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One of the techniques I’ve learned as a decorative painter is imitating “pietre dure,” which is a decorative art that uses little cut and polished pieces of marble and stone to create images like flowers, landscapes or portraits. I saw beautiful examples of it when I was in Florence.

The precision and patience needed to cut stone into such tiny, intricate shapes is mind-boggling.  Usually it’s done on small pieces of furniture like tables and benches. You can save a boatload of time and money by imitating it in paint; here’s a gorgeous example by Pierre Finkelstein, from his book (my bible) The Art of Faux.

Fine, fine, you’re saying. What does this have to do with a mosque?
My sister lives in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. When I visited her, a must-see was the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. The mosque is stunningly beautiful, blazing white, built by thousands of craftsmen from many nations. When I saw the inner courtyard, my jaw hit the ground. The floor is inlaid in a mega-steroids version of pietre dure. Look at the scale of these flowers! Each quadrant of the grid is about 3 by 3 feet.

Now look at these flowers. Insane.

The inner courtyard measures 180,000 square feet and is the biggest example of inlaid marble in the world.
I kept wandering over it in amazement. Look how precise this is! The way the pieces fit together, that the lines between each stone are perfectly even, how the pattern of the marbles work with the shape and direction of the overall flower, how the colors and tones work together. This is cut marble! It’s astounding.

Of course the rest of the mosque is spectacular as well. This is a shot of the colonnade that surrounds the inner courtyard. Each of the 1,000 columns is inlaid with semi-precious stone flowers.

This is one of the inner rooms with more beautiful flowers, this time on the walls.

And here we are inside the main prayer hall, lined with the largest carpet in the world, and with the world’s largest chandelier suspended from its dome. The main prayer hall can hold about 7,000 people. A very peaceful place, every inch carefully considered and decorated.

If you’re interested in pietre dure, here’s a great source of info.
For more info about the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.
Although I was amazed by the beauty of the mosque, my favorite place in the United Arab Emirates was the Liwa Desert.. so for those who read to the very end, a shot of the beautiful dunes.