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Emeralds, elephants and Eric the opalised fossil: the ten best stones in artwork | Artwork and design

Stones have formed tradition for so long as tradition has existed. Their uncanny form has led us to inform tales – of trolls disguised as boulders, of maidens cursed for dancing on the sabbath, of a snake-haired girl whose eyes petrified. They’ve supplied us with instruments, from axe heads to the uncommon minerals utilized in digicam telephones. And so they have served as signifiers of energy and wealth, typically derived in flip from mines and the commerce routes that distribute their riches.

We consider stone as one thing secure and unmoving, however that’s only a matter of the timescale by which you have a look at issues. My new e book, Lapidarium: The Secret Lives of Stones, accommodates 60 tales, every a couple of totally different stone. Listed here are 10 memorable rocks that roll throughout its pages …


Salamander pendant, 16th century, Spanish
{Photograph}: © Nationwide Museums NI Ulster Museum Assortment

Gold Salamander (mid-Sixteenth century), Ulster Museum

In 1967 underwater archaeologist Robert Sténuit led an expedition within the surging icy waters close to Lacada Level, off the Northern Irish coast, recovering objects from the wreck of the Girona, a galleass that went down in 1588. Sténuit’s group discovered gold, cash and weapons – but in addition an awesome amount of jewelry. The Girona had been a part of the Spanish Armada, and had the invasion gone to plan, the gems would have shone from the conquerors’ robes as they sailed into London in triumph. This ruby pendant was as soon as an emblem of Spain’s energy and attain. The salamander design is impressed by the axolotl – an amphibian creature honored by the Aztecs – whereas the rubies come from Burma. Rubies have been believed to glow with inside mild, and salamanders to reside in hearth: 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 contact on the Utah Parks Division instructed artist Robert Smithson that north of Lucin Cutoff, the water of the Nice Salt Lake had turned the color 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 from the earth, water and sky. Spiral Jetty was imagined as a whirlpool, vortex, galaxy, and the spiral of geological time twisting out of sight. The work is nearly half a kilometre lengthy, constructed from 6,650 tonnes of native black basalt. Through the years it has disappeared and reappeared as the peak of the water fluctuates: a part of the ecology of the lake, this tough, rocky construction is now wearing a carapace of salt crystals.


{Photograph}: Panther Media GmbH/Alamy

We consider stone as inert, set other than the animal kingdom, however it could additionally kind quick – simply look inside your kettle. Stony concretions (calculi) 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 calculi have 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 analysing bladder stones faraway from youngsters in India. Lonsdale’s pioneering examine, revealed in Science journal in 1971, opens with the thigh-clenching revelation that “the biggest human stone recorded weighed over 1.36 kilograms.”


A Lingbi Scholars’ Rock (gongshi)
{Photograph}: Artokoloro/Alamy

Gongshi, lingbi limestone, date unknown

For collectors, probably the most extremely prized of China’s dramatic rocks is the gongshi – identified in English as a “scholar’s rock” or “spirit stone” and in Japanese as suiseki – an object of evocative, dynamic kind used as a spotlight for contemplation. Positioned on carved picket stands that maintain them regular of their most fascinating place, gongshi could be small as a thumb or tall as an adolescent. Traditionally, probably the most invaluable gonshi are Lingbishi (Lingbi stones): tortured, twisting fragments of fine-grained limestone from Lingbi county within the north of Anhui province.


Belle Epoche Emerald and Diamond Brooch in London, Britain, 3 December 2007. The brooch formerly the property of Anita Delgado
{Photograph}: Andy Rain/EPA

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

The maharani of Kapurthala’s favorite jewel was a crescent emerald which she noticed on her husband’s oldest elephant. Portraits of this legendary magnificence present her carrying the big stone simply because the elephant had, on her brow. Born Anita Delgado Briones, the Maharaja Jagatjit Singh of Kapurthala fell in love with the Spanish dancer at first sight (as per fairytale conference) when he noticed her carry out on the Gran Kursal cabaret in Madrid. After accepting Jagatjit Singh’s proposal Anita submitted to the complete Pygmalion therapy, studying to skate, trip a horse, play tennis, billiards and the piano. She acquired a number of languages and was rigorously schooled in etiquette forward of her marriage. The coveted crescent-shaped emerald was introduced on her nineteenth birthday as a reward for studying Urdu.

Pink Ancaster

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

Barbara Hepworth, Mom and Little one (1934), Hepworth Wakefield

For Barbara Hepworth, stone was not an inert substance: she responded powerfully to the fabric itself, its particularities and associations. Mom and Little one is carved in pink Ancaster, a compact oolitic limestone from Lincolnshire used predominantly as a constructing materials: a sensible British stone. Mom and Little one is in two components: the “mom” is rounded like an previous mountain, with a valley forming her lap. On this stands the small determine of the ‘little one’, impartial, but shut, leaning in towards 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 separate.


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

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

Because the nineteenth century, Australia has been the world’s major supply of opals. Probably the most invaluable are black opals from Lightning Ridge, their shadowy depths shot by means of with iridescent hearth the color of malachite and lapis lazuli. Mined since 1915, Coober Pedy stays the best supply of opals by quantity, however the market is shifting. In 2008, Ethiopia emerged as a brand new supply for opals of outstanding limpidity and play of color. Opals are composed of spheres of silica eroded from sandstone, carried downwards by water by means of faults and cracks till they attain an impermeable layer the place they pool and lithify. Generally the faults invaded by the silica-rich water are these shaped by plant or animal stays, that are slowly remodeled into opalescent fossils. In 1987, a miner at Coober Pedy discovered the absolutely opalised stays of a pliosaur, dubbed Eric.


Burial Ensemble of Dou Wan, including jade with gold wire, pillow of gilt bronze and jade, and jade orifice plugs during a media preview of the Exhibition of Civilization of the Qin and Han Dynasties (221 B.C.-220 A.D.) in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, the United States.
{Photograph}: Sipa US/Alamy

Burial Ensemble of Dou Wan, Han Dynasty, Metropolitan Museum of Artwork

Nephrite is the jade of historic China – a stone extra valuable than gold, the sturdiness of which served as a fabric connection to an individual’s ancestors, and advised indomitability and the endurance of non-public legacy. The follow of carrying jade into the afterlife was elaborated within the Han interval (202 BCE–220 CE). Early members of the Liu household, their consorts, and the high-ranking elite have been buried in full fits of jade, comprised of interlinked plaques of stone. Earlier than the physique was positioned within the tomb, its 9 orifices have been first sealed with jade plugs. Jade was thought to advertise longevity and would thus shield the physique from decay.


Photo of Gram PARSONSUNITED STATES - JANUARY 01: USA Photo of Gram PARSONS, Posed portrait in Nudie suit (Photo by Jim McCrary/Redferns)
{Photograph}: Jim McCrary/Redferns

Gram Parsons in his customized “Nudie Swimsuit” (1969)

In 1913 a child known as Nuta Kotlyarenko left Kyiv and had his title mangled by US immigration. By the Thirties, he was crafting rhinestone-encrusted G-strings and nipple pasties for New York’s burlesque performers. The next decade, as Nudie Cohn, he moved to Hollywood and took his rhinestones with him. Faceted artificial crystals have been a phenomenon of the late nineteenth century, and on stage, below electrical lights, they have been mesmerising. Nudie’s Rodeo Taylors peddled a blinding peacock type for males that by 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 splashed with rhinestone outlines of the hemp leaves, opium poppies and barbiturates that might carry him off 4 years later.


• Serpent mask of Tlaloc, in the form of two intertwined and looped serpents worked in contrasting colours of turquoise
{Photograph}: Peter Horree/Alamy

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

The storm god Tlāloc is a blue-faced divinity related to fertility and water. Gummed on to a picket base, two totally different shades of turquoise describe a pair of serpents that kind the god’s face, criss-crossing each other on the nostril and ringing the attention sockets. The Aztecs valued turquoise as extremely because the Spanish valued their gold. In Náhuatl the phrase for the blue stone is xihuitl and it was synonymous with the standard of preciousness, used admiringly as one would possibly 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: beads and mosaic tiles have been tantamount to a type of forex.

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