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Marble sculpture

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Marble sculpture is the art of creating three-dimensional forms from marble. Sculpture is among the oldest of the arts. Even before painting cave walls, early humans fashioned shapes from stone. From these beginnings, artifacts have evolved to their current complexity. The point at which they became art is for the beholder to decide. In any case, sculptures rank among the greatest of human achievements.

Material origin and qualities

Main article: Marble
Marble is a metamorphic rock resulting from the metamorphism of limestone, composed mostly of calcite (a crystalline form of calcium carbonate, CaCO3). The original source is limestone (the seabed deposition calcium carbonate in the form of microscopic animal skeletons) or similar materials.

Limestone is dissolved by weak carbonic acid present in rainwater. As this water seeps underground it is deposited thus forming stalagmites and stalactites. Limestone can have fluid patterns of mineral staining, usually gray to black. The finest marbles for sculpture have no or few stains (some natural stain can be seen in the sculpture shown at left, which the sculptor has skillfully incorporated into the sculpture).


Among the commonly available stones only marble has a slight surface translucency that is comparable to that of human skin. It is this translucency that gives a marble scuplture a visual depth beyond its surface and this evokes a certain realism when used for figurative works. Marble also has the advantage that when first quarried it is relatively soft and easy to work, refine, and polish. As the finished marble ages it becomes harder and more durable. Preference to the cheaper and less translucent limestone is based largely on the fineness of marble's grain, which enables the sculptor to render minute detail in a manner not always possible with limestone; it is also more weather resistant.


Marble does not bear handling well as it will absorb skin oils when touched, which leads to yellow to brownish staining. While more resistant than limestone it is subject to attack by weak acids, and so performs poorly in outdoor environments subject to acid rain. For severe environments, granite is a more lasting material but one which is far more difficult to work and much less suitable for refined works such as those shown here.

Compared to metals such as bronze, marble lacks ductility and strength, requiring special structural considerations when planning a sculpture. In the scupture shown to the right, the figure can be placed upon slender lower legs and the balls of the feet only because the bending stress in the sculpture is taken through the flowing drapery of the skirt, which is founded upon an upthrust portion of the ground and with the feet forms a tripod-like foundation for the mass. For comparison see some of the examples in the article concerning bronze sculpture (especially the sculpture Jeté) for the ease with which action and extension may be expressed.

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