Masterpieces in Marble: The foundation of the most stunning sculptures
It is all well and good to praise marble for its solid structure and beautiful natural composition. However, this precious stone really comes to life when it is worked by the hand of the artist, to release the form which only the genius can see hidden in the rock.
The David by Michelangelo
This is one of those masterpieces which defines Renaissance sculpture. It was created between 1501 and 1504 by Michelangelo and is currently exhibited at the Galleria dell’Accademia, Florence. The statue stands tall at 17-feet and depicts a standing male nude, representing the Biblical hero David, who symbolized Florence’s defense of civil liberties as an independent city-state. The statue was sculpted from a single large block of marble, hailing from a quarry in Carrara, a town in the Apuan Alps in northern Tuscany. The block was very expensive at the time and also required plenty of manpower and know-how for its transportation to Florence and ultimate shaping. Though Leonardo da Vinci and others master artists of the time were approached to turn this block of marble into a breath-taking artistic feat, it was 26 years old Michelangelo who clinched the deal. It took him more than two years of blood, sweat, and tears to complete this masterpiece, through which he lives on in history.
The Abraham Lincoln Statue
Sculpted by Daniel Chester French and carved by the Piccirilli Brothers in 1920, the Abraham Lincoln Statue was and unveiled to the public two years later. The colossal masterpiece is located within the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., USA, and was unveiled in 1922. The 170-ton statue, which is styled in the Beaux-Arts and American Renaissance traditions, is composed of 28 blocks of white Georgia marble and rises at 30 feet tall. A solemn Lincoln is seated majestically on an armchair, which in turn is located on a high pedestal. One of the remarkable features of this statue is the large United States flag is draped over the chair. Chester French placed the President in a classical chair, which includes the fasces, a Roman symbol of authority, to communicate his stature as an exemplary leader throughout the ages.
The Kiss depicts an embracing couple and was sculpted by French master Auguste Rodin, in 1889. The piece was originally named Francesca da Rimini since it portrays the 13th-century Italian noblewoman referred to in Dante’s Inferno. In Dante’s masterpiece, Francesca falls in love with her husband Giovanni’s brother, Paolo. The star-crossed couple fell in love while reading the story of Lancelot and Guinevere, and are soon discovered and killed by Francesca’s husband. Interestingly, in the sculpture, the couple’s lips do not actually touch, suggesting that the couple was murdered by the jealous husband before they even had the chance to exchange their first kiss.
In 1505, Pope Julius II commissioned Michelangelo to sculpt his tomb, which is now housed in the church of San Pietro in Vincoli, in Rome. As one of the central figures for this masterpiece, Michelangelo chose the Biblical figure Moses. The statue, which stands at 2.35 meters with horns on his head, based on a description in the Latin translation of the Bible, which was in use at the time. It is difficult for viewers to believe that the figure ahead of them is actually a marble statue as its expression, demeanor and overall countenance are utterly lifelike. So much so, that legend has it that Sigmund Freud himself spent three weeks studying the sculpture n 1913 to make out its emotional effects.
The Dying Gaul
Also known as The Dying Gladiator, this statue is actually an ancient Roman marble copy of a lost Hellenistic bronze sculpture, thought to have been commissioned between 230 and 220 BC. The white marble statue portrays a wounded Celtic warrior is remarkable for its realism, pathos, and for conveying the concept of heroic death, through the facial expression of the subject. The statue lends an element of poetry to the barbarism of the business of war, with a bleeding sword wound showing through the subject’s lower right chest.
These masterpieces really demonstrate the skills and downright genius of the artist in bringing a cold bloc of marble to life, giving it form, emotion, and expression at once. As Michelangelo himself once said, “Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.”