Stone the colour of the sky

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Pazzi Chapel

What unites the beautiful Renaissance gallery of the Uffizi in Florence, the walls of Etruscan Fiesole and many of the most beautiful Tuscany Villas? Is it their beauty? Without a doubt, but beauty is not the only thing....

Another answer is a particular type of stone. Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy called it "Boulder", while Benvenuto Cellini called it "Stone the colour of the sky", hence the Italian name of "Pietra Serena".

Its colour is more of a grey-pearl blue than the bright blue of a summer’s sky. What matters most is that for centuries this stone has been one of the basic building materials for the greatest architects of Tuscany. Villas, palaces and the monuments of Tuscany show evidence of this.

The stone is a fine sandstone, but very compact and weather resistant and is mostly found in the hills around Florence. Because of its physical and aesthetic properties, it isn’t often used for walls, but for individual architectural elements or decorative use.

The first people to consider the stone’s structural qualities were the Etruscans, who built defensive walls around the city of Fiesole; later the Romans used it to build the temple of Mars in Florence.

But you don’t have to be an architect or art expert to recognize it; we have all admired this stone, even if only in photographs. If you have seen a Florentine Renaissance building then you have come across this stone.

With the arrival of the Renaissance period, the popularity of this stone grew. The colour contrast between the white plaster and grey stone became a hallmark of the entire architecture of this period. Among the most famous, we must mention Brunelleschi's works in Florence; such as the Pazzi Chapel that is inside the Basilica of Santa Croce, the Hospital of the Innocents and the Basilica of the Holy Spirit. During this period the stone was used by everybody from Michelangelo, in the Laurentian Library, to Giorgio Vasari.

This type of stone was also used in more common architecture, where it was often combined with other materials such as wood or marble. Typically found in the statues, fountains and stairways of Luxury Tuscany Villas, plus the colonnades of the palaces and government buildings in many of the Tuscan towns.

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