NB This talk we be held in the seminar room of Trinity Hall’s WYNG Gardens, Thompsons Ln, Cambridge CB5 8AQ (a short walk from the College)

Prof. Marcia Pointon (Professor Emerita, University of Manchester)

Stone and its Provocations around 1600: Galileo, the Medusa and the Problem of Intarsio

A passion for pietre dure decorative surfaces was a feature of the Medici court from the 1580s attracting massive expenditure and extravagant praise. One among a small number of contemporary detractors has been taken to be Galileo Galileo. While the authorship and origin of pietre dure tables that were exchanged as precious diplomatic gifts has been analysed, the question of what might be meant by Galileo’s invocation of the Medusa in his critique of lovers of precious stones has not been addressed. Nor have questions been asked as to how the patterns produced by craftsmen in the Opificio delle Pietre Dure might have signified within the intellectual environment fostered by the Grand Dukes. Bearing in mind recent interest among scholars in lithic histories and mineral inspiration, modern distaste for an art form that seemingly uses one medium (hard stone) to emulate another (pigments), and considering particular artefacts from an anthropological view, my aim is to reorientate the study of hard stone decorative work into the history of visual culture.