‘Decorative stone’ is a term for any mineral or rock which looks beautiful when cut and polished. Examples include marbles, serpentines, jaspers and granites as well as minerals such as fluorite, amethyst, and jade. Beautiful durable natural stone has been used to embellish buildings, furniture and artefacts since ancient times. It is still in huge demand for ornamenting homes and public buildings today.
The early 19th century collection made by Roman lawyer Faustino Corsi comprises 1,000 polished slabs, each of a different decorative stone. He first obtained those used by the ancient Romans, and then added Italian stones used from medieval times to his own day. He also included a selection of decorative rocks and minerals from England, Russia, and other countries.
In 1827, Oxford student Stephen Jarrett purchased the collection and presented it to the University of Oxford. It is now in the Oxford University Museum of Natural History. This website is the culmination of a research project by Monica T. Price and Lisa Cooke, and is generously funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation.
Modern information about Corsi’s stones
An important part of the project has been the updating of Corsi’s information about the stones. Our searchable database corrects a substantial number of his errors, for example where ancient quarries were only rediscovered after his time. It also records modern place names and geological descriptions. Search the database, with its gallery of high resolution images, to help identify decorative stones. You can also get some tips on things to look for and think about when identifying polished stone.
Corsi’s printed Catalogo ragionato d’una collezione di pietre di decorazione (1825) and Supplemento (1827) describes each stone. He correlated names used by Roman marble workers with those used by ancient and contemporary authors in this carefully referenced work. He also pioneered the geological classification of decorative stone collections, and cited exceptional examples of stones to be seen in the churches and monuments of Rome. Read the English translation with accompanying commentary, to find out more about the Corsi collection in its historical context.