Marble has been prized for its beauty, durability, and versatility in decorative arts for centuries, from ancient Roman times to the Renaissance, the 18th-century Grand Tour and beyond. Its use in various forms, including sculpture, furniture, and architecture, has left a lasting legacy in the history of art and design.

In ancient Rome, it was highly regarded as a premium material for creating exquisite sculptures. Roman sculptors skillfully carved marble to create lifelike statues depicting gods, goddesses, emperors, and other prominent figures. Marble statues were often used to adorn public buildings, temples, and gardens, as well as private residences of the wealthy elite. These sculptures were cherished for their artistic value and were considered prestigious symbols of wealth and power.

During the Renaissance period in Europe, there was a revival of interest in the art and culture of ancient Rome. Marble was once again highly sought after as a material for creating sculptures and architectural elements. Italian artists such as Michelangelo and Bernini became renowned for their masterful works in marble, creating monumental sculptures that adorned palaces, churches, and public squares.

In the 18th century, marble became an important element of the Grand Tour, a popular cultural and educational trip undertaken by young European aristocrats. Wealthy travelers would journey to Italy to study art, history, and architecture, and marble was a prominent feature of their experiences. Marble sculptures, including classical versions and contemporary works, were highly sought after as grand souvenirs. Marble was also used in the construction of grand palaces and mansions, where it was incorporated into architectural elements such as fireplaces, balustrades, and decorative friezes.

In addition to sculpture and architecture, marble was also used in furniture during the 18th century. Marble-topped tables, commodes, and consoles became popular among the aristocracy and were highly prized for their elegance and opulence. Marble was often paired with other luxurious materials, such as gilded wood, to create exquisite furniture pieces.


Parquetry and Marquetry decorated 18th century commode.
18th-century Parquetry and Marquetry decorated marble-topped commode.

Marble was also used in various decorative arts such as mosaic work, inlay, and intarsia, where small pieces of marble were meticulously arranged to create intricate patterns and designs. Marble was used to adorn walls, floors, and ceilings, as well as decorative objects such as vases, urns, and clocks. The natural beauty and versatility of marble made it a popular choice for creating ornate and luxurious decorative pieces.

To conclude, marble has been a prized material in the decorative arts from ancient Roman times to the 18th-century Grand Tour. Its use in sculpture, furniture, architecture, and other decorative arts has left a lasting legacy in the history of art and design, with marble works often considered prestigious symbols of wealth, power, and artistic excellence.

John Singer Sargent - Bringing Down Marble from the Quarries to Carrara (1911)
John Singer Sargent – Bringing Down Marble from the Quarries to Carrara (1911) Metropolitan Museum, New York. 

Working, Carving, and transporting marble in the 18th century:

In the 18th century, marble was available in various types, each with its unique characteristics and sources. Some of the commonly used types of marble during that time included Carrara marble from Italy, Statuary marble from Greece, and Sienna marble from Italy. Carrara marble was particularly renowned for its pure white colour and fine grain, making it highly sought after for sculptural purposes.

The process of working marble in the 18th century was labour-intensive and required skilled craftsmen. Marble blocks were typically extracted from quarries using hand tools such as chisels, wedges, and hammers. Once the blocks were extracted, they were transported to workshops for further processing. Transportation of marble blocks was a challenging task as they were heavy and difficult to handle. In some cases, large marble blocks were transported using sledges or carts pulled by horses or oxen, while others were transported by rivers and canals.

In the workshops, marble blocks were carefully inspected and then shaped using various tools such as chisels, rasps, and saws. The sculptors and craftsmen would carve, polish, and sculpt the marble using hand tools, often working with great precision and attention to detail. Sculptors would create detailed models or sketches before starting the carving process, and sometimes multiple craftsmen would work on a single piece, each specialising in a different aspect of the carving process.

Marble was also used in furniture during the 18th century. Marble slabs were carefully cut and polished to create tabletops for tables, commodes, and consoles. The marble slabs were typically not attached to the wooden frames using the weight of the marble to ensure stability.

Transportation of finished marble objects was also challenging due to their weight and fragility. Marble sculptures and furniture were often transported using specially designed crates or boxes to protect them from damage during transit. These crates were often lined with straw or other materials to provide cushioning and absorb shocks during transportation again by track and boat.

In summary, marble in the 18th century was available in various types and was worked using hand tools by skilled craftsmen. Transportation of marble blocks and finished objects was challenging due to their weight and fragility, but special techniques and materials were used to ensure their safe transport. Marble was used in sculpture, furniture, and architecture during this period, and its processing and transportation played a crucial role in the creation of exquisite marble works that are still admired today.


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