Stone Discoveries: Pietra Serena

A Medici Chapel at the Basilica of San Lorenzo

A Medici Chapel at the Basilica of San Lorenzo

To get to the Pietra Serena quarry one has to travel through vast, wide Chestnut plantations. I wasn’t until then aware that Chestnuts were even cultivated at such a scale. The closer we drew to the site of excavation, through the gaps in the trees arrayed there I could see the incipient layers of the mountain: it’s perfect and shows a stark contrast of darker and lighter variegations.

Florence (in Italian: Firenze) and the region it calls home, Tuscany (Toscana) are widely known as the birthplaces of the Italian Renaissance and are, accordingly, noted for the ornately decorated structures which were constructed there in this period. From the middle ages, a predominating building material of preference in the region has been a grey sandstone known as Pietra Serena.

Also known as Macigno stone, and, alternately, as la pietra color del cielo (“sky blue stone”) Pietra Serena most famously adorns Michelangelo’s Medici Chapels, at the Basilica of San Lorenzo, in Florence, and was used by Filippo Brunelleschi in the construction of pilasters and entablatures for the Pazzi Chapel, located at the Basilica di Santa Croce, in the same city.

Even before the veritable explosion of innovations in the decorative arts brought about in the Renaissance period, Pietra Serena sandstone was used for the Etruscan Walls of neighboring Perugia, constructed between the sixth and third centuries BC, to fortify the region and establish a border between the domains of the Etruscans and the Umbrians.

Pietra Serena is characterized by its homogenous uniformity of color: that being, a deep bluish-grey; the material itself is finely grained and compact, so as to create an effect of near transparency of texture. The unveiling to me of the quarry as the vegetation in the Chestnut orchard began to thin out, gave rise to a near indescribable sense of visual disorientation: this, owing to the Zebra-like quality of the quarry faces, the lines running at degrees oblique to the surface upon which I stood, there was a sense of being in the Tilted House of some amusement park of natural wonders.

quarry2shrunkenedAfter making the rounds, from a safe distance I watched a tiny figure in orange prep a large block of the stone for dynamiting. While other quarries I’ve encountered employ saw or water cutting, combustion appears to be the preferred method here.

For its homogeneity of texture Pierta Serena has endured in popularity—and therefore demand—into the modern era, and is ideal as a complement to a wide variety of materials of different colors, designs and textures. It is a highly workable material, due to its low cohesion and clayey matrix, and highly durable (more so than usual for a sandstone) so much so that it can even be used, and has been historically, as road paving.

As popular in interior applications, for its aesthetic versatility, as it is in exteriors, for its resistance to cold, rain, sunlight, and inclement weather conditions, it is one of the most sought after building materials in the continent of its origin, and the world over.

The natural stone currently on view at ABC represents only the finest rocks on earth. Procured from 6 continents, ABC has truly moved mountains across oceans to bring the finest stone on earth to the A&D community. We are honored to bring to you Pietra Serena, from Florence, a stone of immense popularity throughout history and into the present day.


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