Painting on stone: a call for Dutch and Flemish examples

Judy Mann of the Saint Louis Art Museum is working on an exhibition of paintings on stone supports. She issues a general appeal for examples.

"In preparation for an exhibition examining the art of painting on stone, intended to show how it flourished in Europe during the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries, I am seeking examples of Flemish and Dutch artists who worked on stone supports. According to Giorgio Vasari, Sebastiano del Piombo introduced the technique of painting on stone with oils, first on slate, and then on other supports.

Based on Vasari’s account and the extant examples, it seems that it was around 1530 that artists began using various types of stone as the support upon which they painted their images, including slate, alabaster, marble, pietra paesina [landscape stone], lapis lazuli, obsidian, onyx, porphyry, jasper, and chlorite.

Originally appreciated for its durability, stone became prized for its varied pictorial qualities, including the dark surface of slate that enhanced night scenes, the whorls in alabaster and marble that emulated the effects of clouds and heavenly apparitions, natural color that enhanced the narrative subject, and striations in the stone that suggested the hillocks of an Italian countryside, the undulating waves of a restless sea, or even the topography of the underworld. Stone painting seems to have had its widest following in Italy, particularly Florence and Verona, but it also spread to other countries. Thus far I have found examples by painters in France, Flanders, the court of Rudolph II, Spain, and Dutch artists working in Rome.

I have amassed a considerable list of these paintings, with the largest portion being examples in Italy since these are the works that have previously been most studied. In seeking to understand how it developed all over Europe, I am particularly interested in filling in the story as it unfolded in Flanders, since Rubens made one of the most important examples of painting on slate when he was in Rome and brought this idea with him after he returned to Antwerp. If you have in your Dutch and Flemish collections any examples of painting on the supports listed above or other stones that I have not included, please contact me."

Judith W. Mann, Curator for Early European Art, Saint Louis Art Museum

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