Fabricated from pietre dure (an Italian term for carving stone), the works here straddle a fault line between kitsch and eloquent artistry. A small sphinx, somewhat battered from its roughly 4,000-year existence, offers a pharaoh’s distinctive, stern visage, his crouched lion’s body radiating an energy that belies the solid rock it’s carved from. Compare this sublime piece of royal propaganda to a relief portrait of Cosimo II de’ Medici, inlaid with gold and precious stones, which feels like something from the Home Shopping Network, Baroque Division. Other artists deeply appreciated the innate, abstract quality of their natural materials, such as the Florentine craftsmen who framed unadorned slabs of veined marble as fantastical landscapes. While a 1797 still-life fabricated from Egyptian nephrite astonishes with accurate shading and vibrant color, it feels labored compared to a competent oil painting of the same subject hanging nearby. The best works here let the intrinsic color and texture of various stones shine through, rather than force them into clumsy verisimilitude.
Tuesdays-Sundays, 10 a.m. Starts: July 1. Continues through Sept. 21, 2008