When people ask me to recommend what type of marble they should use for carving, I usually suggest using the ‘old’ type of Italian Carrara marble as its much easier to carve. This type of marble has been used for centuries by all the great sculptors of the world who often went to the mines in Carrara to select their stone and they still do today.
You can find a variety of marbles in Carrara. Statuario, the pure white marble was used for most of the beautiful sculptures we find today in museums around the world but by the end of the 20th century, the mines were finished. In the Apuan Alps, there are 650 abandoned or worked out quarries. The other types of marble you can find are intermixed with other minerals in the limestone and are therefore coloured because the stone has been heated or pressured to create marble. For example, Bianco Carrara, Bianco Venatino, Calacatta Gold, Calacatta Macchia Vecchia, Arabescato Cervaiole, and Arabescato Vagli.
Carrara marble has been used since the ancient Romans and was known as ‘Luni marble”. Over the centuries, the marble mining industry has grown with large quarries in the Massa and Carrara regions of Italy. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the marble quarries were controlled by the Cybo and Malaspina families and then by the House of Austria.
By the 19th century, Carrara has become a centre of anarchy as the quarry workers were underpaid and neglected. Quarry work is tough and dangerous work and the stone carvers and quarry workers were regarded as radicals which ultimately became part of the stone carvers heritage. As Galileo Palla, the anarchist, once said ‘even the stone are anarchists in Carrara’.
Simon Burns-Cox is a professional Sculptor and Letter Carver based at The Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop in Edinburgh, Scotland. He supplies stone and marble and Italian Stone Carving Tools and also offers courses in Sculpture, Stone Letter Carving and Relief Carving to groups and individuals throughout the year. For further information, please contact Simon Burns-Cox through his website at http://simonburnscox.co.uk/