Stone Appreciation in Italy & The AIAS
While Italy has a long history of using carved stones, particularly alabaster and marble, as art objects and as architectural elements, Asian style stone appreciation is recent. A group of twelve people throughout Italy who had learned about Japanese suiseki formed the Italian Association of Suiseki Lovers (Associazione Italiana Amatori Suiseki) on April 20, 1997. The following year, the AIAS held their first exhibition and congress and Mr. Vito Di Venere was appointed as their first president of the association. Mr. Di Venere held the office of president from 1999 through 2001 and he was re-elected as president until October 2004. Mrs Luciana Queirolo was then elected as president. Mrs. Queirolo has been the president of this association from that time to the present. The AIAS publishes a quarterly magazine and holds an annual congress and exhibition in different regions of Italy each year. Today, this association has grown from the initial twelve members to over 70 members. They have been influenced more by Japanese suiseki practices with limited exposure to Chinese style stone appreciation. A few members of the AIAS were collecting and appreciating native Italian stone as art objects before they learned about either Japanese or Chinese stone appreciation.
Italy, a long boot-shaped country in southern Europe, has an area of 301,340 square kilometers or about 116,350 square miles. Approximately 40% of the country is mountainous and with many extinct and active volcanos extending the length of the country. Attractive stones from one region of Italy quickly became widely known and sought after by stone collectors. The waterworn limestone known as Palombino is typically removed from cuts in the mountain sides for road and reservoirs along the coast of the Tyrrhenian Sea. The Palombino type stones occur in Liguria, Tuscany, Campania, and in Sicily; however, those found in Liguria are the best viewing stones. The Ligurian Palombino stones make beautiful scenic Japanese type suiseki. These stones, almost white in color when first removed from the earth, need to be mechanically cleaned to expose the attractive lightly colored, but often gray to black limestone. They are often extraordinary mountain scenes and figure stones. Abstract–shaped stones also are found but these are typically not displayed because they do not fit into standard Japanese suiseki criteria. The Palombino stones are now known world-wide as exceptional scenic stones. Their lighter color and smooth texture gives them a youthful appearance rather than an older, aged look than is often seen in Japanese stones.
Most foreign stone enthusiasts are only familiar with the Italian Palombino stones from the Ligurian Alps; however, many other regions of Italy also yield very attractive view stones. For example, stone collectors in the Lombardy region are finding some very attractive harder, darker stones and many excellent pattern stones. Lighter colored stones are found in the Emila-Romagna region, while other fine pattern stones and stone types are now being found in the Tuscany and Dalmazia regions of Italy. Members of the AIAS have been encouraging collectors to search throughout Italy for different stone types to equal or match the Palombino stones. This is resulting in many exciting new stones appearing in the annual AIAS exhibition.
The leadership of AIAS has been adhering to Japanese style stone appreciation culture and has set high standards for their annual exhibitions. As a result, the display, the 18th annual exhibition was held in Aversa near Naples on October 10-11, 2015, was outstanding. Stones from that exhibition can be seen in the gallery section of this web site. The Italian AIAS exhibitions are reaching world-class status, particularly for stone displayed outside of Japan. Future exhibitions will continue to improve in Italy as the Italians learn more about Asian stone culture and techniques for stone displays.
To learn more about Italian stones, visit the AIAS web site at www.aias-suiseki.it/en and at www.italiansuiseki.it/en/homepage. Unfortunately, there are not many publications featuring the beautiful Italian stones. Andrea and Mirella Schenone published a small volume introducing suiseki and part of their great collection of stones. A few of the better Italian stones are published in the annual series Migliori Bonsai e Suiseki each year. Thirteen stones were included in the 2015 issue of this series published by the Unione Bonsaisti Italiani, the leading bonsai organization in Italy. Hopefully, we will see a book solely on great Italian stones in the future.