Wednesday, May 10, 2006
Sculpting Carerra Marble
We learned a lot about renaissance art on our trip. The master, of course, is Michelangelo. In Michelangelo’s work, not only does his art look really like it is in real life, he makes it beautiful. Let’s put it this way: Michelangelo could take a middle-aged woman and not only make her body look like it really looks, with cellulite, stomach folds and sags and bags everywhere (more realistic than any middle aged woman wants to look) but he could make it look beautiful. Miracle!! Now maybe you can appreciate renaissance art.
One of the big draws of Florence is Michelangelo’s magnificent statue of David before he slays Goliath. It’s so famous that most call it “The” David, not “David” and certainly not “Dave.” There is a replica of the statue in one of the plazas and we called it “Fake David.”
David was a popular bible hero and kind of the mascot of Florence. They liked “the little guy defeating the big guy” image. There are several statues of David, carved by different guys. Believe me, we saw each and every one of them. But the best is Michelangelo’s. The guy studied anatomy and knew what he was doing. Every popping vein and bulging muscle is anatomically correct. There’s a rumor that there is one small error in the statue; he included an extra muscle somewhere, maybe one of the hands, but nobody in my tour group was savvy enough to know where.
David was maybe the biggest single reason for me to go to Florence. As we walked into the building that I knew housed the sculpture I was ready to have that “knock your socks off” moment of finally seeing the statue I’d heard all my life about. But when I turned the corner and there he was, my mouth literally fell open. It’s that majestic.
The statue is 17 feet tall. I happen to know there is a very sophisticated motion sensor glued to his butt because I walked around to the back and saw it with my own eyes. This is a test to see if the traffic outside the museum affects the statue. Imagine being one of the most famous statues in the world and they’ve taped a wire to your butt.
One of the things that makes the statue so incredibly gorgeous is the Carerra marble Michelangelo used to carve it. I learned this is the best marble in the world. Not only did Michelangelo personally select the chunk he used for David from their quarry but a lot of other famous statues and artwork in the world are made of the marble: the Lincoln Memorial, the Tomb of Unknown Soldier and Mike’s other famous statue, the Pieta. The marble is as much a sight as the statue. It’s so creamy and soft looking that you forget it’s stone.
One of the last things we did in Italy was a trip to Pisa. Beaven wanted to climb the tower. Beaven loves heights. I’m scared to death of them.
But Beaven doesn’t merely survive heights, he loves them. He seeks them out. He’s been to the top of the Statue of Liberty, the Washington Monument, the Eiffel Tower and Diamondhead Volcano in Hawaii. He called me once from the top of the WFAA television tower just to tell me there is a telephone up there 1,600 feet above the ground. He came home from a trip to the Sears Tower in Chicago and went on and on about the antennae farm at the top. (I kept picturing men in bib overalls with pitchforks but it’s not that kind of farm.)
So, I knew he was going to climb to the top of this thing. And it LEANS to one side for God’s sakes. Remember? That’s why they call it the LEANING tower. Why would anyone in their right mind want to climb something that’s already about to fall over? Don’t ask me why but I decided I should do it.
Once I saw that the stairs are enclosed I decided I could just treat it as a piece of exercise equipment. I found out that there are 273 steps to the top and I started counting them, blocking out the idea of a tall tower leaning over. Just put one foot in front of the other, is what I kept telling myself. Step up, slide your foot forward, lift. Step, slide. Step, slide. The actual climb wasn’t so bad and the counting helped take my mind off getting killed when the tower fell over.
Soon I started noticing that the steps have been patched in places. Then I remembered another one of the uses for the marble from the Carerra quarry. They used it to patch different parts of the Pisa tower. The tower has been repaired more times that you can count, beginning almost as soon as it started leaning. And the tower started leaning before they even finished building it. But anywhere they patched anything they used the good Carerra marble and not the inferior limestone originally used. I realized I was walking on Carerra marble. Then I noticed how scoured and scooped out the footsteps have made the stairs. I wasn’t the only person whose mantra had been “step, slide” just to get to the top. All that sliding, all those hundreds and hundreds of years, all those millions of footsteps had done what an ordinary nail file would do given enough time, gradually sanding down the marble.
I became more interested in this phenomenon than I was frightened at my climb. I was sculpting Carerra marble, just like the great Michelangelo. I conquered the tower and sculpted Carerra marble. I have something in common with Michelangelo.