“ — in sinks, tiles, altars, skyscraper lobbies, busts.”
August 3, 2017 5:07 PM   Subscribe

The Majestic Marble Quarries of Northern Italy [The New York Times] “The story of Italian marble is the story of difficult motion: violent, geological, haunted by failure and ruin and lost fortunes, marred by severed fingers, crushed dreams, crushed men. Rarely has a material so inclined to stay put been wrenched so insistently out of place and carried so far from its source; every centimeter of its movement has had to be earned. “There is no avoiding the tyranny of weight,” the art historian William E. Wallace once put it. He was discussing the challenge, in Renaissance Italy, of installing Michelangelo’s roughly 17,000-pound statue of the biblical David. This was the final stage of an epic saga that, from mountain to piazza, actually began before Michelangelo’s birth and involved primitive and custom-engineered machinery and, above all, great sweating armies of groaning, straining men. But the tyranny of weight was in effect long before that, and long after, and it remains in effect today.”

• The Most Dazzling Private Collection of Marble [New York Times Style Magazine]
“‘‘Marble is the story of civilization. It grabs onto you, and takes you over,’’ says Santarelli, with a throaty laugh. Over the past 20 years, using the fortune she made from expanding a real estate and development company founded by her parents, she has amassed a dazzling array: more than 400 sculptures, 600 glyptics and at least 2,500 architectural fragments and samples of colored marble. Her collection, which she has acquired mostly from noble families no longer wealthy and in need of cash, ranges from the Ptolemaic Era to the 19th century. Santarelli has never sold a single item, but in the interest of sharing this beauty, she has turned her collection into a movable feast. Through a family foundation she co-founded, she loans dozens of pieces to museums every year.”
• The Marble of Michelangelo's Dreams [The Atlantic] [Photo Essay]
“High in the Apuan Alps of Tuscany, sits Monte Altissimo, a 5,213-foot (1,589-meter-high) mountain, climbed in 1517 by the Italian artist Michelangelo—in pursuit of fine marble for his sculptures. There, according to Reuters, he “found the marble of his dreams. It was, the Renaissance master wrote, ‘of compact grain, homogeneous, crystalline, reminiscent of sugar’”. After receiving the blessing of Pope Leo, Michelangelo worked for years to open a functional quarry, but was unsuccessful, and the project faltered. Today, five quarries operate on the mountain, using heavy machinery and modern techniques to carve up the hillside and extract the prized marble.”
• A Look Inside Colorado’s Stunning Marble Quarry [Aspen Sojourner]
“Having learned his trade in Carrara, where marble has been quarried since the time of ancient Rome, Mazzucchelli immediately recognized the value in what was then called the Colorado Yule Quarry. Taking advantage of a thick seam of unusually pure marble high in a mountain southeast of town, the quarry started producing in the 1870s and provided the stone for the Lincoln Memorial and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Washington, D.C., and the Colorado State Capitol, among other monuments and buildings. Due to a metamorphic process unique to the area, the marble’s grain structure lends it an exceptionally smooth, luminous surface that makes it particularly coveted. The original quarry, which had a huge staging area along a former railroad line on the valley floor, operated until 1941, but it then remained closed until 1990. After that a few owners operated the quarry sporadically, and with limited success, until 2011, when R.E.D. Graniti, through a new division called Colorado Stone Quarries, took over operations and ushered in the quarry’s current mini-boom.”
• What It’s Like to Sculpt from the Same Marble as Michelangelo [Artsy.net]
“It’s not easy work, he notes. Carving kicks up so much white marble dust that the artisans are jokingly referred to as the “ghosts of Pietrasanta.” Gray’s favorite part of the process is the end. “It’s so labor-intensive and so emotionally and physically attritional, it’s such a joy to walk away from a piece.” Michelangelo’s presence in the town has been well documented; bronze plaques mark houses where, centuries ago, he may have slept, while a local cafe claims the distinction of serving as his workspace during a visit in 1518. But the connection is even more explicit in Gray’s Pace show. One piece, titled Cave Girl (2016), was carved from a block of marble extracted from the very same cave Michelangelo sourced for his marble back in the 1500s. “They’re using the same techniques that Canova did, that Michelangelo’s studio did,” Paddon says of the Giannoni workshop. “It’s a way of work and life that is facing extinction because it’s obviously intensely laborious. But it’s a really beautiful process as well. It’s living history.””
• The Marble Quarries of Carrara [Scientific American]
“Few, if any, industries in the world have a greater percentage of waste than marble quarrying as it is done in Italy, yet the famous Carrara deposits have been worked over 2,000 years, and according to the statements of experts who have examined the moun tains of marble in this locality, the quality of high-grade material yet to be excavated is so great that Carrara promises to supply the present rate of demand for its marbles for centuries to come. When Nature created this section of the Apuan Alps, she formed a storehouse of marble that is truly marvelous in extent, for beds of the finest quality of the Carrara grade are known to exist as high as 5,500 feet above the level of the sea. The exact depth is unknown, as the deposits have as yet not been thor oughly investigated by the use of machinery. Test borings which have been made, however, show that a considerable portion of the mountain formation in the commune of Massa, in which Carrara lies, seems to be entirely of marble, and it is believed that in places the formation extends fully 500 feet downward, with not even a layer or thrust of other stone.”
• The Poetry of Mining Beautiful White Italian Marble Captured in a Short Film [YouTube]
“Italian artist and filmmaker Yuri Ancarani captures the otherworldly landscape of Carrara's marble quarries in the Apuan Alps, Northwest Italy, as Il Capo (The Chief) guides his men through the extraction process in this excerpt by Yuri Ancarani .”
• Land of Marble documentary – Pietrasanta, Italy [Vimeo]
“After one and a half years of hard work, Land of Marble is out. It follows the development and building of the first skatepark ever built with all the obstacles made of wasted pieces of white marble, abundant in the area. Besides the stories of the construction, the documentary is filled with intense skateboarding as well, from twenty one of the best Italian skateboarders, who paid their visit to this unique skate plaza during the first year of its life. Thanks to Simone Verona, the man behind this crazy idea – the local traditions now meet the youth and their skateboarding needs. He’s also the man in charge of the direction of this documentary with the help and photography of Federico Romanello.” [via: Confuzine ]
posted by Fizz (8 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
I read this historical fiction book about Michelangelo called The Agony and the Ecstasy. It's a fat doorstop of a book and covers much of the material mentioned here. Like, if you wanted to learn about whaling from fiction I'd recommend Moby Dick. Likewise this book for marble. I can't vouch for it's historical accuracy, but there are no aliens or wizards or stuff like that.

It does very stongly suggest that Michelangelo was gay short of saying it plainly.

From the wikipedia page I see they made a movie. Haven't seen it.
posted by adept256 at 5:33 PM on August 3, 2017 [3 favorites]

Let's not omit the beautiful photographic book Carrara, by Joel Leivick.
posted by homerica at 6:53 PM on August 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

Thanks for sharing the title of that book homerica. I'm definitely going to see if I can find that at my local library.
posted by Fizz at 7:07 PM on August 3, 2017

Seconding The Agony and the Ecstasy. Great book, and I learned a lot from it. Author Irving Stone was known for his devotion to thoroughly researching his subjects, even living in Italy for several years to research this particular book.
posted by MexicanYenta at 7:44 PM on August 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

"Edward Burtynsky: Quarries" isn't exclusively about marble quarries, but it does contain many photos of the Carrera marble quarries.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 8:23 PM on August 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

The way it's carved out in regular blocks makes the space left behind look so architectural, like they're uncovering mountain temples built a hundred million years ago.
posted by lucidium at 4:09 PM on August 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

The odd phrasing and OCR errors in that Scientific American article were confusing me until I checked the byline: By Day Allen Willey on November 16, 1907. Mr. Willey's other pieces for the journal include The Pneumatic Tube System of a Modern Department Store, An Experimental Mono-Rail Line, Baltimore's System of Garbage Disposal, To-morrow's Weather: How It Is Foretold, The Manufacture of Twine, and Draining the Everglades.
posted by mubba at 10:55 AM on August 5, 2017 [2 favorites]

..."severed fingers, crushed dreams, crushed men…"

One of my Italian relatives married one of those men who worked in the marble quarries in Tuscany. The physical toll alone that this type of work takes is really heavy, with the injuries and risks it entails. Of course he has a severed finger or two, scars all over, and had to retire quite young due to other health issues related to the job (breathing in marble dust is not very good for you). It makes you appreciate the final product in a very different way… I’ve never looked at a piece of marble the same way after I met him. I wish every piece of marble came with a bit of history on the men who worked to extract it.

(For those interested in this aspect, here’s an article published in 2005 in the BMJ journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine – World at work: Marble quarrying in Tuscany – Job hazards and preventive measures for workers - PDF version).
posted by bitteschoen at 3:34 PM on September 2, 2017 [2 favorites]

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