On Feb. 12, 1564, sculptor Daniele da Volterra stopped by the studio of Michelangelo and found him working on a block of Carrara marble. The...
“Michelangelo’s Mountain: The Quest for Perfection in the Marble Quarries of Carrara”
by Eric Scigliano
Free Press, 352 pp., $26
On Feb. 12, 1564, sculptor Daniele da Volterra stopped by the studio of Michelangelo and found him working on a block of Carrara marble. The sculpture, which depicts Mary and Jesus and is known as the “Rondanini Pietà,” would be his last, for he died six days later, just a few weeks shy of his 89th birthday. It was a fitting way to pass the last days of his life, for he had spent a lifetime working with Carrara marble and creating some of the world’s greatest sculptures.
In “Michelangelo’s Mountain,” Seattle writer Eric Scigliano describes the artist’s life and his relationship with the rock that Scigliano calls “the emblem of luxury.” Quarried for more than 2,000 years, Carrara marble has long been the apotheosis of stone, but it was Michelangelo who singularly made the 200 million-year-old metamorphic rock his own.
He first began to work with marble as a teenager and produced his most famous work, “David,” at age 29. In his “David,” as well as his “Pieta” and “Moses,” he transformed rock into sculptures that seem alive. They display the qualities that still make marble popular: translucence, elegance and beauty.
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Michelangelo wrote of the stone:
The author reads from “Michelangelo’s Mountain,” 7:30 p.m., Wednesday, at the Dante Alighieri Society, Headquarters House, 2336
15th Ave. S., Seattle, $8 includes pasta dinner at 6:30 p.m. (reservation deadline is 5 p.m. Monday, 206-320-9159); 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Elliott Bay Book Co., 101 S. Main St., Seattle, free (206-624-6600 or www.elliottbaybook.com); 3 p.m., Sept. 18, Eagle Harbor Books,
157 Winslow Way E., Bainbridge Island, free (206-842-5332 or www.eagleharborbooks.com);
7 p.m., Sept. 21, Third Place Books, 17171 Bothell Way N.E., Lake Forest Park, free (206-366-3333 or www.thirdplacebooks.com); and at 3 p.m. Sept. 25, Queen Anne Books, 1811 Queen Anne Ave. N., Seattle, free (206-238-5624 or www.queenannebooks.com).
The finest artist can’t conceive a thought
that the marble itself does not bind
within its shell, waiting to be brought
out by the hand that serves the artist’s mind.
Oddly, the calcium carbonate dust created by grinding marble has become a bigger market item than the quarries’ marble blocks. Carbonato, as it is known, is used to make materials from toothpaste to rubber.
Drawn to Carrara by his great-great-grandfather’s life as a quarryman in the marble mountains of Italy, Scigliano is clearly passionate and knowledgeable about his subjects. Like most recent books that delve into a single theme, Scigliano’s book weaves in a vast array of topics, some specific to the subject and some tangential, to say the least. The book is well-written and does include many nuggets about marble and Michelangelo. But it suffers from the bane of many single-subject books: too much detail slowing down the story.