Pietra dura panel in the Florentine cabinet, Rastatt Favorite Palace

Pietra dura panels from FlorenceThe lapidary arts

The Florentine cabinet at Favorite Palace was named after the pietra dura panels, precious examples of the Italian art of stone cutting. Images of landscapes, bouquets, still lifes: all built out of millimeter-thick slices of stone!

Pietra dura panel in the Florentine cabinet, Rastatt Favorite Palace

Coastal landscapes were a favorite motif.

Valuable decorative panels

Precious stones and stone vessels are some of the most valuable collector's items at any given royal court, and Rastatt was no different. The highlight of Margravine Sibylla Augusta's collection, however, were the pietra dura panels from the royal studios of the Medici family in Florence. Medici artists decorated furniture, small boxes and the walls of the family's mausoleum with these illustrative panels. Royal houses that became friendly with the family sometimes received such panels as gifts, as was the case with Sibylla Augusta, who received a large panel illustrating the annunciation.

Pietra dura panel in the Florentine cabinet, Rastatt Favorite Palace

A still life of stone.

Carved stone

The production method for such illustrative panels is called “commesso.” Stone slabs, sliced two to four millimeters thick, were cut into individual pieces that were then assembled into images. Gemstones were used for this work, such as agate, amethyst, lapis lazuli, or jasper, hard stones, from which the images took their name: “pietre dura”, Italian for “hard stones.” Granite and some kinds of marble were also used. The individual stones were selected with great care, for example to depict a cloud-covered sky.

Table in the Florentine cabinet, Rastatt Favorite Palace

Pietra dura table in the Florentine cabinet.

A pietra dura table

Pietra dura panels adorn more than just the walls of the Florentine cabinet at Favorite Palace. Fifteen images have also been laid into the marble top of the large, luxurious table. In addition to three large coastal landscapes, the table also includes images of cherries, plums and peaches with delicate skins. Flowers and colorful birds—a robin, a goldfinch and a parrot—were also added. The panels are entwined with plants made out of inlayed mother of pearl.

How did Sibylla Augusta come by the illustrative panels?

Sibylla Augusta was related by marriage to the two children of the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Cosimo III de’ Medici. In 1719, returning from travels in Rome, she visited the family in Florence. While there, she is supposed to have ordered at least 85 pietra dura works from the grand ducal studio. They were also used in an altar in the Rastatt palace church.

Antependium on the sanctuary altar, Rastatt palace church

Antependium on the sanctuary altar in the Rastatt palace church.

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