Well it just might have been a (back handed) compliment! Though many of us would use the phrase hard as a rock to describe Aunt Minnie’s Christmas Fruitcake, that’s not so in Florence Italy where they also use it to describe a special type of mosaic production that has also been a tradition (and most definitely much more appreciated than the annual fruitcake!)
Hard stone mosaics have been part of a Florentine tradition for centuries, in fact it is the popular opinion that the Florentines have fully developed this art form. Even today, you can hear it being regarded as ‘painting in stone’. Legend has it that the famous Ghirlandaio said it was a ‘Pittura per l’eternità’ — which means a painting which will last an eternity.
Some will put the tradition starting in 1588 when the Grand Duke Ferdinando I founded the Galleria de’ Lavori in Pietre Dure, a hardstone workshop, in Florence as the official beginning of a tradition. Ferdinando was in fact a strong patron of this form of art, helping it to grow by hiring local craftsmen and training them to restore ancient carved-stone objects as well as create original works in pietre dure.
Commonly associated with these highly unquie piece of art is the term “commesso” derived from the Latin word “committere”: to unite, to connect. The idea behind the design is to in effect create a stone jigsaw puzzle. The craftsman will create a hand drawn design, select the stones that match the color scheme and then hand cut each piece with a rather simple contraption of a bow made from wood and a cutting iron thread. Each piece is then polished and “fitted into the puzzle.”
The above image represents the original Pliny Doves found on the upper floor of the museum of the Capitol at Rome considered by many to be one of the finest and most perfectly preserved specimens of ancient mosaic. It represents four doves drinking, with a beautiful border surrounding the composition.