The Art Medium Marble

Marble is most popularly associated with the classical world’s era of art history, but it has ancient artistic connotations and was used in the area of the Middle East, Asia, and Africa as well. Not only was The Parthenon of Athens composed of marble, but so was India’s Taj Mahal. This beautiful rock was used extensively in the ancient world for artistic purposes such as architecture and sculpture.

The Greeks, often considered the best sculptors of antiquity, favored marble and referred to it as “shining stone.” Marble occurs as a metamorphosis. Limestone undergoes a process of recrystallization due to extreme pressure or temperature change to become marble. Various types of marble have been used to create art, but pure white marble was most favored by ancient artists to produce masterpiece work such as Venus de Milo which was sculpted in Greece around 130 B.C. This fine-grained white marble, known as Penteli marble, was quarried around the Penteliko Mountains of Athens. Perhaps the most famous white marble, Parian, of the ancient world hails from the Greek island of Paros.

Marble of the Italian peninsula was also popularly used for artistic endeavors and building, although moreso in the Byzantine era. The white or bluish-gray marble of Carrara (near Florence), however, was used in the construction of the Pantheon as well as Trajan’s Column. It should also be noted that Michelangelo’s masterpiece sculpture David was sculpted with Carrara marble during the Renaissance. The ancients preferred white marble not only for its purity of color and beauty, but also for its soft composition and resistance to shatter. Other marble was also used. For instance, serpentine marble is marbled with green. Marble occurs in a wide variety of coloration.

Ancient sculptors of Greece and Rome employed marble in free-standing sculptures as well as relief carvings. Some of the earliest Greek sculptures like the statue Kouros are from the Archaic period that preceded the Classical era. The use of marble during the Classical period of the Greco-Roman world reached a pinnacle of excellence. The softness of marble allowed for precision carving that imitated the detailed human form in stone. The human body was often the favored subject for artisans working with marble. Because the masterpiece sculptures of the classical world were composed of marble, the rock and its use in the arts would be prized for its association with some of the best-known and priceless works the world has ever known.