The 19th century Corsi collection of decorative stones: a resource for the 21st century?
The Corsi collection of decorative stones is arguably the most important and certainly the most diverse and well known of similar collections in Europe. Formed in Rome in the first quarter of the 19th century it consists of 1000 polished sample blocks (c. 15×7.5×4 cm) of natural decorative and semi-precious stone. All the blocks were acquired by Faustino Corsi through other persons, usually a dealer or stonecutter who had them cut to approximately the dimensions of the first model. More than 300 are from stone that had been used in ancient Rome; the others are from stone quarried at a later date. The collection, which is complete, has been in the possession of Oxford University since 1827. The reasoned catalogue by Corsi sheds light on early 19th century ideas about mineralogy and many of the types of stone in use in Rome. Hand specimens are not as important as they used to be for teaching undergraduates, and the decorative arts have little place in modern science. Recent work on provenance, type of stone and nomenclature greatly increase the value of the collection as a resource for identification of ornamental stone used in historical buildings, sculpture and the decorative arts in the 21st century.
Figures & Tables
Natural stone is considered to be a versatile, durable and aesthetically pleasing building material. From the beginning of civilization, important structures and monuments have been built from, or based on, natural stone. Until the end of the nineteenth century, the use of local stone resources was mostly in balance with the local environment. Strict environmental legislation has resulted in the closing of many long-standing quarries in industrialized countries, which has led to a shortage of traditional stone varieties. This has caused problems for restoration practice. Cheap, imported stone from less industrialized countries has become more widely available in recent years.
Some of the issues related to built stone conservation and restoration covered by this volume are: the establishment of inventories of possible replacement stones; understanding the decay mechanism and use of preventive conservation methods for slowing down decay processes; evaluation of the properties of natural stone; and assessing the risks of using replacement stones of different qualities.