Commesso can best preserve antiquity and memory...and can resist all the battles of water and wind and other mishaps of fortune and of time.
Thus Giorgio Vasari wrote of commesso, a newly revived antique technique for making pictures with cut stone.His comments suggest that Ferdinando I, Grand Duke of Tuscany, commissioned this portrait of Pope Clement VIII in 1601 to preserve the pope's memory, since he honored antique culture and learning. The rigidity of the mosaic medium and the luminescence of the stones, which were thought to carry intrinsic symbolic values, give the image an austere power.
Pictorial representations in stone mosaic had been popular in ancient Greece and Rome and recently revived in Renaissance Italy. Images made of hard- and softstone commessi were much admired in the Medici court, particularly by Ferdinando, who founded a court workshop in which local craftsmen could be trained in the technique. Portraits in this medium, however, are exceedingly rare; this is one of only two surviving works from a group of four.