The Stones in Charlecote’s Pietra Dura table

Our House elves have almost completed their winter clean and we’re almost ready to reopen the doors and welcome visitors to our House once again. To whet your appetite, we thought we’d share some information about one of our top objects – the pietra dura table in the Great Hall.

Detail of the Lucy table from the Library at Charlecote with carved oak base and pietra dura top, purchased in 1824 from Thomas Emmerson.

Detail of the Lucy table from the Library at Charlecote with carved oak base and pietra dura top, purchased in 1824 from Thomas Emmerson.

It is an item of the collection that really does make you stop and look a little. Many of our visitors ask the guides about this table so in this post Frank, one of our Tuesday guides, will tell you more…

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Travertine:

Charlecote_pietra dura_travertine
The large central stone is travertine, also called alabaster, comprises mainly of the mineral calcite (3 on the Mohs scale) and therefore fairly soft and easily worked. It is formed by the calcite deposits of hot springs and colouring is caused by the inclusion of iron oxides and other impurities.

This one is known in Italian as alabastro a tartaruga from its resemblance to a
tortoise shell (tartaruga is Italian for tortoise). It is found in the hot spring deposits of Iona in Tuscany. Travertines are also known in the stone trade as oriental onyx or onyx marble but in geological terms they are neither onyx nor marble. Continue reading

My favourite object… #4

The fourth item in ‘Our Favourite object…‘ series is, like Ruth and Becky’s favourites, to be found in the Drawing Room. Len, a volunteer room guide, tells us a bit more, and encourages us to look more closely at, the circular Italian table…

For a number of years this table was hidden behind the door in the billiard room where most visitors simply walked past it. It is now in a prominent position in the drawing room where a visitor’s attention can be drawn to it.

There are five pictures of Roman Ruins set with a malachite border.

a Table_top

Roman Forum

Arch of Constantine

Colosseum

Temple of Vesta

Pantheon

The guide book says they are pietra dure which is not quite true although they are tesselations or micro-mosaics.

With the naked eye a slight granularity can be seen in the pictures, particularly in the skies. A hand lens showed that the pictures were composed of particles which were thought to be small coloured glass beads (ballotini). However enlarged photographs reveal the pictures are composed of glass tesserae. These are not spherical but oblong. They are created by softening glass so that it can be pulled out into a long thread which is flattened on a surface. The glass is allowed to cool and then cracked or cut into lots of small pieces. Glasses of different colours are used. Byzantine artists used to sandwich gold leaf between two tesserae when creating icons. The tiny fragments are then arranged to form the picture. The craftsman here is working to a tiny scale and yet most pieces are perfectly aligned. Once the whole mosaic is formed it is reheated to a temperature sufficient to allow the tesserae to fuse to each other so the resulting mosaic is really a single piece of glass and quite stable.

Below are the individual mosaics. I thank fellow volunteer Chris Purvis for the photographs.

Roman Forum

Roman Forum

Arch of Constantine

Arch of Constantine

Colosseum

Colosseum

Temple of Vesta

Temple of Vesta

f Pantheon_900

Len Mullenger, Room Guide

How is that table top made?

Our pietra dura table top ©NTPL/Derrick E. Witty

We have a beautiful pietra dura table pride of place in our Great Hall. If you have visited Charlecote’s house you will have seen it, I’m sure. It is something that lots of people ask questions about and many of our room guides have quickly built up their knowledge on this to help answer these queries.

The table dates from the 16th century. It is said that it came from the Borghese Palace in Rome, removed during Napoleon’s Italian campaign in 1796. It then came to Charlecote in 1823 when George Hammond Lucy bought at the Fonthill Abbey sale.

The reason for this blog post is to share with you this link that one of our volunteers found. The V&A website has a very good video on how a pietre dure panel is made! It’s amazing – really explains the process: watch it here. After watching this video, it makes us appreciate our table (and the other pietra dura that is contained in our collection) even more!

This is one of the really interesting items in our collection so if you do visit us, have a chat to one of our room guides who would love to tell you more about it!