“PIetra dura” – FROM ROME TO INDIA

The story begins in 16th century Rome where this unique marble-inlay technique or ‘painting in stone‘ came into existence…..

Ancient Art of Parchin Kari


Known with many names-

  • Parchin kari (Persian: پرچین کاری‎) by Mughals
  • Pacchikari in Indian subcontinent.

Parchin Kari is a beautiful ancient inlay technique in which colored stones are “cut and fit” in marble base to create motifs, intricate geometric designs, large scale calligraphy, swirling floral arabesques or images. The stones used in such decorative art work may be precious or semi-precious, colored and highly polished. Pietra dura items are generally crafted on green, white or black marble base stones. White marble from Makrana, Rajasthan (India) or Creama Marble from Italy is the most preferred form of marble surface for inlay work due to their premium qualities.

The largest collection of marble inlay in the world is in Vienna, at the “Wiener Hofburg”. It contains 67 paintings done with this technique, as well as many cabinets and sumptuous tables.


The history of Pietra dura dates back to 16th century Rome, where it was developed as an architectural element. It was used on floors and walls, with both geometric and figurative designs for enhancing beauty and ornamentation.

Byzantine or Eastern Roman empire used this inlaid art on floors but also experimented in hardstone inlays for creating some small religious figures, like the Pala d’Oro in San Marco, Venice (though this mainly uses enamel).

PIETRA DURA work at Cathedral of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary Dubrovnik (Croatia) Picture credit- László Szalai

Later during Italian Renaissance, Pietra dura was developed to create images and in Florence by Medici family, this art was fully evolved as an art of ‘painting in stone’. St Mark’s Basilica in Venice, is the fine example of Italo-Byzantine architecture depicting ancient inlay work.

The art remain popular in 19th century particularly in Naples, but seen decline during 20th century where this technique became restricted to historical monuments. In recent years, the form is revived under government heritage protection projects and restoration works.

Damaged yet intricate pietra dura inlay work at Chini Ka Rauza, Agra, Uttar Pradesh


The process of Pietra dura or Parchin kari was traditionally done with hands. It is a tedious process, it can take several days just to cut a single slice. The patterns are drawn on marble using henna dye or sometimes red earth to make the pattern clear for cutting. Then professional craftsmen chisel out the shallow pattern to create hollow space on the marble wherein the stone can be embedded.

The artisan then matches the shape and pattern of the marble with the stones slivers which are manually crafted with huge precision and carved into minute petals, leaves, stems, or any other motif depending on the design.

It is no-doubt a skillful technique taking lots of patience and knowledge of craftsmen to find the right piece of stone for right place to be fit in, after all, its all about texture and shading by which inanimate stone pieces came to life.

The marble surface is heated and as it expanded the stone is fixed in it. Tiny gaps and voids in the inlay are filled in with white cement so that it can match the white base of marble and looks flawless. The surface is then buffed and polished to create a finished look.

Pietra dura detail with semiprecious stones inlaid into white marble at the Tomb of Jahangir in Lahore.


This elaborate craft of marble inlay was traveled throughout Europe and reached far East to the Mughal courts in India in 17th century. Mughals admired and imitated this intricate art with great precision in several Mughal monuments particularly the Tajmahal the tomb of Itimad-ud- Daulah, Chini ka rauza at Agra, Jagmandir palace’s Gol Moandal at Udaipur (built for Shahjahan) and The Jahangir Mahal, Agra fort.

In Mughal India, pietra dura was known as Parchin kari, literally ‘inlay’ or ‘driven-in’ work. The patterns and designs are inspired from Persian architecture rather than Roman thus floral patterns and Persian miniature paintings became the part of design.

Here are few pictures showcasing golden era of marble inlay art during Mughal empire


In 17th century, Mughal emperor Shah jahan gave India the finest example of Mughal architecture- The Tajmahal. The beauty of Tajmahal lies in its fine ornamentation and refined detailing done on the finest quality Makrana marble. The colorful stones inlaid on white marble breaks the monotony of white marble and looks pulsating.

Tajmahal detailing- Parchin Kala

Parchin kala is profoundly incorporated in the entire complex of Tajmahal enhancing the decorative element of this marvelous wonder. The common motifs used in Tajmahal are of beautiful flowers, buds, fruits, petals and occasional calligraphy as anthropological forms are prohibited in Islam.

Parchin Kala on outer facade of Tajmahal- Photo by Johan Sjögren on Unsplash

The stones embedded in Tajmahal inlays are precious and semi-precious gemstones which are carefully chosen for creating differing tones in the pattern. Yellow marble, jasper, jade, lapis lazuli, carnelian, onyx, coral, cat’s eye, agate and garnet and other stones are used for creating stunning patterns and amusing designs on marble structures.

Tajmahal detailing- Parchin Kala

Just as a color pallet to the painter, these gemstones are to the craftsmen, being rich in hues and textures their proper use enable the craftsmen to give the impression of shading and depth in each flower.

Tajmahal is a synonym of Royalty and clearly Parchin Kala plays a significant role in it.

MODERN PRESENCE- Heritage to contemporary

Time brings out characteristic change in this ancient inlay art……Once considered as a part of royal intricate art-form, it underwent loss of recognition in the later era.

Now, as the design industry is flourishing and restoration of ancient crafts became an ethical responsibility of the designer, Parchin Kala is not limited to the royal monuments rather it is gaining wide presence in modern day houses.

Marble Inlay Demonstration – U P Handicrafts Complex – Fatehabad Road – Agra

Marble inlays are now being recasted to complement the contemporary designing. The craft is revived in the form of antique marble inlay table tops, background decorative, wall highlights, backsplashes, furnishings, marble flooring, medallions, wall plaques, table tops, panels inserted into doors or onto cabinets, bowls, jardinieres, garden tables, fountains , benches, etc.

This art is commercially feasible as marble offers great resistance to nature, it is hard, can withstand great temperatures and thus durable. Marble is stain free and can also be placed outdoors. Inlay work in everyday marble can be appealing and can add a heritage touch to your home.

See amazing collection of Contemporary Marble Inlay Flooring or Pietra Dura Art from KGN Exports House where experienced artisans use advance tools in cutting the marble into desire design which is then perfectly polished to give an excellent finish. 

Look at there unique Marble Inlay Flooring and customized collection here


Image courtesy for Contemporary Marble Inlay Flooring : KGN EXPORTS HOUSE

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  1. So fascinated by the implication of this art form in modern architecture. Loved the article.

  2. I would have never guessed that technique used in the Taj Mahal came from Europe. Thanks from opening our eyes to this.

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