Art: Pictures in Stone

In its 16th Century heyday, the Imperial and Royal Institute of the Pietra Dura (Hard Stone) was one of the busiest places in Florence. The duties of its craftsmen members: turning out the intricate designs of inlaid marble and semiprecious stones with which the Medici loved to decorate their palaces and chapels. After the Medici, the art, known as stone intarsia, went out of fashion; but a handful of institute members kept its difficult technique alive, occupied themselves mainly with repairing intarsia objects in Florentine museums and copying the old-fashioned designs.

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