October 2009 | Philip Hewat-Jaboor, who has formed a rare collection of marbles, porphyry, and other hardstones over thirty years, has recently built an extraordinary skylit library in which they are displayed among his extensive collection of books on all aspects of the decorative arts. Since his relatively modest house on Jersey in the channel Islands did not accommodate itself to the addition of a new room, he decided to replace an ugly garage built into the hillside with a new structure, which was to contain a wine cellar and storage—as well as space for cars and the library. During the early stages of its complicated construction, the hillside collapsed, crushing the steel and forcing a redesign that essentially required constructing the equivalent of an entire underground concrete bunker. Not surprisingly, Hewat-Jaboor is justly proud of the final product, a hidden gem that, with its sloping copper roof patinated to blend in with the hillside, comes as a great surprise to his visitors, who never guess at its existence in close proximity to his house.
As a collector and fine art adviser, Hewat-Jaboor maintains bases in London and New York, but it is at this country retreat where he carries out the research required for his work. Passionate about marbles and hardstones, he is a dedicated and single-minded connoisseur whose interest begins with the whole process of quarrying lumps of rock and stone to be turned into sumptuous objects. On numerous trips to Italy he has learned to admire the skill of those who know how to cut the hardstones to expose different types of figuring, which can be used to represent, for example, the tail of a tiger or the fin of a fish. He also appreciates the great expertise required to polish the stones to bring out their numerous subtle colors: pink, mauve, purple, golden yellow and brown, soft gray, mottled black, and deep green.
At first he intended simply to showcase a marvelous floor made by Marco Paci of the eponymous Florentine marble company in which he is a part owner. But then it occurred to him that it would be most appropriate to dedicate the entire room to the world of colored hardstones and marbles. Not only the floor but the bookcases and the doors are mounted with rare marble specimens (see Figs. 2, 4, 6). Objects already in his collection have been supplemented by rare columns, vases, and the like from several periods—Roman and Byzantine to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. That the library is excavated from the rock of the hillside is most appropriate, for the riches within are all of quarried stone.
The approach is something like that to a tomb filled with treasure. Through a door of patinated copper one enters a small lobby that continues the theme, its walls and ceiling painted with trompe l’oeil Roman ruins (see Figs. 4, 5) that bring to mind the Ruin Room of about 1765 by Charles Louis Clérisseau (1721–1820) in the convent at Trinità dei Monti in Rome.The most opulent and expensive hardstone, partly because it is so difficult to carve, is Egyptian porphyry—the purple color of which made it an imperial symbol of ancient Romans, including Constantine (306–337) and his successors. Thus, the pavement of Constantine’s early Basilica di San Pietro in Vaticano contained large porphyry roundels. Porphyry was quarried by the Romans from the late first century to the mid-fifth century in the mountains east of the Nile, northeast of Luxor. Oddly, it was seldom used by the ancient Egyptians themselves, who preferred other indigenous stones, such as granite, basalt, and alabaster. Hewat-Jaboor’s collection is rich in all these materials as well as porphyry.