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Articles on stone appreciation by Thomas S Elias and other authors are available from the VSANA Article Archives categorized by year. See list on the right for links to each article.

Enny’s “Botero” Stones

 by Tom Elias


Top: Enny Gian Luigi; bottom: “Inquietante profile” (“Disturbing profile”)


Nearly two decades ago, Italian stone collector Enny Gian Luigi found some unusual globular shaped stones, often clustered together, on a friend’s agricultural land. These stones were discovered during plowing and preparing the land for planting. Local inhabitants had been using these stones as decorate items for many years. Enny discovered a much harder stone once he removed the outer softer layer. These harder stones possess the features used to determine quality viewing stones—interesting shape and form, pleasing color, sturdy composition, and novel texture. These stones were largely dismissed by stone collectors trying to emulate Japanese stone enthusiasts who preferred basaltic and other harder usually black stones. This conservative approach was unfortunate and needs to be re-examined.



Left: Giovane Monaco Tibetano (Young Tibetan monk); Right: Vecchio Monaco (Old Monk).


These stones are considered as a type of sandstone, a sedimentary rock composed of sand-size mineral grains, usually quartz and feldspar, cemented together. Sandstones are not uniformly soft, and are not uniformly brown or tan in color. The can vary in hardness depending upon the material that cements the grains together and the degree of the compression of the material when the stone was being formed. More importantly, concretions occur in sandstone—hard, compacted, usually rounded to egg-shaped masses that have had the particles cemented together. Concretions are typically harder than the surrounding matrix stone. Enny’s stones appear to be a form of concretion. Also, sandstones can range in color from black and gray to red, but are more often are brown to tan in color depending upon the impurities present. It is the exceptional pieces of sandstone like the stones Enny collects that should be considered as legitimate viewing stones.

The form and shape of these plump rounded stones reminded Enny of the signature pieces of sculpture of the Columbian artist Fernando Botero. Botero’s human and animal sculptures had large exaggerated sizes on short bodies, arms and legs. Enny’s “Botero” stones similarly tend to be short and bulbous, yet have a form that can be interpreted most frequently as a figure. By all measures, these stones pass the test for form and shape even though they are not “mountain range” landscape stones. Figure stones along with structure- and abstract-shaped stones make great viewing stones.


The mottled dark green and blackish color of these stones are also accepted. They are pleasing, yet subtle and give a feeling of quietness and age. Enny found that these stones develop a nice patina if left outdoors, further enhancing their quality. The colors combined with the ridges, rounded margins and the mottled surface patterns all add to the attractiveness of these stones. These stones are likely among the hardest of the type of sandstones found in Italy. Stones collectors should not jump to the automatic conclusion that all sandstones should be rejected as viewing stones. Broad sweeping generalization can be restrictive. Each type of sandstone should be evaluated based upon its properties to determine how closely it fits the criteria for quality viewing stones.

Once the stones have been cleaned and cultivated, similar to Japanese yoseki practices, Enny began carving attractive wood bases for many of his stones. Enny particularly enjoys this aspect of these stones: their form and shape lend themselves to multiple interpretations. A question he typically asks of other stone enthusiasts in his presence, as he holds and rotates these stones is: What do you see?

Enny loves to hike in the mountains in Italy and enjoys nature. He is an avid photographer, pursues bonsai and has written two books—one on bonsai and the other on Japanese gardens. He has been collecting viewing stones for the last 35 years and is a founding member of the AIAS.

The viewing stone community is fortunate to have an enthusiast like Gianluigi Enny who defies current perceptions and beliefs and persists in collecting and preserving these stones. We hope “Botero” stones will be better recognized by more stone collectors in the future and will find a place among other quality stones. The diversity and quality of viewing stones from Italy is impressive and has expanded far beyond the more widely known stones from Liguria.

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