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Birds have long been a source of artistic inspiration.

Adam Weisweiler (1744-1820)

Commode 1785-90

RCIN 2593

Green Drawing Room, Buckingham Palace

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Close up of central panel ©

A parrot, a pheasant and a crested hoopoe decorate the front and side panels of this magnificent cabinet. The birds were created by cutting and fitting together many pieces of stone, of different types and colours, an inlay technique known as pietra dura (literally ‘hard stone’) developed in 16th-century Florence. Fauna and flora were often depicted using this technique, as the natural shades of the stones allowed close replication of scenes from nature. The sheer range of surface effects and colours helped the artist to convey the variety of plumage: the bird on the central panel, for example, is given a pearlescent green head, mottled chest feathers, veined marble wings and a bright assortment of tail colours. Once perfected, the pietra dura technique became particularly popular as its effects were considered to last forever; indeed, more than 400 years after they were made, these birds have not lost their vibrancy or lustre.