Paesina Stone of Florence
Paesina stone is a variety of Alberese limestone which can be found in all the Northern Apennine mountain areas of Italy. It is the most singular example of “pictorial stone” in the limestone family. Because of the depictions it is able to conjure up and because of its specific origin, it is also called: landscape stone, ruin stone, ruiniform limestone or marble, and Florentine marble
It is a sedimentary stone mainly made of compressed limestone and clay formed in sea beds about 50 million years ago, with infiltrations of iron and manganese hydroxide which are responsible for the colourings. The origin of its pictorial features is, however, still a matter of debate. According to some scholars these infiltrations gave rise to the chromatic variations, but only subsequent mechanical interaction determined micro-fractures resulting in layer slides that created the final ruiniform aspect. According to others, these micro fractures, composed of spathic calcite, were already present in the limestone and determined the geometric design which affected the infiltration penetration. Limestone is usually affected by colouring only in peripheral areas and the most intense chromatic alterations seldom reach the internal zones, which with its bluish grey tones evokes images of sky and water.
Records exist that this stone has been used for ornamental purposes since ancient times. But it is only from the 16th century on that its peculiar designs and its chromatic variations were particularly appreciated and used to decorate ornamental furniture, cabinets and other furnishings.
Paesina stone was also used in works realized with the technique of “Commesso” (also known as the Florentine Mosaic Art technique). Florentine art of ancient tradition still in use, consists to build a mosaic using various stones "committed together".
Florentine mosaic art technique, work of the masters Renzo and Leonardo Scarpelli.
Starting from the following century the decorative use of this stone spread abroad from Italy and was used by famous painters and engravers as a background for oil paintings, where the landscapes depicted on these stones by nature were completed by the artists who added images, objects and real or mythical creatures.
Only from the 19th century on did these polished stones begin to be valued as natural paintings.
Stormy seas and islands, canyons, dismantled villages, volcanoes and mountains were depicted by mother nature, remembering tones and colours of Tuscany, and can be seen thanks to the work of Florentine artisans who, in using the same techniques as five centuries ago, are able to cut and polish the stone to emphasize its brightness.
Various examples in antiques manufacturing of this stone, can be admired in Florence in important museums such as: ”Opificio delle Pietre Dure” and “Galleria Palatina“ in Palazzo Pitti, as well as on the walls of the old Pharmacy in Santa Maria Novella, or in the floor of the church SS. Annunziata.
In Palazzo Vecchio, Medicean Quartieri Monumentali, in particular in the rooms reserved for Eleonora of Toledo, Cosimo I's wife, is preserved a marble table inlaid with some Paesina Stone's slabs whose the central part is the very rare "Terra Bruciata of Rimaggio".
In Siena, inlaying of this stone can be found in the altar of the Cathedral. In the seventeenth-century Cathedral of Colle Val D'Elsa (Si), the Paesina is present in two chapels: the chapel of the SS. Sacramento is decorated with eight oval stones; instead the chapel of the Ascensione is embellished by magnificent great rectangular plates; in any case it's about Paesina Stones of sure and unmistakable Florentine origin. In Pienza, in Piccolomini palace instead it embellishes an antique wardrobe.
This Florentine precious wardrobe dated 1630, embellished with different tiles and “cabochons” in Paesina Stone was donated to King Gustav Adolph of Sweden.
Enlarged detail of the preceding image.
Worldwide known as the ‘Florentine Stone’, the Paesina Stone had famous fans such as French Cardinals Richelieu and Mazzarino. In his “Istoria delle Pietre” of 1597, friar Agostino del Riccio describes some “Slings of the Arno River, being cut and polished, that appear like fantastic patterns and mother nature’s jokes.”
Poet Pablo Neruda even dedicated a poem to this stone:
Orange stains… of oxide
green veins upon limestone peace
that foam beats with its keys
or dawn with its rose,
this is how these stones are:
if they came from the sea
or if they are returning to the sea,
something surprised them while they were living,
in immobility they passed away
and built a dead city.
A city with no shouts, no kitchens,
a solemn fence… of purity,
pure forms fallen
in disarray with no resurrection,
in a multitude that lost its gaze
in a grey monastery
doomed to the naked truth of its gods.