A spectacular limestone that sparks creativity | Curator of Petrology

Specimens from the Museum petrology collection, known as Pietra paesina or “Ruin Marble” have inspired artist Julie Derbyshire to create unique works of art.

Pietra paesina Ruin marble
Pietra paesina specimen in one of the portholes in the Earth Galleries at The Natural History Museum, London.


Read on to find out more about Pietra paesina, how it formed, and how it inspired Julie’s artwork.

What is it?

Pietra paesina is a distinctive type of limestone that contains light and dark patterns, giving the impression of a ruined cityscape, which is why it is commonly known as “Ruin marble”. It was described from classical Italian localities in Tuscany, Italy, in the last century and used to be very popular in the manufacture of luxury Renaissance furniture.

Pietra paesina Ruin Marble
Another Pietra paesina specimen from the Petrology Collections behind the scenes at the Natural History Museum, London


How did it form?

The original calcium rich sediment was deposited around 50 million years ago in fine, parallel layers at the bottom of a shallow sea. At first glance the characteristic patterns appear to have been created by shearing of the sediment before it had hardened into a limestone causing micro faults to appear.

However, studies have shown that the displacements were caused by microveins of calcite and joints that probably formed as the rock deformed after the sediment had become hard rock,.

Colours in the different bands were produced by later migration of iron rich groundwater that precipitated iron into some layers but not others. Migration of the water was disrupted by the microveins in the rock. The rock later weathered to produce the characteristic rusty iron stained brown colours.

If you would like to know more about this rock formation then this paper by Marko and co-workers in 2003.

The pieces of art

Julie Derbyshire says the following about her exhibit Pietra Paesina that was inspired by specimens from our collections:

“A process of deconstruction and subsequent re-imagining as objects positioned in space has culminated in an installation that reflects upon our individual, transient place in earth’s history whilst confronting the impact of humankind.

Giclee Julie Derbyshire prints inspired by Pietra paesina


Giclee prints by Julie Derbyshire
6 Giclée Julie Derbyshire prints (10cm x 10cm), individually folded, mounted in black floating frames (20cm x 20cm) inspired by Pietra paesina.

Folds and fractures allude not only to notions of our own insignificance but also to change, disruption and collapse. The photographic image operates as fragment and illusion, asserting its presence not only as a reminder of time past, of what has been lost, but also as a portal into an imperfect, perhaps ruinous, future.”

Perspex/print scultpture
Sculpted Perspex multi-layered cube (20cm x 20cm) incorporating direct to media prints with plinth (120cm x 20cm x 20cm) containing lightbox beneath cube.

Artist’s statement

Julie’s work combines photography and sculpture in two and three dimensional forms. She addresses and questions human existence and uses words such as fragility, transience, imperfection and destruction to describe her exhibit and the general themes of her art.

Pietra paesina Julie Derbyshire
Pietra Paesina – by Julie Derbyshire. A display at the London College of Communication, MA Photography show 2017.

If you are in the area, why not come and see the Pietra paesina specimen in the Earth Galleries at the Natural History Museum. If you can’t get to the Museum then you can always visit the final show website MA Photography 2017 of London College of Communication. Look out for details of further collaborations between artist Julie Derbyshire and Museum Petrology Curator Epi Vaccaro on this new Curator of Petrology blog.

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