About Thomas Greenaway
Thomas Greenaway is one of the very few craftsmen in the UK who has been traditionally trained in the sixteenth century techniques of pietra dura. Having initially studied Fine Furniture and Restoration at the renowned Chippendale International School of Furniture, Thomas went on to study Italian Art History. It was whilst visiting the Opificio delle Pietre Dure museum in Florence that his fascination with the highly skilled art of pietra dura began. After apprenticeships in a number of pietra dura workshops in Florence, where he was trained by some of the most eminent old masters in Florentine mosaics, Thomas established Greenaway Mosaics in Northamptonshire. He has been producing beautiful pieces of this exquisite art form here since 2010.
What is Pietra Dura?
Pietra dura is a highly specialised art form, created with great precision, care and artistry; by inlaying highly polished precious and semi-precious stones into marble, the craftsman can create an image – a ‘painting in stone’. Translated from Italian as ‘hard stone’, the decorative art of pietra dura dates back to the Ancient Romans who developed the opus sectile technique for floors and walls. Known in Italian as commesso di pietre dure, sometimes abbreviated to commesso, it is also known as mosaico Fiorentino.
During the second half of the 16th century, pietra dura work centred on Florence where the art flourished during the Renaissance; in 1588 the Galleria di’ Lavori was granted a charter by Ferdinando I de’ Medici, the Grand Duke of Tuscany. Local craftsmen were trained to restore ancient carved stone artefacts and to create images in pietra dura. The 17th century saw patrons of the arts, both private and ecclesiastical, commissioning artists to create some of the finest luxury objects to be produced at the time.
By the 1700s pietra dura had become increasingly popular and Florentine artists were in great demand as they travelled across Europe to work in royal and noble households. The Galleria di’ Lavori was renamed the Opificio delle Pietre Dure and many privately owned Florentine workshops were producing pieces of pietra dura for the growing market.
The Pietra Dura Process
A slow process, the highly skilled art of pietra dura often requires tools of ancient origin. Stones are sliced to a thickness of between 2 and 5mm and paper templates are made for each piece of stone required for the design. Careful selection for colour, shading and texture is made before the template is glued to the chosen area. Using a traditional hand bow-saw (archetto), the template is precisely cut out. The pieces of stone are then filed by hand before being glued together, carefully levelled and backed with thin sheets of slate. The area of the marble background into which the pieces of stone are to be inserted is carefully cut out, the pieces of stone are all assembled and, finally, the work is polished.
A piece of pietra dura requires the use of an extensive range of colourful semi-precious stones and marbles. Thomas has personally sourced an incredible selection from around the world, some of which are extremely rare.