosity in the cutting of the stones, which, under their expert hands, could be cut down to strips as thin as 1/8 of an inch.
Along with ten other similar panels, this example was originally mounted on the walls of the chapel of the royal villa of Poggio Imperiale outside of Florence sometime before 1641. The panel's design shows the growing interest in natural history. Using the integral markings of the stones, the artist carefully rendered the tulips, roses and ranunculus. Working with only hacksaws and wires, the craftsmen of Florence were able to cut the hardstones into complex and delicate shapes, creating compositions known as “Paintings in Stone” that astonished and delighted all who saw them.
Experience this multimedia Renaissance masterpiece on your next visit to the Legion of Honor!