Some marble statues, even when stripped of their color by the sands of time since the heyday of Greece and Rome, look practically alive. But they began their “lives,” their appearance often makes us forget, as rough-hewn blocks of stone. Not that just any marble will do: following the example of Michelangelo, the discerning sculptor must make the journey to the Tuscan town of Carrara, “home of the world’s finest marble.” So claims the video above, a brief look at the process of Hungarian sculptor Márton Váró. That entire process, it appears, takes place in the open air: mostly in his outdoor studio space, but first at the Carrara quarry (see bottom video) where he picks just the right block from which to make his vision emerge.
Like Michelangelo, Váró has a manifestly high level of skill at his disposal — and unlike Michelangelo, a full set of modern power tools as well. But even today, some sculptors work without the aid of angle cutters and diamond-edged blades, as you can see in the video from the Getty above.
In it a modern-day sculptor introduces traditional tools like the point chisel, the tooth chisels, and the rasp, describing the different effects achievable with them by using different techniques. If you “lose your ego and just flow into the stone through your tools,” he says, “there’s no end of possibilities of what you can do inside that space” — the space of limitless possibilities, that is, afforded by a simple block of marble.
In the video above, sculptor Stijepo Gavrić further demonstrates the proper use of such hand tools, painstakingly refining a roughly human form into a lifelike version of an already realistic clay model — and one that holds up quite well alongside the original model, when she shows up for a comparison. The Great Big Story documentary short below takes us back to Tuscany, and specifically to the town of Pietrasanta, where marble has been quarried for five centuries from a mountain first discovered by Michelangelo.
It’s also home to hardworking sculptors well known for their ability to replicate classic and sacred works of art. “Marble is my life, because in this area you feed off marble,” says one who’s been at such work for about 60 years. If stone gives the artist life, it does so only to the extent that he breathes life into it.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.