The Resonance of Stone

Whether they are aware of it or not,  when scholars dismiss the use of precious marbles and stones to decorate a building as merely a desire to show off the status of the patron, they are expressing a moralising Marxist interpretation of art history. Fabio Barry, author of a very exciting but deeply scholarly book, Painting in Stone: Architecture and the Poetics of Marble from Antiquity to the Enlightenment (YUP 2020), debunks this by revealing what it actually meant, from ancient Mesopotamia to the 18th century. What he reveals is infinitely more interesting, not just for art or architectural historians, but for anyone interested in pre-Enlightenment science, cosmology and religion. For example,  after reading this book, how you see a famous building such as Hagia Sophia is transformed because you discover that what looks  like merely a grey and white marble floor, at the time represented the waves of the sea: we, the Faithful are walking on water, with God’s throne set above the waters.

In this discussion, Barry will explain his main revelations. Thomas Greenaway, who is the only artist in the UK to practise pietra dura (hardstone)  inlay,  the technique used by the ancient Romans and revived in Florence in the 16th century,  will talk about the remarkable commission he executed, the coat of arms for the tomb in Leicester Cathedral of the rediscovered remains of King Richard III.

Tessa Murdoch will talk about  a different category of illusionism, the “paintings” made in micro-mosaics, artistic descendants  of both mosaics and pietra dura work, while David Sestieri will talk about how far interest is reviving  in “making”—in the “materiality”  of works of art—after a century or so  in which craftsmanship and precious materials have been subordinate to belief in the conceptual.

Fabio Barry, Assistant Professor, Stanford University & author of Painting in Stone
Thomas Greenaway, Pietra Dura specialist and conservator
Dr Tessa Murdoch, Research Curator, Gilbert Collection, V&A
Davide Sestieri, Art Consultant
Moderator: Anna Somers Cocks OBE, Journalist, editor, publisher and collector

Fabio Barry
Fabio Barry studied architecture at Cambridge and practised as an architect before receiving a Ph.D. in art history from Columbia University. He was David E. Finley Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts at the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, and will be the Samuel H. Kress Fellow there in 2021-22. He has taught at the University of St. Andrews and currently at Stanford University. He is a specialist in Roman Baroque, but has published more widely, and was awarded the Arthur Kingsley Porter Prize by the College Art Association for his article “Walking on Water: Cosmic Floors in Antiquity and the Middle Ages.” His book, Painting in Stone: Architecture and the Poetics of Marble from Antiquity to the Enlightenment (Yale University Press, 2020) was awarded the PROSE award for best book on Architecture by the Association of American Publishers.

Thomas Greenaway
Thomas Greenaway specialises in creating original works of art in Pietra Dura and is also a conservator working for museums, institutions and private collectors.
Having trained as a fine furniture maker in Scotland, Thomas spent four years in Florence learning traditional 16th Century techniques from some eminent old masters. He has his own studio in South Northamptonshire selling unique hand-made works of art since 2010.

Thomas sources a wide range of valuable semi-precious stones and rare marbles from across the globe, and carefully selects the perfect natural texture and shading in the stone to create what amounts to be a 'painting in stone'. Thomas produces bespoke tables, boxes, plaques, games tables and personalised paperweights and can also undertake restoration work of stone inlaid artifacts.

A few notable works have included Richard III’s coat of arms set into the tombstone in Leicester Cathedral, a floor plaque inscription (commemorating Pope Benedictus XVI visit to the UK in 2010) laid in the entrance floor of Westminster Cathedral as well as a Tudor Rose for the central floor in the House of Lords.

Dr Tessa Murdoch
Tessa Murdoch is Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Research Curator at the V&A. In 2019 as Getty Rothschild Fellow in residence at the Getty Research Institute and Waddesdon Manor, she completed her forthcoming book Europe Divided: Huguenot Refugee Art and Culture which will be published in November 2021. As Deputy Keeper, Sculpture, Metalwork, Ceramics and Glass at the V&A she has worked with the Gilbert Collection since 2008.  Her interest in pietre dure developed whilst filming a video for the new V&A Gilbert Galleries at Paci Workshop, in Florence, where Thomas Greenaway led the interpretation.
Tessa is a specialist adviser and contributor to Apollo Magazine and the National Trust. She is a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, a Liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths and member of the their Contemporary Craft Committee. She publishes widely on the decorative arts, is an active member of the Furniture History and Silver Societies and Trustee of the Huguenot Museum, Rochester and the Idlewild Trust

Davide Sestieri
Born in Rome in 1963, Davide Sestieri is a fifth-generation antiques dealer. After 15 years of experience with the family business, Davide started to collaborate with Finarte Casa D’Aste and Christie’s Rome, working for more than 16 years as an expert of Furniture and Works of Arts. In 2006, Davide opened the consultancy firm Briganti Sestieri Art Consulting with his associate Guido Briganti, where he continues to work today.

Anna Somers Cocks OBE
Born in Rome, educated Oxford University and the Courtauld Institute, London University. Author of numerous articles on art, the politics of art, conservation, and the politics of Venice in The Guardian, Daily Telegraph, New Statesman, The Art Newspaper, Il Giornale dell’Arte, La Repubblica, New York Review of Books.

Author of The Victoria & Albert Museum, the Making of the Collection (1980); co-author and editor of the exhibition catalogue Princely Magnificence: Court Jewels of the Renaissance 1500-1630 (1980); Renaissance Jewels, Gold Boxes and Objets de Vertu in the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection (1984).
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