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  • Russ Ramsey

Working with Marble

For this Art Wednesday we’ll look at marble sculpture as an art form, along with some of the world’s most celebrated statues. I am personally drawn to Michelangelo’s David and regard it as a near-perfect work of art.

Michelangelo, David, 1501-04


Ancient sculptors preferred marble for its ability to absorb light and give a soft appearance when polished. It’s not too hard to carve, but leaves a very durable end result.

Alexandros of Antioch, Venus de Milo, 150-125 BC


Marble is a metamorphic rock composed of calcite crystals. Advantages to working with marble: it shears well when hit, it has a translucent appearance, it becomes harder as it ages, and it is plentiful.

Giuseppe Sanmartino, The Veiled Christ, 1753


Disadvantages to working with marble: it often has veins of impurities, it stains easily, it erodes when exposed to acidic rain, it is inflexible. You cannot add back to marble once you make a mistake.

Michelangelo, Pieta St. Peter’s, 1498-99


Working with marble is the art of subtraction in a three-dimensional context. If you make a mistake in proportion, you cannot correct it, and the rest of the work will show a ripple effect of error.

Raffaelle Monti, Sisters of Charity, 1847


The steps for carving marble include 1. “pitching away” large portions of unwanted stone, 2. “roughing out” the sculpture’s basic form, 3. “rasping” the final form, and 4. polishing the finished form.

Unknown, Winged Victory of Samothrace, 190 BC


Tools for sculpting with marble include the mallet, pointed chisels, rounded chisels, clawed chisels, flat chisels, a pitching tool for large chunks, a hand drill, rasps, and polishing cloths.

Donatello, David (marble), 1408

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