Pietra paesina, also called “landscape stone,” “ruin stone,” “ruiniform marble,” and “Florentine marble” among other names, has been collected for centuries. The “marble” is in fact a type of limestone which when cut into slabs and polished reveals natural veining of iron oxides that resemble –with minimal poetic license–mountainous landscapes, castles, and ruins.
Displayed as natural objects of contemplation in European Renaissance wunderkammer the marble was also incorporated into decorative panels in architecture or furnishings. The stone was sometimes further embellished with painted detail, which, to me, seems sacrilegious.
Ruiniform marble hovers between natural specimen and artifact, abstract configuration and narrative. Its markings are angular, geometric, almost Cubist, vividly etched, yet undefined at the same time. Many stones have the suffused colors of a foggy twilight but some, like the specimen third from bottom, give off the sonorous (yes, sonorous) golden warmth of classical ruins.
How wonderful (in the true sense of the word) it must have been that first time to cut into something solid and “see” the spiritous atmosphere, to peer into something small and see distant wide vistas.
Images: St. Francis exorcising demons from Assisi, Giotto, c.1297; View of Delft, Vermeer, 1659-60; my specimen, which I had framed, was purchased a few years ago from Claude Boullé Galerie 28, Rue Jacob, in Paris.; 3 sample pietra; at bottom is another variant of pictorial stone, Cotham marble, quarried near Bristol, whose striations usually evoke natural landscapes of trees and stormy clouds.