The ancient art of pietre dure is a technique where illusionist pictorial mosaics are made of cut and polished semi-precious hardstones. The stones are cut with great precision into thin sheets, shaped, then fitted together with almost invisible join lines. Natural markings in the stone are employed to achieve effects of perspective and pattern. Pietre dure as an art form was perfected in Florence during the sixteenth century, where it flourished for many years before falling out of fashion in the mid-nineteenth century.
Among the last masters of this art form in Florence were members of the Montelatici family. Their patriarch, Giovanni (d. 1930), is often credited with revitalising the skill of 'painting' in pietre dure at the end of the 19th century. In 1898, Montelatici went into business with Galileo Chini (d. 1857), founding 'Arte del Mosaico' later called Società Civile-Arte del Mosaico. The two men exhibited at the 1900 Paris Exposition Universelle, winning a gold medal for their large table inlaid with a scene of the Annunciation. Following the success in Paris, Montelatici established a large workshop on the Via Arnolfo, known as La Musiva (see overleaf photo) appointing Chini as its artistic director. Marketing to foreign buyers, the business flourished during the early decades of the 20th century, when Montelatici was joined by his two sons, Mario and Alfonso.