Transforming Stone into Art

Florentine Mosaic has been an artisan tradition since the end of the 15th century. This art form is more accurately termed commesso di pietre dure (semi-precious stone inlay) and resembles Byzantine mosaic, but is considerably more sophisticated. The impressive effect is due to careful utilization of the natural color variations found in the stones. Lapis lazuli, malachite, amethyst, chalcedony, red and green porphyry, jade, rodonite, amazzonite, agate and silicized wood are some of the materials commonly used. Birds, flowers, still lifes, figures and landscapes are common motifs found in the decoration of cabinets, tables, chests, clocks, frames and wall surfaces.

During the Renaissance, four craftsmen would work on the same piece, one artist for each part of the creative process. Nowadays the mosacists work alone, which requires more knowledge and craftmanship from the individual artist.

The mosaicist begins a project by creating a sketch, which is divided into sections. The craftsman then cuts out each part from different colored stones with a wire attached to a wooden bow. When each detail is ready, the artist cuts the black marble background and places it there. The work begins on one end and finishes on the opposite side. Each detail is refined as the work progresses, resulting in a perfectly assembled image without gaps between each stone.

To complete the artwork, the craftsman places a black marble slate on the back of the piece, to protect it. The last thing the mosaicist does is to lead-polish the surface in order to make it perfectly smooth.

The art of Florentine mosaic is the art of painting in stone. The mosaicist's skill, sensitivity, and deep knowledge of the stone allows them to transform the raw material, which appears lifeless, into something that is evocative.