Rustication Masonry: Definition & Architecture

Instructor: Stephanie Przybylek

Stephanie has taught studio art and art history classes to audiences of all ages. She holds a master's degree in Art History.

Sometimes, how structures are built and what they're made of is emphasized by surface decoration. In this lesson, learn about rustication masonry and explore its use in architecture.

What Is Rustication Masonry?

Have you ever seen a building with heavy stone walls, where each stone is prominent on the surface? You might have been looking at an example of rustication masonry.

Rustication masonry is a type of decorative stonework that emphasizes a building's stone construction. In this style, each stone used in a wall or other architectural element has its edges cut back to emphasize the shape and heft of the stone. The stones' middles protrude from the surface, while the edges meet. Specifically, the edges are chamfered, or cut at a 45 degree angle with a sloping edge that creates a V-shaped joint with the stone next to it.

Detail of building with rustication masonry. Notice the chamfered edges of each stone.
rustication masonry

To further emphasize the stone, sometimes the raised surfaces are cut, carved or distressed with a finish texture on them. It makes them stand out even more and creates a very bold surface effect. When you see a building with rustication masonry, you won't mistake it for anything else.

Rustication masonry is sometimes used with other surface treatments, which creates a very obvious contrast between the textured stone and smooth, polished surface treatments. While it's an ornamental treatment, it has the effect of conveying the solidity and strength of the stone, emphasizing the weight and heft of a structure.

The Use of Rustication in Architecture

Rustication masonry has a long history in architecture. It was used as early as 560 BC in places like Persia. You can also find it in examples of ancient Greek architecture, especially from the later Hellenistic Period (roughly 323 - 31 BC).

By the time of the Renaissance in the 15th century, Italian architects were using the technique quite often on large structures like palaces, gardens and villas. One good example of rustication masonry from this time period is the Pitti Palace (1458) in Florence, a massive private residence built by challengers to the powerful Medici family. The entire exterior of the Pitti Palace features rustication masonry that creates an impression of power and strength.

View of part of the Pitti Palace in Florence, Italy
Pitti Palace

Through the next several hundred years, rustication masonry was used as a decorative technique on large, private structures. On many, the rustication appeared on exterior areas of specific building floors like lower levels, which signaled a social function. The rustication, the solid support, was found on levels where everyday people, like servants, worked. The upper levels, where the wealthy family lived and entertained, were then adorned with contrasting smooth, flush stone surfaces.

Rustication masonry eventually spread to other parts of the globe. Architect Inigo Jones (1573 - 1652) introduced it to England, and it was used on many examples of 17th and 18th century English structures. In America, architect H. H. Richardson (1838 - 1886) used rustication masonry to great effect on large buildings in cities like Chicago.

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