Inlaid touchstone plaque

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17th century
Touchstone, carrara marble, mother-of-pearl, granite, turquoise, malachite, lapis lazuli
26.1 cm
21.7 cm

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This remarkable inlaid touchstone plaque depicts Saint Jerome seated on a rock with his attributes: a crucifix in his hands and a skull at his feet. Next to the skull is a frog in relief and above his head is a butterfly. The touchstone is inlaid with engraved mother-of-pearl, granite and precious stones, according to the 'pietra dura' technique, whereby a stone is inlaid with fragments of another stone type and which is closely resembling marquetry. The elegant and precious plaques were very popular and were incorporated into the famous South German art cabinets, among others. A large proportion of pietra dura plaques, mostly with birds and animals, were made in Italy, and Florence was for a long time the undisputed center of production.

Saint Jerome (347 - 420) was a priest, confessor, theologian and historian. He is best known for his translation of most of the Bible into Latin, the Vulgate, as well as his commentaries on the gospels. His list of writings is extensive.  

The engraved mother-of-pearl and the use of rare natural materials fit seamlessly into the 17th-century kunstkammer notions of naturalia and artificialia coming together. The growing importation of tropical shells, which were used for mother-of-pearl, stimulated the specialization of craftsmen in mother-of-pearl work. The color variations within mother-of-pearl allow the maker to create a polychromatic image.    


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