Travelers to Florence Italy are certainly amazed at Botticelli Birth of Venus or Michelangelo’s David, but that’s what they already expect to see in Renaissance City. One of the things I like most about my job as a tourist guide is to see the reaction of people to an unexpected wonder and nothing like the commesso di pietre dure causes such a reaction of surprise and admiration.
Commesso di pietre dure technique
The Commesso, also named Florentine Mosaic (an equivocal translation), is a technique for representing pictures, just like in painting, using the natural color of semi-precious stones, which are cut by hand in shapes that allow to create a plain surface, with absolutely no space between stone and stone.
This kind of technique was first promoted by Francesco I Grand Duke of Tuscany but perfected some years later, when his brother Ferdinando decided to start the construction of the Chapel of the Princes, the monumental tombs of the Medici dynasty. Ferdinando founded the Opificio delle pietre dure (workshop of the hard stones), where the Florentine artisans reached such a perfection in this technique that almost any court in Europe required their work.
To create commesso di pietre dure, artisans had to cut hard stones using a metal string glued with diamond powder. This requires a lot of work as you can imagine, which made the commesso almost impossible to produce today. Back in the past the problem was the cost of materials while today it’s the cost of labor.
In Florence, the best place to go in order to see examples of Commesso di pietre dure, is the Medici Chapel; some of the works made for this monument and never finished are in the Opificio Delle Pietre Dure museum. You can find some examples in the Palatine Gallery of the Pitti Palace and in Palazzo Vecchio.