Marble workshop

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Tuscany’s Marble Marvel


Of course you are familiar with the typical course of logical study, start at the very beginning and work through to the end. Not so in this cunningly crafted experience of marble and the role it plays in the history of Florentine art and Tuscan industry. You begin at the end, as you gaze in awe upon the final product of marble working, the famous sculptures of the Bargello gallery in Florence. Your mind filled with the beauty created by well known Italian marble sculpture artists, you travel back a stage for a rare glimpse inside an active artisan sculpting workshop and witness the difficult processes the artists use in their endeavors to infuse a piece of stone with life and grace. One last touch of the rewind button takes you to the quarry high in the mountains of Carrara where the ground gives birth to the blocks of marble which will eventually become works of art.

The marble tradition

Carrara marble from the rugged Apuan Alps in northern Tuscany is highly regarded throughout the world and has been the marble most favored by artists for sculpture since the days of Michelangelo during the Renaissance.  The mountains of the Carrara Valley appear to be covered in snow all year, as the pure white marble gleams in the sunshine. It was this purity of the stone which first attracted the sculpture artists and it continues to be prized for its beautiful quality today.  The Bargello museum in Florence, where your thoughtfully considered appreciation of marble begins, is now home to the most important collection of Italianate marble sculptures in the world...

Carrara marble from the rugged Apuan Alps in northern Tuscany is highly regarded throughout the world and has been the marble most favored by artists for sculpture since the days of Michelangelo during the Renaissance.  The mountains of the Carrara Valley appear to be covered in snow all year, as the pure white marble gleams in the sunshine. It was this purity of the stone which first attracted the sculpture artists and it continues to be prized for its beautiful quality today.  The Bargello museum in Florence, where your thoughtfully considered appreciation of marble begins, is now home to the most important collection of Italianate marble sculptures in the world. 

Italian marble sculpture has a long history, stretching back to early Mesopotamian and Egyptian art.  Marble played an important role in Greek art and on through the centuries as the Roman Empire spread across Europe and Asia, taking examples of marble sculpture along.  But it was the Renaissance period that brought marble to the height of excellence, when Italian marble sculpture artists renewed the interest in Classical art and naturalism. Famous works by Donatello, Andrea della Robbia, Bernini and Michelangelo all reveal the luminous vitality contained within the marble and the painstaking skill the artists used to release the remarkably lifelike statues from the blocks of stone.  It is impossible not to be moved as you see the genius of the sculptor reflected in the soft curves of flesh, rippling muscles, and gauzy drapery brought forth from the rigid stone with such immense precision and lifelike detail.

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Sculpture behind the scenes

All marble sculptures begin in a workshop and you have the privilege of visiting a modern sculpting studio in Pietrasanta, just north of Pisa, on Tuscany’s coast.  The town has long been a center for art and sculpting, especially given its proximity to the Carrara quarries. Michelangelo himself visited Pietrasanta to practice his skills with local artisans and source the marble for his pieces in the 16th century.  You immediately feel the strong connection between the town and its artistic history, as you find marble statues both ancient and modern around every corner, in every graceful archway and dotted across every piazza. Artisan shops and working studios are the focus of the town’s commerce under the watchful Carrara hills, only a few kilometers away...

All marble sculptures begin in a workshop and you have the privilege of visiting a modern sculpting studio in Pietrasanta, just north of Pisa, on Tuscany’s coast.  The town has long been a center for art and sculpting, especially given its proximity to the Carrara quarries. Michelangelo himself visited Pietrasanta to practice his skills with local artisans and source the marble for his pieces in the 16th century.  You immediately feel the strong connection between the town and its artistic history, as you find marble statues both ancient and modern around every corner, in every graceful archway and dotted across every piazza. Artisan shops and working studios are the focus of the town’s commerce under the watchful Carrara hills, only a few kilometers away. 

Understanding the vital role of the marble quarries is a crucial element in your journey.  Your visit to the quarry confronts you with the overwhelmingly difficult problem of how to safely and efficiently remove gigantic blocks of extremely heavy material from a sheer mountainside. Extracting the valuable stone from the rocky mountains has always brought huge risk to workers and to the marble itself.  From Roman times until the 18th century, marble was worked by hand under back-breaking conditions which were understandably slow and arduous. The arrival of black powder explosives sped up the process, but increased the danger to workers and pieces as well. True progress arrived in the 19th century with machines such as the wire stone and finally the advent of the diamond wire and diamond chainsaw only thirty years ago.  Since then, marble manufacturers in Italy have grown and developed, becoming extremely important in Italy’s industrial landscape and providing approximately ten thousand direct jobs and contributing over two billion euros to the Italian economy every year. As you walk the grounds of the quarry you will see the proof of Carrara’s reputation as the center of the marble producing world, with modern extraction and transport techniques helping the industry to develop safely and with high quality results.

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From the rock to the work of art

Begin your quest for understanding of the intricacies of Italian marble sculpture with a visit to the Bargello national museum in Florence.  Your private expert art historian will guide you through the gallery where you will wonder at the glory of Michelangelo’s David and the subtle play of light and shadow over the sheen of the marble, created by the sculptor’s use of fine chiselling skills.  Judge for yourself the qualities of several of the most important Italian marble sculpture artists as your guide gives you the the first of the keys to comprehending each statue’s place in the development of the art of marble sculpture...

Begin your quest for understanding of the intricacies of Italian marble sculpture with a visit to the Bargello national museum in Florence.  Your private expert art historian will guide you through the gallery where you will wonder at the glory of Michelangelo’s David and the subtle play of light and shadow over the sheen of the marble, created by the sculptor’s use of fine chiselling skills.  Judge for yourself the qualities of several of the most important Italian marble sculpture artists as your guide gives you the the first of the keys to comprehending each statue’s place in the development of the art of marble sculpture. 

Work backwards from these masterpieces as you travel to Pietrasanta and unravel the artists’ creation of their sculptures.  Hear the sounds of tools on stone and perceive the depth of patience and technical skill needed to produce the finished pieces.  Confront a piece of marble yourself, chisel in hand, and be humbled by the immense talent of the artists as you have the unique opportunity to attempt to sculpt.  The final key to your understanding of marble comes as you unspool the last bit of the story with your visit to the quarry of Fantiscritti, the only quarry in the world carved into the heart of a mountain.  Lay your hand on the marble locked in the wild hillside, waiting to be freed and put to artistic use by sculptors, and sense the pieces of the puzzle falling into place. End your foray into the world of marble in the historic town of Pietrasanta as you relax among its wealth of statues and reflect on this simple yet powerful stone: from its birth in the quarries, to the studios of the sculpture artists, to the Bargello gallery in Florence, marble plays a powerful role in Italy, one that is at once dangerous, economic, historic and beautiful.

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