The Art of Scagliola – looks similar to Pietre Dure but not made of stone!


Until this afternoon I have to confess I had not heard of Scagliola but returning from a pre-Thanksgiving Dinner this afternoon I was intrigued by this exhibition held in a beautiful Bank building and had to check it out!

Poster for the Scagliola Exhibition

Poster for the Scagliola Exhibition

Through a mixture of video and work in progress I learnt that Scagliola is made from a powdered plaster that is obtained from selenite, a material which has a strange scaled structure – and the name scagliola is derived from this – because a scale in Italian is a scaglie!

This substance has to be carefully mixed with water, animal glue and pigment and is then worked into a dough which, after it has dried, can be polished with stones that make it as glossy as a wet stone.

The resulting mixture actually looks like marble and is used on images and table tops to make them look as if they were made of hard stone marquetries.

Although it sounds as if this is just a poor -mans Pietre Dure it seems in fact to need highly skilled workmanship and can produce an incredible image.


 The exhibition shows how the marble that is going to be inlaid has a design imprinted through a “pounced” cartoon – similar to the design of a fresco. As shown above all the spaces are carefully dug out of the marble so the scagliola can be inlaid into it.

In the image above a team from the National Gallery in London have restored three scagiola table-tops by replacing the original scagiola and repainting the original images.

The material is often used to create material which looks like marble or uncut precious stones as shown below.

Perhaps the most remarkable effect is when a picture is created from this fake stone and there were several examples of these in the exhibition.


This exhibition “Alchimie di colori. L’arte della Scagliola” has been in place since 18 October 2012 but continues until 6 January 2013  in the exhibition space in the Cassa di Risparmio di Firenze – there is no entry fee.

The collection maintained by the family firm of Bianco Bianchi , ranges from the antiques of the 17th Century to the 19th Century,  but I find that the family still make scagliola and under their auspices there has been a resurgence of interest in using this material for table tops and fireplaces even in the 21st century.

So – yet again – I find that I have still much to learn about the mysteries workings of Florence!