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Marble Sculpture

Marble is a noble material which has long been used to make the furniture of wealthy families and grandiose sculptures. Nonetheless, marble has kept its place in contemporary art. Simon Starling's huge suspended marble blocks and Philippe Cognée's marble models of modern cities are just a few examples of the how the material is used in the art world today.

Marble is derived from limestone and has been widely used throughout art history. It is an incredibly strong and hard-wearing material. Since antiquity, important sculptors such as Phidias and Myron worked with marble to create nude male and female figures as well as bas-reliefs. Marble allowed them to realistically represent the human body. Along with bronze sculpture, marble was a popular choice in Roman sculpture. Sculptors used the rock to recreate bronze Greek casts and represent key political figures. Marble might have been even more widespread during Roman times had it not been so expensive and difficult to import.

However during the Renaissance, inspired by Ancient Greek sculpture, artists were willing to pay more for marble. Michelangelo is believed to have said that he wanted to free the human form trapped inside the stone. Among the many human forms that he 'freed', 'David' is considered to be his most famous sculpture.

Marble sculpture has been explored by all art movements throughout art history and for good reason too. Its translucence, luminosity and the delicacy of its grain all make it a perfect choice for representing human skin. It is soft and easy to work and polish, but does need a strong pedestal to support it. Marble sculpture is resistant but does not wear well outdoors. It can also stain and turn yellow if it comes into contact with skin.

To create a marble sculpture artists can either work from a clay or wax model or carve directly from the stone. The sculptor first shapes the stone using a chisel and a mallet, chipping away the unwanted parts of stone, they might also use a pitching tool. The artist positions the chisel on the stone and strikes it very precisely with the mallet, turning it at the same time. The sculptor then takes a toothed chisel or claw to create texture as wanted and removes any excess stone with a rasp, before adding details such as hair or folds in the draping to the work using a riffler. Finally, the artist polishes the final sculpture with sandpaper or emery cloth.

Today, the creative process can be made much simpler. The marble can be mixed with resins or binding agents and then poured into a clay mould. This makes the marble statue even more resistant, particularly outdoors and prevents it from becoming discoloured. Both modern and contemporary sculpture have many great sculptors to boast of who have worked with marble, including Auguste Rodin, Donald Judd and Damien Hirst.

Artsper has a range of contemporary marble sculptures by a range artists including Ronald Masson and Patricia Guinois Messica.

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