Countless tiny tesserae of stone and glass make up the story of this ancient art that arrived in Italy through contact with the East. The Greeks, the Romans but, above all, the Byzantines knew exactly how to exploit this technique and its iconology to convey images, thoughts and emotions.
In Emilia-Romagna, its homeland is unquestionably Ravenna, the last capital of the Western Roman Empire and, after the brief period under Theodoric the Great, the centre of Byzantine power in Italy.
The inheritance of the mosaic tradition has been handed down from generation to generation thanks to the most famous and expert schools specialised in mosaic in the world (like the “Nervi Severini” Artistic Secondary School, the Academy of Fine Arts and the School for the Restoration of Mosaics), attended by pupils and artists from all over the world.
When you visit the city, you have the opportunity to admire seven of its eight UNESCO monuments, which make up the most significant heritage of ancient mosaics from the fifth and sixth centuries in the world. At the same time, you can visit one of the many artisan-artist workshops in the historic city centre. Here you get the chance to witness with your own eyes how these mosaics are made, and perhaps even try your hand at making your own piece of art, thanks to the many courses that are organised throughout the year.
In Ravenna, there are mosaics everywhere: in the museums, on the street signs, in the parks, on the flower boxes and in the windows of the historic neighbourhoods, even on the walls, thanks to the “invasions” carried out by the famous international street artist, Invader.
The starting point of any tour should always be the MAR Museum. Housed in the monumental complex of the Loggetta Lombardesca, this space contains a vast collection in the making of contemporary works and is also home to the CIDM, the International Centre of Documentation on Mosaic.
The RavennaMosaico is an event not to be missed; an international festival that sees artists and mosaic schools from all over the world gather together in Ravenna every two years.
Despite being a rather niche craft today, the art of stoneworking in Emilia-Romagna has a number of high-quality exponents in the areas between the provinces of Modena, Reggio Emilia and Parma.
In Carpi, for example, between the eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries, artistic artefacts were produced in scagliola, which made this town – from the time of its inventor, Guido Fassi, onwards – famous all over the world.
There are still several craftsmen of the trade who make unique tables, countertops, small paintings and furniture accessories, which look similar in every way to real inlaid marble.
In the province of Reggio Emilia, mining and stoneworking has flourished since the nineteenth century. In Canossa, the School of Stone Sculpture ensures this ancient knowledge is rediscovered and passed on to a new generation of artisans and artists.
In the past, in Ramiseto, Busana, Collagna and Castelnovo ne’ Monti, stonecutting was a rather widespread profession. Today, to mark that tradition, arches, portals, windows, stairs, fireplaces, restoration work but also sculptures and religious bas-reliefs are made in these towns.
In the Parma area, located in the upper Taro River valley, the extraction and working of Carniglia stone is worth mentioning. Carniglia is a hamlet of the small village of Bedonia, lying at the foot of Mount Pelpi. Apart from today’s industrial production, there are stonecutters still working there who know every detail about this raw material and know how to treat it like true artists.