An exhibition at the Saint Louis Art Museum (through May 15, 2022) shows how Renaissance and Baroque painters used stones as canvas and for more

Jacques Stella, France, 1596-1657; “Rest on the Flight into Egypt”; oil on lapis lazuli; 4 5/16 x 3 3/4 inches; Lukas T. Ruflin, Switzerland.Filippo Napoletano, Italy, 1587 - 1629; “Sea with Galleons”, c.1617 - 1621; oil on arno-lined jasper; 20 7/8 in. x 37 inches; Opificio delle Pietre Dure, Florence, Italy; by permission of the National Institute of Etruscan and Italic Studies of Florence.

The blue of lapis lazuli became water or sky, striations in lined jasper represented the sea’s undulating waves

The Saint Louis Art Museum presents “Paintings on Stone: Science and the Sacred 1530-1800,” an exhibition examining a tradition long overlooked by art historians – artists’ use of stone surfaces in place of panel or canvas to create stunning portraits, mythological scenes and sacred images. It is on show until May 15, 2022.

Developed in Rome by the Venetian painter Sebastiano del Piombo (1485-1547), the practice of painting on stone took hold in the 1530s and 1540s, and flourished for the next 100 to 150 years.

In the early examples, painters rarely left the stone bare, covering it completely since the presence of the stone itself provided enhanced meaning to the subject.

Towards the end of the century, however, artists began to respond to the visual properties offered by the stone.

Alessandro Turchi, Italy, 1578-1649; “St. Peter and an Angel Appearing to St. Agatha in Prison”, c.1640-1645; oil on slate; 13 11/16 x 19 1/2 inches; The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore.

The exhibition includes almost every type of stone that was used, including lapis lazuli, marble, slate, amethyst, porphyry, alabaster, travertine (also called alabaster cotognino) and obsidian.
By leaving portions of the surface unpainted, the blue of lapis lazuli became water or sky, striations in lined jasper represented the sea’s undulating waves, and concentric veins on alabaster defined heavenly auras.

The practice of using stone supports continued to engage European artists and patrons well into the early 18th century, and the exhibition will include examples from that period as well.
The 320-page exhibition catalog is available. Edited by Judith Mann, the museum’s curator for European art to 1800, and illustrated with more than 100 examples, this essential reference reveals the significance of these paintings, their complex meanings and their technical virtuosity.

Saint Louis Art Museum

The museum gives an introduction to stones

Jacob van Swanenburg, The Netherlands, 1571 - 1618; “Temptation of St. Anthony”, c.1595-1605; oil on pietra paesina; 24 5/8 x 20 5/8 x 2 7/8 inches; Kunstkammer Georg Laue, Munich/London.Johann König, Germany, 1568-1642; “Last Judgement (verso)”, 1625-31; oil on alabaster; 20 3/4 x 21 1/4 x 1 inches; Gustavianum, Uppsala University Museum, Sweden.

(01.03.2022, USA: 03.01.2022)