Uniqueness of Florentine Mosaics


  • Opificio delle Pietre Dure
  • Cappelle Medici
  • Museo degli Argenti

This tour starts with a visit to the Opificio delle pietre dure (Workshop of Semi-Precious Stones), founded in 1588 by the Grand Duke Ferdinando I, as a workshop to produce works made from semi-precious stones . In 1882 the “Showroom for the old and the new works” was open to the public and then remodelled as a museum.

The unique masterpieces displayed on the ground floor are made using the traditional Florentine technique of hard stone inlay. The inlay or “Commesso” (from the Latin expression cum mittere, put together) consists of the insertion of pieces of semi-precious stones of different sizes, shapes and colours into a stone slab which has been carved in such a way to allow the perfectly precise placement of all the pieces. In the Opificio we can also see a display of the instruments, tools, models and types of stones used since the XVI century for the creation of this unique workmanship.

Then we proceed to the Cappelle Medici (Medici Chapels), where we admire a particularly fine example of Florentine mosaic in the Chapel of the Princes, a huge octagonal mausoleum dedicated to the glory of the Medici Family and entirely covered in marbles and semi-precious stones. The Chapel is the most important example of Baroque art in Florence and its decoration proceeded very slowly because of the complexity of the workmanship and the enormous expenses involved. Rare marbles were in fact imported from all over Europe, Africa and even from India and the cost of the decoration was so high that, once the Medici dynasty died out, their successors refused to pay for further work on the monument!

From there, before crossing the river to go to Palazzo Pitti, we can visit a modern workshop of Commmesso where we can still see the artisans at work - but it could be more appropriate to call them artists because the training for this amazing stone-painting lasts, at least, seven years.

After this little break we finish our tour with the visit to the Museo degli Argenti (the Silver Museum), which houses the 'Medici Treasure', a magnificent collection of cameos, jaspers, lapis lazulis and rock crystal vases, carved gems, ivories and cabinets decorated with semi-precious stones, considered the most important collection in the world, together with the one on display in Vienna, once belonging to the German Roman Emperors.

Also noteworthy is the collection of jewels: the incredible Cupid on Horseback, a Flemish XVI century jewel , in which the body of the horse is formed from a baroque pearl; curiosities like the humming bird feather vestments that came from the New World; the ostrich eggs with gold mounts, exotic seashells and the odd coconuts transformed into exquisitely elegant cups by the inventiveness of the Florentine goldsmiths.