The Corsi Collection of decorative stones: where geology meets the arts
Monica T. Price, Collections Manager, Earth Collections Oxford University Museum of Natural History
Faustino Corsi was an early 19th century lawyer in Rome who delighted in collecting samples of the different marbles, granites, serpentines and other polished decorative stones used since ancient times in his native city. He was by no means the first to build a substantial collection or to write about ‘marbles’, but his intellectual approach to the study of decorative stone was more pioneering. He intended that his collection should be used as an identification aid, and significantly, he recognised that an arrangement into a petrological order would be most useful. In his published catalogue, he tried to articulate in his descriptions such subtle details as grain-size, texture, lustre, and significant mineral and fossil constituents, as well as the more obvious properties of colour and pattern. While some parts of his geological commentary are satisfyingly accurate, others reflect contemporary mineralogical misunderstandings or represent a curious discrepancy between theory and observation.
Corsi’s work brought a geological perspective to decorative stones – an area that had largely been the preserve of artisan stone workers, archaeologists and antiquarians. He helped to give decorative stone collections a rightful place in scientific institutions worldwide. I will be telling you more about Corsi and his collection, and the website www.oum.ox.ac.uk/corsi which allows anyone worldwide to explore this beautiful collection.