28-02-2023 Natural stone

Interested in “painting with stone”? Pietra Dura might be your next career move

Pietra Dura titillates the curiosity of stonecutters and other related trades looking to develop their careers in a more artistic way.


A centuries-old trade virtually unknown by the general public, Pietra Dura (or hard stone inlay) still exists and sets an inimitable seal on the works for which it is used. Even though it has evolved to meet more contemporary needs, this decorative art remains extremely rare. But it titillates the curiosity of stonecutters and other related trades looking to develop their careers in a more artistic way. Let's focus on one of the most creative and meticulous natural stone trades.

Hard stone inlays in the Taj Mahal. © Alex Shadrin / Adobe Stock

A rare technique also called “painting with stone” 

This creative art form uses ancient know-how called Pietra Dura seen in the greatest palaces, from ancient Rome to as far away as India. It reached its apogee in the 16th century in Italy under the Medicis with the creation of the Opificio delle Pietre Dure (workshop of semi-precious stones). Today, only a few professionals know how to “paint with stone”.

Hard stone artists fully understand all the complexities and properties of the marbles and semi-precious stones which they cut into thin blocks, slice, size, polish and assemble with extraordinary dexterity to create usually floral or geometrical patterns. Unlike glyptics, for which thin slices of stone are engraved, hard stone marquetries are flat. Finding the ideal color and working each stone according to its specific properties requires in-depth knowledge of the materials… and not a little patience!

Famous French hard stone inlayer Hervé Obligi reveals his art for the INMA

Like marble-working, hard stone inlays are decorations built into tables, walls, fountains, flower pots, craftwork, medals and many other supports. Extremely meticulous and highly precise, this artistic natural stone trade generates unique - sometimes priceless – works, much in demand from designers!

A demanding and highly specialized niche trade 

The drop in demand for furniture decorated with semi-precious stones, replaced by more modern and affordable works led 19th century hard stone inlayers to gradually turn to restoration, in particular in historic buildings. However niche customers like embassies, collectors, decorators and famous designers are still in the market.

Semi-precious stones encrusted in white marble on the tomb of Jahângîr in Lahore. © Gajus Scheltema, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Today, Pietra Dura is carried out in highly specialized workshops able to control the hardness and the brittleness of the stone and afford a very long creative process. Often, the artists were formerly stonecutters.

A skill essential for design and restoration but difficult to learn

For the most creative professionals driven by working natural stone extremely precisely, Pietra Dura is a great way to find new markets. However very few training programs are available except in Italy, the cradle of Florentine stone inlays, where the Opificio delle Pietre Dure created in 1588 still exists. It is however possible to find training courses in lapidary arts and in existing workshops where professionals sometimes provide “hands-on” courses. 

Many hard stone inlayers teach themselves, based on skills acquired in related trades like stonecutting or stone engraving.

Portrait of Clement VIII drawn by Jacopo Ligozzi and copied by Romolo di Francesco Ferrucci del Tadda. © Par Jacopo Ligozzi — Domaine public

Rocalia is the place to discuss the future of your stone trade

Meet all the material distributors and tool suppliers in a single place! Rocalia is the only natural stone trade show in France. A place to share innovations, projects and creations and find out how the sector is progressing!

Benefit from the presence of experts and colleagues to ask your questions and discover training possibilities in the Trades and Skills Space. Attend trade-oriented conferences to get new views of the natural stone sector and find out the new challenges - and how to meet them.

Pietra Dura is a magnificent decorative art, requiring outstanding patience and in-depth knowledge of natural stones. Are you interested in becoming a hard stone inlayer?

Find the best materials and advice at Rocalia

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