#TBT Opificio delle Pietre Dure: when the past meets the future

The Opificio delle Pietre Dure (OPD) is an autonomous Institute of the Ministry of Cultural Heritage, whose operating activities and research are conducted in the field of restoration artworks. The Institute has composite origins.
It is the result of an ancient and distinguished tradition melted with modern and articulated activities. All these characteristics are already evident in its unusual name.
Born in 1588 by Ferdinando I de’ Medici as a manufacturing center for the processing of furniture and artworks in precious stones, the Opificio has transformed his work in restoration activities in the last decades of the nineteenth century.


The museum connected to Opificio delle Pietre Dure is located in the heart of Florence and today is a modern center specialized in restoration that finds its roots directly from the art of stone working.
The most prestigious creations were often gifts coming from the Grand Dukes of Florence. The works of the museum include examples of great beauty and refinement, enough to outline a historic course of craftsmanship which follows three centuries. It also remains an important reserve of ancient marbles and semiprecious stones collected to be used on the commesso fiorentino technique.


In the realization of the various works, the technique that definitely is more characteristic and fascinating is the “commesso fiorentino”.
Direct descendant from the artistic laboratory founded by the Medici in 1588, this sector has grown and has passed down to the present the sophisticated craftsmanship which allows you to create or restore a particular type of mosaics of precious stones (also known as “commesso“) with a level of specialization, that only the Opificio today can hold.
The commesso fiorentino makes use of natural colors of precious stones, cut into sections and cleverly put together to form the final image. It was defined by its initiators ” Stone Painting ” because as painting was able to deal with many different subjects, of which the museum presents a comprehensive review, ranging from portraits to landscapes and stories with figures, from architectural views to natural themes.


But when you visit the museum, the amazing artworks stand out more than technique behind the artworks themselves. In fact, you can immediately see how the themes that are present in commessi fiorentini are everlasting and current motifs, able to project the essence of the work directly in the present.
But this intertemporal connection also lives thanks to the fantasy of several fashion designers of contemporary brands able to lead to the success their products taking inspiration from the representations contained in the artworks in commesso fiorentino.
Various types of luxurious scarves have been inspired by the artistic themes of the Opificio works. A jump in the past, 400 years long.

Example of Commesso Fiorentino

Example of Commesso Fiorentino

Hermes foulard “Pierres d'orient et d'occident”

Hermes foulard “Pierres d’orient et d’occident”

The first example arises from this Artwork that strongly recalls the elements of nature, and that comes from the artistic movement that inspired the Hermes scarf “Pierres d’Orient et d’occident”.
The theme of flowers, that between `600 and` 700 has predominated in the commesso fiorentino, it was often combined with fruits and birds, and was used in particular to decorate table tops or for lining cupboards. Hermes, inspired by this type of artwork, has been able to give new life to the artistic genius that characterized that historical period.

Example of Commesso Fiorentino

Example of Commesso  Fiorentino

Example of Commesso Fiorentino

Example of Commesso Fiorentino

Gucci "Flora" foulard

Gucci “Flora” foulard

A similar example arises when the central theme moves from a diversity of natural elements for focus only on the part relating to the floral pattern. Becomes evident the reference to the Gucci “Flora” scarf, born around 1966 by the creatives minds of Rodolfo Gucci and Vittorio Accornero de Testa. This wonderful scarf was inspired and dedicated to Grace Kelly, muse of Hollywood cinema and Princess of Monaco. Color, vibrancy and elegance represented by a floral pattern that has into the presence of insects a further reminder to the Opificio’s works and also manages to make even more complete the natural environment of the flowers.

The parallelism between the commesso fiorentino and the scarves of Gucci and Hermes can be singular but at the same time is able to have continuity of meaning. While there are four centuries dividing the birth of the works from their reinterpretation, on the other hand the prestige that the commesso fiorentino has held is certainly comparable to what the outstanding Gucci and Hermes scarves are able to represent today in terms of class and elegance.
The scarf is an object capable of creating an aura of charm around its wearer as much as the commesso fiorentino in the past was able to make shine the house of the nobleman who put him on show.

Opificio delle Pietre Dure

The inspiration and the technical capabilities of the artists which in the past started to create these amazing works has been handed down over the years until 1978, when a real School of High Education was founded. Rich in skills and bearer of distinguished and unrepeatable tradition, the sector risks however the extinction for the progressive reduction of the technical staff of the laboratories of the Opificio, which allowed to stay inside it only one technician. However, now they are studying other possible ways to maintain operative the activities linked to this rare artistic heritage through the students graduated in the field.

A closing parenthesis should be however made. Given the value of the works and the connection they play in the inspiration related to numerous fantasies of high fashion garments, surely there must be the possibility of giving greater value, visibility and prominence both to the Museum than to the school.
Partnerships with magazines and luxury fashion brands could be a start to revitalize this hidden treasure.

Francesco Grossi



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