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.