Opificio delle Pietre Dure Museum

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Opificio delle Pietre Dure in Florence

The Museum of the Opificio delle Pietre Dure is part of an Institute that operates, under the authority of the Ministry for Cultural Heritage, in the field of restoration and conservation of works of art. The Opificio, with its peculiarity of the processing of semi-precious stones, dates back to 1588, the year in which it was founded by the will of the Grand Duke Ferdinando I de ‘Medici.

The activity of the Opificio delle Pietre Dure in Florence continues today with the special task of restoring and conserving the national architectural, artistic and archaeological heritage. The Opificio’s workshops and restoration school are a reference point for restorers who come here from all over the world. It is in fact a center of great specialization in the restoration sector that manages to wisely combine tradition and new technologies. It is also home to a Higher Education and Study School which, launched in 1978, brings together numerous Italian and foreign students.

The museum of the Opificio delle Pietre Dure

The museum was not born from a specific intention of wanting to collect valuable works, but is rather a collection of specimens left in the workshops of the Opificio. In fact, the most important and famous creations have been donated by the Medici House to the various Italian and European courts. For this reason the most valuable works are preserved in museums throughout Europe.

The collection located in Florence therefore refers to what remained in the production workshops such as the unfinished works, the subsequent dismantling and the objects saved from nineteenth-century dispersions. The museum activity of collecting the most important specimens began in 1882. Here are presented objects of great charm, class and finesse that outline a historical path that goes from 1500 to 1800.

The works that can be admired inside the museum are pieces in hard, precious and semiprecious stones, and in polychrome marble, stone paintings, oil paintings, scagliole, ancient stone samples and tools for processing materials. Among the works exhibited there are examples of hard stone manufactures such as plaques, cabinets, table tops and various inlaid plates. The recurring decorations refer to flowers, animals and fruits and also to pictorial scenes of Florence such as the view of Piazza della Signoria.

The realization of these works was possible, adopting a particular technique called “commesso fiorentino“. It is an art of great charm that is performed with fragments of colored stone slabs, of which every vein and streak is also used, obtaining great effect colors. Some areas of the exhibition are dedicated to particular stones. Among these there is the “paesina” stone which is extracted in the surroundings of Florence. It is a unique rock which has a very interesting peculiar feature. If skilfully cut, in the right way, this stone shows different colors, each linked to a different layer, giving the illusion of being in front of a painted landscape.

Among the works of great attraction, alongside the canvas originals, the copies of inlaid paintings that bring out a special magnificence and brilliance deserve attention. The most recurring representations are compositions of flowers and fruit, architectural views, naturalistic themes, portraits, landscapes and biblical stories. Also worth seeing is a Baroque fireplace covered with malachite that shines in its sparkling green.

Opificio delle Pietre Dure Museum
Opificio delle Pietre Dure Museum (Photo by Sailko / CC BY)

Also exhibited are the ancient tools used for inlay such as workbenches, chisels, gouges, hacksaws, planers and other tools. Also vases and decorated furnishings make a fine show of themselves, to admire are some table tops like that of Zocchi of 1849 with harp and garlands and that of Niccolò Betti of 1855 with flowers and birds. The Museum, following a chronological and didactic scheme, was transformed in 1995, based on a project by Adolfo Natalini, into a modern exhibition space.

The intervention has redeveloped the large hall and the adjacent nineteenth-century rooms, bringing the whole museum back to the ground floor, leaving the rooms on the upper floor used as offices. The structure presents itself in its captivating originality with three massive pillars covered with pietra serena that allow a double volume to create four square-shaped spaces.

The reorganization of the collection allows you to follow a thematic path with the vision of the productions of the period of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany with the Medici and Lorraine families in the hall, while in the nineteenth-century rooms we find exhibitions that date back to the post-unification period. On the mezzanine floor of the hall, the work objects and examples of the production phases of carvings and inlays are on display. This allows, from an educational point of view, to discover the ancient processing techniques and be fascinated by the ingenuity of the great Florentine master craftsmen.

The display is particularly accurate and the objects, thanks to the clever placement in showcases with cherry and pear wood, are presented in their splendor, also accentuated by the light inside the windows powered by optical fibers. In addition, the whole environment, well lit, gives off a diffused light in a uniform and engaging way.

Exhibitions and events at the Opificio Museum

The museum also hosts important exhibitions that present finds of great interest restored in the workshops of the Opificio. I cite a few as an example. In 2009 there was one dedicated to an extraordinary tapestry with Crucifixion with scenes of the Passion from the Civic Art Gallery of Forlì, entitled “La crocifissione della Pinacoteca civica di Forlì: una fiaba sacra“. In 2015 it was the turn of the exhibition “Pittura e pietra. Il restauro di tre paesine dipinte della collezione dell’Istituto Nazionale di Studi Etruschi ed Italici“. On the occasion of the “Notti dell’Archeologia” (Nights of Archeology) of 2020, the Opificio museum proposed its “Itinerari nascosti. Il collezionismo granducale e la passione per le ceramiche antiche“.

Information on timetables and tickets for the Opificio delle Pietre Dure Museum

The museum is located in Via degli Alfani, 78 in Florence. The Opificio delle Pietre Dure Museum is open from Monday to Saturday from 8.15 am to 2.00 pm and is closed on Sundays, public holidays and June 24, on the occasion of the feast of the patron saint of Florence. The full ticket costs 4 euros, the reduced 2. For further information and updates on timetables and tickets, I refer you to the official website.

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