I must share a giggle with all of you…I took yesterday off and got as many hits as when I post…seriously…should I just leave the space empty!!!! I don’t think I will…..so let’s talk about Pietra Dura (Dure).
My most treasured piece. It is framed in gold wood with a green velvet mat and is housed on the front of my faux malachite fireplace. The ground is black marble and the love birds have mother of pearl wings and tails and white onyx bodies with red stone eyes, the mother of pearl pearls are tied with green malachite ribbons. It is supposedly a reproduction (although it is an authentic piece) of a plaque that resided at the bedside of Marie Antoinette. The story behind it is…there was a fabulous shop of objects, definitely a shop of curiosities, on Michigan Avenue many, many years ago, named Pique, which was owned by a Mother and Daughter that I knew quite well. It was not on the ground floor but they had an always charming set of windows that changed often and that is where I first saw this little gem. I would pass it daily on my way to the subway (if I wasn’t taking the Outer Drive Express bus) to Evanston. To say I coveted it would be an understatement! But it was quite pricey and my $37.50 take home pay didn’t allow for its purchase, it didn’t dawn on me to do payments…silly Nena! One day it was gone…I thought it might be in the shop, but no it was sold!!! I don’t remember if it was the very year that I fell in love with it or not but for either my Birthday or for Christmas, Mom had it beautifully wrapped and surprised me with it. It would be one of the first things I would grab in an emergency.
It wasn’t, however, my first piece of Pietra Dura, that was a small remembrance from my first boss and mentor, Kay Walsh Dobson and her husband Larry. We were all very close. They married later in life and I became the child (a grown child at that) they didn’t have. Larry had always been a world traveler, (he was a Lieutenant Coronal with the Army), and Kay, after their marriage, which happened to be the day I started at Saks Fifth Avenue, Chicago, traveled with him, extensively. They always brought back something special for me, and the piece below was from their trip to Florence and actually came from the workshops where it was created.
I can’t identify the stones, probably marble, for you but the background is again black marble, which many of the Pietra Dura pieces are. The photo is a bit larger than lifesize again framed in gold without a mat. The year, probably 1958.
A pair of earrings that I purchased many years ago at the Randolph Street Market http://www.randolphstreetmarket.com. Love the daintiness of them (hardly me!) they fit into my Victorian jewelry collection perfectly, I think they are quite stunning and were probably as costly as the lovebirds!!!
Another piece from the Randolph Street Market. I have mentioned before that I collect all things lily of the valley, but don’t wear it…this brooch is now framed. Again I would think Victorian.
I love this piece it was given to me many years ago as a Christmas gift from a friend. It is approximately 15″ in length and 6″ wide the 3″ medallions are mounted on an antiqued painted back ground and a mahogany frame. I find it charming.
A close up of two of the medallions.
Obviously, my pieces are small but the craft can be seen in museums as tables, major plaques, pictures, details, etc. If you are lucky you can find a treasure or two while scouting antique shows (I don’t need to tell you which one is my favorite…do I!) or antique malls or flea markets if you can find them anymore!
Here are a couple of rare books on the subject as well, check out eBay.
The process is extremely intricate and time-consuming, much like putting a very detailed zig saw puzzle together. It takes skilled craftsmen to do the pieces, which are still done today. The craft started in Ancient Rome and China (where you can find pieces (very, very expensive) but it is Italy and particularly Florence where the art flourishes in vintage pieces as well as modern day objects. For more information go to http://www.museumsinflorence.com/musei/opificio_delle_pietre_dure
Pietra Dura should not be confused with Micro-Mosaics which uses much smaller pieces of glass, stone, etc. On a trip to the UK while in London, I went to Somerset House and they had a totally incredible exhibition of Micro-Mosaics, some so delicate that there were magnifying glasses to view them…an exquisite, educational exhibition. The range was from jewelry to huge works of art. Unfortunately, I don’t have any personal documentation (this was before the time when we all had our handy dandy phones to be able to immediately capture anything we want!!!) I do somewhere is my vast book collection have a catalog from that exhibition. There are, of course, many books on the subject.
This gives you an idea of the intricacy of the workmanship (the workman seems to be in need of a manicure, but who cares the creativity is unbelievable!)
A stunning example of a micro mosaic. Photo credit on both the above photos unknown, all other photos by Nena Ivon.