A sweeping history of premodern architecture told through the material of stone
Spanning almost five millennia, Painting in Stone tells a new history of premodern architecture through the material of precious stone. Lavishly illustrated examples include the synthetic gems used to simulate Sumerian and Egyptian heavens; the marble temples and mansions of Greece and Rome; the painted palaces and polychrome marble chapels of early modern Italy; and the multimedia revival in 19th-century England. Poetry, the lens for understanding costly marbles as an artistic medium, summoned a spectrum of imaginative associations and responses, from princes and patriarchs to the populace. Three salient themes sustained this “lithic imagination”: marbles as images of their own elemental substance according to premodern concepts of matter and geology; the perceived indwelling of astral light in earthly stones; and the enduring belief that colored marbles exhibited a form of natural—or divine—painting, thanks to their vivacious veining, rainbow palette, and chance images.
Fabio Barry is assistant professor in the Department of Art and Art History at Stanford University.
“One might think that, after the many studies published over the past 50 years about coloured marbles in architecture, there would be no need for a new work on the subject. Painting in Stone by Fabio Barry has made me completely change my mind.”—Dario del Bufalo, Art Newspaper
“A short review can not do justice to the wealth of material in this beautifully illustrated book.”—Julian Treuherz, Context
“A tour de force of erudition and interpretation in the field of cultural history that will have a long-lasting legacy. . . . Barry’s book is a welcome arrival, clearly the synthesis of research conducted over the course of an entire career.”—Adriano Aymonino, Apollo
“Painting in Stone is peppered with arresting insights, quotes and information. It is also a wonder to behold, full of fantastic colour photographs, many of which Barry took himself.”—James Hall, Literary Review
“[U]ncovers some delicious treasures.”—The Oldie
“Given its rich discussion, artful prose and abundant illustrations, Painting in Stone makes a distinctive contribution to art and architectural history. This is a book in which readers will find food for thought as they consider coloured stones as an artistic medium in their own right, one with the potential to express myriad cultural, social and religious meanings.”—Maryl B. Gensheimer, Burlington Magazine
Winner of the 2021 Alice Davis Hitchcock Medallion, sponsored by The Society of Architectural Historians of Great Britain
Winner of the 2021 PROSE award in Architecture and Urban Planning, sponsored by the Association of American Publishers
Apollo Magazine’s Book of the Year
“The most original and comprehensive book in architectural history since I don’t know when. A major achievement.”—Robert S. Nelson, Yale University
“Painting in Stone is one of the most ambitious, learned, and original books on art and architecture written in recent decades. Barry writes vividly and powerfully, expounding the meaning of marble in architecture in a most engaging way.”—Nicholas Penny, director of the National Gallery, London (2008–15)
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