Emeralds, Elephants and Eric the Opal Fossil: The ten Best Stones in Artwork | Artwork and Design

Stones have formed tradition for so long as tradition has existed. Their uncommon form led us to inform tales—of trolls disguised as boulders, of virgins cursed for dancing on the Sabbath, of a snake-haired girl whose eyes turned to stone. They provided us with instruments, from ax heads to the uncommon minerals utilized in digital camera telephones. And so they served as signifiers of energy and wealth, typically derived in flip from the mines and commerce routes that distributed their riches.

We consider stone as one thing steady and unmoving, however that is only a matter of the time-frame you take a look at issues. My new ebook, Lapidarium: The Secret Lives of Stones, incorporates 60 tales, every a couple of completely different stone. Listed below are 10 memorable gems that roll by means of its pages…


Photograph: © Nationwide Museums NI Ulster Museum Assortment

Golden Salamander (mid sixteenth century), Ulster Museum

In 1967, underwater archaeologist Robert Sténuit led an expedition within the frozen waters off Lacada Level, off the coast of Northern Eire, recovering objects from the wreck of the Girona, a galley that went down in 1588. Sténuit’s workforce discovered gold, cash and weapons – but additionally a considerable amount of jewellery. Girona had been a part of the Spanish Armada and if the invasion had gone in line with plan, the stones would have shone from the conquerors’ robes as they sailed to London in triumph. This ruby ​​pendant was as soon as an emblem of Spain’s energy and vastness. The salamander design is impressed by the axolotl – an amphibious creature revered by the Aztecs – whereas the rubies come from Burma. Rubies had been believed to glow with internal mild, and salamanders lived in fireplace: an auspicious pairing for a talisman worn into battle.


Spiral Jetty by Robert Smithson
Photograph: Rick Bowmer/AP

Robert Smithson, Spiral Jetty (1970), Utah

In 1970, a Utah Parks Division contact advised artist Robert Smithson that north of the Lucin Cutoff, the water of the Nice Salt Lake had turned the colour of tomato soup. For an artist whose materials was the panorama itself, this was an irresistible lure. Together with his spouse, artist Nancy Holt, he flew to Utah and drove across the lake to pick a web site for a piece composed of land, water and sky. Spiral Jetty was envisioned as a vortex, a vortex, a galaxy and a spiral of geologic time twisting out of sight. The work is sort of half a kilometer lengthy, constructed from 6,650 tonnes of native black basalt. Over time, it has disappeared and reappeared because the water peak fluctuates: a part of the lake’s ecology, this tough, rocky construction is now encased in a shell of salt crystals.


Photograph: Panther Media GmbH/Alamy

We consider stone as inert, separate from the animal kingdom, however it may additionally kind rapidly – simply look inside your kettle. Stony concretions (stones) additionally kind contained in the physique: gallstones within the gallbladder, nephroliths within the kidneys, cystoliths within the bladder, enteroliths within the gastrointestinal tract, rhinoliths within the nasal passages, and so forth. These calculations had been collected by the eminent British crystallographer, jail reformer and peace campaigner Kathleen Lonsdale. In 1962, Lonsdale was approached by the Salvation Military for assist in analyzing bladder stones faraway from kids in India. Lonsdale’s pioneering examine, printed within the journal Science in 1971, begins with the thigh-tightening revelation that “the most important human stone on document weighed over 1.36 kilograms”.


A Lingbi Scholars' Rock (gongshi)
Photograph: Artokoloro/Alamy

Gongshi, tongue limestonedate unknown

For collectors, probably the most prized of China’s dramatic rocks is gongshi – identified in English as “scholar’s rock” or “spirit stone” and in Japanese as suiseki – an object of evocative, dynamic kind used as a focus for contemplation. Set on carved picket stands that maintain them regular of their most charming place, gongshi it may be as small as a thumb or as tall as an adolescent. Traditionally, probably the most beneficial gonshi are Lingbishi (Lingbi stones): tortured, twisting fragments of fine-grained limestone from Lingbi County in northern Anhui Province.


Belle Epoche Emerald and Diamond Brooch in London, UK, December 3, 2007. Anita Delgado
Photograph: Andy Rain/EPA

Emerald and diamond brooch (c.1910) as soon as the property of the Maharana of Kapurthala

The Maharania of Kapurthala’s favourite jewel was a crescent emerald that she noticed on her husband’s oldest elephant. Portraits of this legendary magnificence present her sporting the large stone precisely because the elephant did, on her brow. Born Anita Delgado Briones, Maharaja Jagatjit Singh of Kapurthala fell in love with the Spanish dancer at first sight (in line with fairy story conference) when he noticed her carry out on the Gran Kursal cabaret in Madrid. After accepting Jagatjit Singh’s proposal, Anita underwent the total Pygmalion remedy, studying to skate, journey a horse, play tennis, billiards and the piano. She acquired a number of languages ​​and was rigorously educated in etiquette earlier than marriage. The coveted crescent-shaped emerald was offered on his nineteenth birthday as a reward for studying Urdu.

Ancaster pink

Barbara Hepworth, Mother and Child, 1934 Purchased by Wakefield Corporation in 1951
Photograph: Bowness

Barbara Hepworth, Mom and Baby (1934), Hepworth Wakefield

For Barbara Hepworth, stone was not an inert substance: she responded strongly to the fabric itself, its particularities and associations. The Mom and Baby are carved in pink Ancaster, a compact oolitic limestone from Lincolnshire, used primarily as a constructing materials: a sensible British stone. Mom and little one are in two components: “mom” is rounded like an previous mountain, with a valley forming its lap. In that is the small determine of the ‘little one’, unbiased however shut, leaning in direction of her. Hepworth provided a brand new interpretation of an historic topic—one for an period of progressive relationships and Freudian psychoanalysis—two people, minimize from one stone however finally separated.


'Eric' was a small, short-necked pliosaur and was discovered by an opal miner in Coober Pedy in 1987. 'Eric' is one of the most complete opalised vertebrates known and has become part of the Australian Museum's fossil collection in 1993. Scientific name: Umoonasaurus demoscyllus
Photograph: Stuart Humphreys, Australian Museum

Eric”, opalized pliosaur skeleton excavated at Coober Pedy, Australian Museum, Sydney

For the reason that nineteenth century, Australia has been the world’s main supply of opal. Most dear are the black opals of Lightning Ridge, their shadowy depths shot by means of with iridescent fireplace the colour of malachite and lapis lazuli. Mined since 1915, Coober Pedy stays the most important supply of opal by quantity, however the market is altering. In 2008, Ethiopia emerged as a brand new supply of opals with distinctive readability and play of shade. Opals are made up of spheres of silica eroded from sandstone, carried down by water by means of faults and cracks till they attain an impermeable layer the place they relaxation and lithify. Generally the faults invaded by silica-rich water are these fashioned by plant or animal stays, which slowly flip into opalescent fossils. In 1987, a miner at Coober Pedy discovered the totally opalized stays of a pliosaur, named Eric.


Dou Wan's funerary ensemble, including gold wire jade, gilt bronze and jade cushion, and plugs with jade holes, during a media preview of the Qin and Han Civilization Exhibition (221 BC-220 AD) from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, United States.
Photograph: Sipa US/Alamy

The Funerary Ensemble of Dou Wan, Han Dynasty, The Metropolitan Museum of Artwork

Jade is the jade of historic China—a stone extra treasured than gold, whose sturdiness served as a cloth connection to an individual’s ancestors and urged the indomitability and resilience of non-public heritage. The apply of carrying jade into the afterlife was developed through the Han interval (202 BC-220 CE). The primary members of the Liu household, their consorts, and high-ranking elite had been buried in jade-filled fits manufactured from interlocking stone slabs. Earlier than the physique was positioned within the tomb, its 9 holes had been first sealed with jade plugs. Jade was believed to advertise longevity and thus defend the physique from decay.


Photo of Gram PARSONSUNITED STATES - JANUARY 1: USA Photo of Gram PARSONS, nude portrait (Photo by Jim McCrary/Redferns)
Photograph: Jim McCrary/Redferns

Gram Parsons in his “Nudie Go well with” (1969)

In 1913, a toddler named Nuta Kotlyarenko left Kiev and her title was spoiled by American immigration. Within the Thirties, he made rhinestone-encrusted bras and nipple pasties for burlesque performers in New York. Within the following decade, as Nudie Cohn, he moved to Hollywood and took his stones with him. Faceted artificial crystals had been a late nineteenth century phenomenon, and on stage below electrical lights, they had been mesmerizing. Nudie’s Rodeo Taylors marketed a stunning peacoat type for males that, within the Nineteen Seventies, made the time period “rhinestone cowboy” synonymous with music stardom. In 1969, Rolling Stone portrayed Gram Parsons in his white Nudie swimsuit, the entrance and sides strewn with rhinestone outlines of the hemp leaves, opium poppies and barbiturates that may put him out 4 years later.


• Snake mask of Tlaloc, in the form of two intertwined snakes and curls worked in contrasting turquoise colors
Photograph: Peter Horree/Alamy

Serpent Masks of Tlāloc (c. 1400-1521) British Museum

The storm god Tlāloc is a blue-faced deity related to fertility and water. Affixed to a picket base, two completely different shades of turquoise depict a pair of snakes forming the face of the god, crossing one another on the nostril and ringing within the eye sockets. The Aztecs valued turquoise as a lot because the Spanish valued their gold. In Náhuatl the phrase for blue stone is xihuitl and was synonymous with the standard of preciousness, used admiringly as one may use “golden” in English—a turquoise little one, turquoise phrases. In keeping with the Codex Mendoza, three provinces in Aztec territory needed to pay tribute to the emperor in turquoise: the beads and mosaic tiles amounted to a type of foreign money.

Lapidarium: The Secret Lives of Stones by Hettie Judah is printed by John Murray (£20). To assist The Guardian and Observer, order your copy from Supply expenses might apply.

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