It all began with the Pavonazzetto marble.
I had noticed the marble nearly two years earlier, browsing through the slabs at a local supplier, while selecting sleek white monochrome marble for another client’s kitchen. I lingered over it, wondering what it was, unable to refrain from caressing its creamy surface, until I was called out of my reverie. I returned over the course of the year, unable to satisfy my urge to gaze deep into the depths of this rich and complex stone. I resolved A) to learn everything about it and B) to use it for my own house.
There were 15 slabs, consigned to the back of the warehouse, failing to arouse anyone’s interest, gaining dust while their value plummeted. They had become the cheapest slabs in the yard! With a name like “Paonazzo” it wasn’t hard to imagine why. And in fact, it was that name that got me thinking about it’s origin. Paonazzo was definitely NOT an Italian spelling. I settled into Google and by the next morning, I was an expert!
I could almost hear the Neapolitan laborers grunting in their guttural dialect, rounding out the sharp, staccato peaks of Pavonazzetto into the fluid Paonazzo. And indeed it was Pavonazzetto marble, the same stone I now saw adorning Julius Caesar’s triumphal temple in Rome! Impossible to mistake the unique signature of garnet red iron ore, peacock blue, and sea green serpentine breccias, folded into the familiar white calcite base of Carrara marble laced with carbon filigree. And there again, in magnificent Italian churches, obelisks, and majestic columns. What a surprise to learn that this marble, renown for its signature colors which mimicked the tail feathers of a peacock was the nec-plus-ultra for the Romans, exhaustively extracted from the quarry at Stazzema in the Appenines near Massa, not far from Carrara. The only other known source was in Phrygia Minor, what we know today as Turkey, a not insignificant factor in the decision by Julius Caesar to conquer the distant land and return with its spoils, namely the marble (among other things) with which he built the temple to celebrate this victory.
The Latin word for peacock is Pavo, similar to the Italian Pavone, nazzetto simply giving the superlative form. Ancient Turkish artists, enamored with the patterns in the marble from the Somaki quarry in Afyon, created the art of marbling paper, ebru, in which we can easily recognize our peacock!
When we began the design for the Casa Nera, I took my new clients to see the Pavonazzetto slabs. It was a difficult sell – the combination of colors didn’t readily lend itself to any design scheme. I think I scared them a little but they were willing to think about it. After a half dozen trips, we decided to buy 1 slab and play with it, meaning clean it up, look at it in the light, and most important, cut a sample. It was only when we had the sample that the whole scheme unfolded in front of us, one night sitting around playing with materials. We created a color vignette and opened a bottle of (Italian) wine to celebrate!