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  • Place of origin:

    Florence (Pietre dure panels, Made)

  • Date:

    1775-1785 (made)
    ca.1850 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Pietre dure and pietre tenere, marble and carved, gilt wood

  • Credit Line:

    The Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Collection on loan to the Victoria and Albert Museum, London

  • Museum number:

    LOAN:GILBERT.86:1, 2-2008

  • Gallery location:

    Gold, Silver and Mosaics, Room 73, The Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Galleries, case East EXP []

Pietre dure means ‘hard stones’ in Italian. Mosaics of hardstones, or commessi di pietre dure, were made during the Roman Empire and throughout the medieval period. But it was not until the Renaissance in Florence that the technique was perfected, under the impulse of Ferdinando I de’ Medici (r.1587-1609), Grand Duke of Tuscany who united the city’s workshops and channelled their creativity into one organisation, the Opificio delle Pietre Dure.

Sir Arthur Gilbert and his wife Rosalinde formed one of the world's great decorative art collections, including silver, mosaics, enamelled portrait miniatures and gold boxes. He donated his extraordinary collection to Britain in 1996. Arthur Gilbert was also fascinated by the evolution of pietre dure and purposefully acquired 16th-century masterpieces as well as 20th-century creations.

These figures derive from a 17th-century print source that records a travelling troupe at the Grand Ducal court. The panels were probably meant to be fitted in a cabinet but instead were set as a table top. Later mounted on an imposing stand, it forms a pair with a micromosaic counterpart, recorded at Halton House, Buckinghamshire, the home of Alfred de Rothschild (1842–1918).

To find out more about the making of pietre dure, watch the video Making a Pietre Dure panel: http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/videos/m/video-making-a-pietre-dure-panel.

Physical description

Rectangular green marble tabletop with a Greek key border and fourteen pietre dure and pietre tenere mosaic panels.

Place of Origin

Florence (Pietre dure panels, Made)


1775-1785 (made)
ca.1850 (made)



Materials and Techniques

Pietre dure and pietre tenere, marble and carved, gilt wood


Height: 76.2 cm, Width: 175 cm

Object history note

This table incorporates pietre dure panels which were probably designed for a cabinet, but then set as a table top. The rare representation of dwarves refers to the culture of spectacle at the Grand Ducal courts in Florence, from the 16th Century. The panels show that pietre dure workshops adapted new subject matter through the use of existing visual sources. In this case, these figures derive from two sources; after drawings by Baccio del Bianco (1604-54) and etchings by Jacques Callot (1592/3-1635). Del Bianco worked closely with the Medicis both in the creation of objects and in organising spectacles. Callot, on the other hand, published a book in 1616 which recorded a travelling troupe of performing dwarves present at the Grand Ducal court of Cosimo II (r. 1609-21).

Although quite a rare subject matter, other examples of pietre dure panels depicting dwarves exist from the 17th century. Most were subsequently set into eighteenth and nineteenth century furniture. The so-called Hume-Beckford cabinet at Charlecote Park, Warwickshire (National Trust, NT 533017, dated 1640) incorporates similar panels. Other known examples are a table top at the Château de Versailles and a cabinet at Marlborough House, London.

Edmond de Rothschild.
Alfred de Rothschild.
Christie's sale, lot 63, 03/07/1975.
Frank Partridge, London, 1975.

Spotlight on Conservation
Florentine lapidaries (stone workshops) showed considerable ingenuity to produce panels with such vibrant colours. Here, they have used smaragdite di Corsica, recognisable with its green spots on a grey background, as a natural pattern for shirts and trousers; and mother-of-pearl to imitate silver swords and handles. To imitate gold medals and gold-woven sash, they have used aventurine glass. Natural aventurine stone is prized for its sparkles when turned in the light. Aventurine glass is a manmade glass with tiny flecks of copper. In the 17th Century, the Miotto family of Venice claimed to have invented it, naming it after the Italian word ‘avventura’ (adventure or chance), as it was the result of a lucky accident when copper filings fell into molten glass.

To create an array of shades, they heated cuts of coral, which changes colour from bright orange to white when held to a flame. They also heated pietra paesina, to render different shades. This can be seen, for example, on the figure's back in the left corner panel of the lowest register. Some German jasper from South Baden, recognisable by its light red and cream banding, has been used, confirming the extensive trade routes from which Florentine stone workshops imported materials.

Historical context note

This table and its pair (LOAN:GILBERT 85-2008) stood in the glass-domed saloon of Halton House, Buckinghamshire. Alfred de Rothschild noted in the preface to the catalogue of his collection published in 1884 by Charles Davis 'The principal objects, and those which, needless to say, I most prize, I inherited from my dearly beloved father, and, in addition to the great pleasure which they afford me, they contstantly remind me of his most perfect judgements and good taste'.

Descriptive line

Rectangular green marble tabletop with a Greek key border and fourteen pietre dure and pietre tenere panels of figures. The gilt wood base is in the baroque style.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Davis, Charles. A Description of the Works of Art Forming the Collection of Alfred de Rothschild, 2 vols. London: [Chiswick Press] 1884, vol. II, no. 236.
Gonzalez-Palacios, Alvar and Steffi Röttgen with essays by Steffi Röttgen, Claudia Przyborowski; essays and new catalogue material translated by Alla Theodora Hall. The Art of Mosaics: Selections from the Gilbert Collection. Los Angeles (Los Angeles County Museum of Art) 1982. 224 p., ill. Cat. no. 16. ISBN 0875871097
Gonzalez-Palacios, Alvar. The Art of Mosaics: Selections from the Gilbert Collection, Los Angeles (Los Angeles County Museum of Art) 1977. 143 p., ill. Cat. no. 16. ISBN 0875870805.
Gonzalez-Palacios, Alvar. Il gusto di principi, 2 vols. Milan: Longanesi, 1993, p. 199.
Massinelli, Anna Maria with contributions by Jeanette Hanisee Gabriel. Hardstones: The Gilbert Collection. London: Philip Wilson Publishers Ltd. in association with The Gilbert Collection, 2000. 329 p., ill. Cat. no. 23, pp. 85-87. ISBN 0856675105.


Marble; Gilt wood; Hardstone; Lapis lazuli; Chalcedony; Agate; Jasper; Serpentinite; Turquoise; Chert; Limestone; Alabaster; Travertine; Mother of pearl; Aventurine glass


Inlay (process); Carving; Gilding; Pietre dure

Subjects depicted

Musicians; Dwarfs; Females




Metalwork Collection

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