A bit of history

T he visitor to Lucca cannot help but notice, as he or she is strolling through the streets or making a stop in the piazzas of the city’s historic centre, that many of the churches and constructions built after the 11th century, starting with the porte (gates) to the city’s medieval walls, have rusticated ashlars, jambs, string courses, pediments, cornices, eaves and ornamental mouldings all in a warm, deep grey stone. This is Pietra di Matraia stone or “macigno” sandstone, as Rodolico calls it, or even more simply, “macigno”. Geologist Gerardo Nolledi recently described the petrographic qualities of this material, concluding that “Macigno A” (and thus Matraia stone) has “a higher resistance to alteration” and “superior general characteristics, both physical and mechanical”.
Pietra di Matraia is, of necessity, primarily destined for the restoration work on almost every secular building where time has caused damage, corroding and sometimes erasing the original forms. It would be reductive, however, to simply limit the use of this stone to restoration work without considering the many other uses it has today.

Today the quarries are almost all closed. And it is up to the Mugnai family to manage one of the most productive ones still in existence, thus ensuring the availability of the stone for the most diverse uses. The Mugnanis descend form an ancient family of stonemasons from Settignano who have worked in Matraia since the mid-XVII century, as can be seen from their family tree published by Vittorio Romiti.
They are hence the descendants of a line of quarrymen and craftsmen who made “stairs, doors and windows” and provided stone for “the streets of the town”, as is stated in a document dated 1740.
The instruments and methods of excavation, which remained more or less the same throughout the centuries, have changed rapidly during the past few decades, ensuring greater efficiency and promptness in meeting market demands. In the Mugnai’s workshop, not far from the quarry where the stone is extracted, Pietra di Matraia is found everywhere: some in blocks with the holes made by the wedges still visible, semi-finished or completely finished; some undergoing the different stages in the manual or mechanical processes that will shape it and create a finished object.

Perhaps more than any other material, as a result of the myriad uses it can be put to, stone reveals many different textures, assuming a different character, as it were, each time.
When it is grooved, it may retain traces of its rough nature which is softened and transformed into a subtly vibrant surface when it is dressed or hammered with different instruments, thus enhancing its petrographic properties, the most important being the consistence of the grain which makes Matraia stone particularly resistant, unalterable and valuable. The ductility of the stone, too, is clearly revealed when it is polished and its opaque nature is transformed into a reflecting surface.

The Mugnani family operate on different fronts and their administration carefully gauges both everyday requirements and demands and the results of their constant research. They are fully aware of the fact that any material can be brought to life and enhanced when it receives the stamp of creativity and that its function can be amplified and multiplied as a result of the uses it is put to over the years. Thus the Mugnanis intend to operate by promoting research and creating objects, starting with art furniture design to go on to object design, both areas where the potential of Matraia stone can be fully exploited through horizons that are still to be discovered, as has been happening for some years with marble and granite, of which this stone has nothing to envy.

It is also interesting to think of all the other materials that Matraia stone can be combined with. The Mugnani’s warehouses contain tangible proof of the high quality of their current line as expressed in the preparation of precious standard elements for highly sophisticated floor designs, in the manufacture of stairs, tables, fireplaces and other elements. The Mugnani draw from the past but look to the future, placing the company at the service of designers who propose innovatory forms, one-of-a-kind or mass produced, starting with urban decor, an area where much still remains to be done.

Pier Carlo Santini – Art critic –

line