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Painting on Stone in Italy 

– A Brief Introduction

Paintings to be sold at Uppsala Auktionskammare’s Important Sale Week 13 – 16 June 2023

This century has seen an increased interest from scholars and collectors in the fascinating subject of painting on stone, a phenomenon that began in Italy in the Renaissance before spreading across Europe in the following centuries. Important exhibitions have highlighted the remarkable variety and exceptional beauty of this type of painting, most recently Paintings on Stone. Science and the Sacred 1530-1580 in 2022 (St. Louis Art Museum, Missouri; ed. Judy Mann) and Timeless Wonder: painting on stone in Rome between Cinquecento and Seicento in 2022-2023 (Galleria Borghese, Rome; ed. Francesca Cappelletti and Patrizia Cavazzini). 

The most common stone support for painting was slate, the material used for the works in the small group of pictures offered here (lots 544 to 550). Slate was quarried near Lavagna in Liguria and also found at archaeological sites in Rome. It is now widely accepted that Sebastiano del Piombo, a Venetian artist who moved to Rome in 1511, was the first painter in the Renaissance period to produce works on slate, with his earliest known paintings of this type dating from the 1530s. Sebastiano’s development of this new method is discussed by Giorgio Vasari, who wrote how the robust stone support could now render such works eternal. The artist’s use of slate may thus be related to the famous Renaissance paragone on the relative merits of painting and sculpture: a painting on stone would now have the longevity of a sculpture thereby giving it the advantage in this artistic debate. Mann (op. cit., pp. 21-22.) argues that Sebastiano may also have experimented with stone for two further reasons. Firstly, he wanted to stand out in the highly competitive art world of Rome. Secondly, the use of stone conferred on the painted image a deeper meaning, particularly in the case of religious themes. Certainly, the plain black background could emphasise the drama and solemnity of the subject, but Mann also suggests that the stone itself enhanced the meaning of the work, in reference to the passage in the Gospel of Matthew (16:18) where Peter is designated the “rock” on which the church will be built. Furthermore, the choice of stone for the depictions of the Passion of Christ such as the Lamentation or Crucifixion would have recalled the stone on which Christ’s body was prepared for burial, thereby emphasising the physicality of his suffering. 

Sebastiano’s innovative use of slate spread from Rome to the north of Italy: Titian executed a remarkable Ecce Homo in 1547 (now in the Museo del Prado), while the Bassano family, under the direction of Jacopo, began in the 1570s to produce small-scale nocturnal scenes from the Passion of Christ, as can be seen in the two paintings from the Bassano workshop in the present group (lots 544 & 545). Thanks to the presence on Lake Garda of quarries of pietra di paragone (paragon or touchstone), a type of black stone, Verona became another centre of production, with artists such as Pasquale Ottino, Marcantonio Bassetti and Alessandro Turchi creating innovative works of this type. In the early 17th century, all three spent time in Rome, where they would have had contact with other painters working on stone, both native and foreign, such as the Dutch Leonard Bramer (see lot 550). 

In the last decade of the 16th century, there was a new development in the genre. Artists began to paint on coloured stones, such as lapis lazuli, alabaster and agate, incorporating the natural patterns of the material into their designs to produce luminous works of great refinement. This was the result of the greater availability of such stones thanks to the commercial activities of the Medicis in Florence, where Ferdinando de Medici founded the Galleria dei Lavori, now called the Opificio delle Pietre Dure, in 1588. Notable artists working in this mode in Rome in the early 17th century include Orazio Gentileschi and the French Jacques Stella and the exquisite paintings they produced serve as evidence that artistic production in the Eternal City at this time was not dominated completely by the innovations of Caravaggio. 

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Sofie Bexhed


Tel: 0705-22 61 62

Amanda Rass


Tel: 0720-70 22 61

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