| The Opificio delle Pietre Dure
Address: Via degli Alfani, 78
In the Museum attached to the Opificio delle Pietre Dure or
hard stones workshop is concentrated all that remains of the
former grand ducal workshops created by Cosimo I de' Medici, who
turned his family's collecting passion to political ends even in
this field of activity.
During the sixteenth century, Cosimo and his son Francesco
invited leading stone engravers from all over Europe to work in
Florence; these included the Milanese Saracchi and the German
Bilivert. This raised the technical and qualitative level in the
workshops, which were organized in 1588 by Ferdinando I de'
Medici to include many artists and
artisans in the court orbit such as goldsmiths, jewellers,
engravers, lathe-workers and others, who now had a precise
organization and an official seat in the Uffizi.
The work of stone engravers was particularly in demand in the
seventeenth century during the creation of the Medici Chapels, but the House of
Lorraine and later, Maria Luisa of Bourbon and Elisa Bonaparte
Baciocchi took advantage of their skills which had gained for
Florence an international reputation. Notwithstanding the changes
in style, the technical level of execution remained very high.
With the decline in court commissions and the falling-off of the
work on the Medici Chapels during the nineteenth century, the
Opificio's activity was directed towards the field of restoring
marble inlays and mosaics. Its work in restoring antique
sculpture is also rightly famous.
The present day location is that to which the grand ducal
workshops were transferred under Pietro Leopoldo of Lorraine.
These are in a group of old buildings which formed part of the
former Hospital of St. Matthew and the adjacent convent of St.
Nicholas. It was here that the laboratories, stores for old and
precious materials and the little museum housing drawings,
studies, incomplete hard stone inlays and those for the internal
use by the Opificio were gathered. Among the more important
pieces are Florentine and Northern landscapes of the sixteenth
and seventeenth centuries, models and stone panels for the Cappella dei Principi, paintings
on "pietra paesina" (where court painters created
remarkable effects in paint), water stoups and precious boxes.
From the eighteenth century date Zocchi's beautiful paintings
designed to be rendered in stone, examples of scagliola
decorations and, from the nineteenth century, tablets creating
bizarre visual effects which document the vanishing of a
technique still striking to visitors.
Of great interest are the work tables and instruments and a rare
and widely representative range of lithological samples.