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The Art of Hardstone Carving

Precious Vessels, Cameos, and Comessi from the Collection of Sculpture and Decorative Arts

Gemstones have always had the power to fascinate. Particularly, if the piece of rock crystal, jasper, or agate was of a size that made it possible to cut it or hollow it out as a vessel. The value of the material and the extremely difficult and time-consuming technique of cutting stones that are harder than steel made them precious luxury objects that were only found in the treasuries of secular and temporal princes.

In the Middle Ages, the centres for gem-cutting were Lower Italy, Venice, and Paris. During the Renaissance, the best pieces came from Milan which supplied the courts of Europe and her princely collectors with all kinds of lapidary work. Leading Milanese masters found their way to Paris, Florence, Madrid, and Prague.

The Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna owes the most outstanding and precious lapidary works-of-art in its collection to the Emperor Rudolf II and his love for cut stones - vessels and small-scale cameos, as well as pictures fashioned out of coloured stones (commessi in pietre dure).Together with both earlier and later masterpieces - among them a unique group of the largest monolithic rock crystal vessels from the Middle Ages - this collection will form the focal point of an exhibition held in Halls VIII and IX of the Collection of Sculpture and Decorative Arts from December 17, 2002 till April 27, 2003.

This is the first comprehensive exhibition on lapidary art dealing with all the important periods and production centres from the Middle Ages to the Baroque. In additon to the masterpieces from the permanent collection of the Kunsthistorisches Museum, the show´s curator, Director Dr. Rudolf Distelberger - one of the world´s most renowned experts on lapidary art - has been able to obtain numerous loans of important comparative pieces from various former princely collections (from, for exapmle, Florence, Madrid, Paris, Dresden, and Copenhagen) although such precious vessels are now only rarely loaned. The catalogue that will accompany the exhibit will publish many of the results of Rudolf Distelberger´s three decades of research on the art of gem-cutting.


17 December 2002
to 27 April 2003

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