The Italian name of this museum literally translates into “Workshop of semi-precious stones”, however, the Opificio delle Pietre Dure (OPD) means so much more to the world of art than simply a showcase of objects made from stone. This Grand Ducal institution has been active for more than three centuries. The museum of the Opificio delle Pietre Dure in fact, is a direct descendent of the Pietre Dure workshop founded in 1588 by Ferdinando I de’ Medici who established a court-funded workshop specializing in semi-precious mosaic work and inlays. This kind of artwork was enhanced during the decoration of the Cappella dei Principi in the Basilica di San Lorenzo in Florence, the crypt of the Medici family. The most prestigious creations, often given as gifts by the Florentine grand dukes, can be found in palaces and museums throughout Europe. Everywhere you look in churches, historic palaces and even in architecture, you will find traces of this precise and complex technique. The works preserved in the museum were those that survived the nineteenth-century dispersal of much of the collection. These include unfinished pieces that were being made at the time. The collection contains evocative and refined works and illustrates the evolution of the workshop over three centuries.The museum also has an important reserve of ancient marble and semi-precious stones, most of which were accumulated during the grand duchy for use in the manufacture of stone objects.
In 1995, the museum was renovated following the design of Adolfo Natalini. The collection was re-organized thematically, in ten rooms. In the museum you can follow the creation process step-by-step, from the design to the final result, revealing the inner mechanisms of a fascinating episode in Florentine artistic history. The OPD was fundamental during the flood of 1966 and is considered one of the premier restoration workshops in the world – not just for stone inlay but an innovative and cutting-edge point of reference for a plethora of materials.
Today, the Museum is part of the Institute of the Ministry for Cultural Heritage, supporting research, restoration workshops and training activities. It hosts the famous school for restorers (Scuola di Alta Formazione e di Studio SAFS), and apart from its prestige at a national and international level it offers highly selective degree courses taking up to five years, of which very few students can have access to, in order to learn how to practically restore actual pieces on real international commissions.
The museum is small yet intriguing, especially for that day when you have just a little time to see something new and different or for whoever has already seen the main museums and galleries of the city and is now looking for something peculiar and characteristic, something away from the crowd.
What is Commesso Fiorentino?
To explain it in a few words, the commesso fiorentino is nothing but the mosaic practice that uses the natural colors of the stones, carving them into specific shapes and assembling them to create the desired pattern. This art grew in popularity and is definitely peculiar to Florence.