Process Of Sculpting Marble

Michelangelo famously said in every marble block was a human form, and that it was his job as an artist to free this figure from its marble imprisonment by slowly chipping away at the stone. While it is a poetic thought, it shines very little light on how sculptors actually achieve such perfection in their work. Marble sculptures always seem so delicate, as though they are soft to the touch, an incredibly feet from such a brittle stone. The artist is always responsible for the incredible vision, a vision which would be incredibly difficult without a good process to help make it possible.

The First Sculptures

During the early days of Greek sculpting, around 650 to 500 BCE, artists had a relatively simple process to create these works of art. The process was simply to create a wax or wooden mannequin of the intended final product, and then copy that design exactly to the stone. This process was not always perfect, but was good enough to create some unbelievable works of art.

As time went on, the boundaries of art kept being pushed forward. The ever-increasing detail and natural seeming sculptures became increasingly difficult just to copy onto marble by eye alone. Artists needed a system to better guide the actual chipping of the marble.

The Pointing Process

To aid the artist and assistants to better judge and carve sculptures, a new pointing system was developed. There were a few steps involved to make the pointing system as efficient as possible and following them is as easy as playing at

  • Model – a wax or clay model was made of the intended sculpture. This model would be made at a one-to-one ratio with the intended final product, any mistakes that existed on the model would likely be transferred to the marble, so it needed to be perfect.
  • Pointing frame – After the model is complete, a frame is placed around the model. It is important that this frame is larger than the marble that is to be used for the sculpture. Once the frame is in place, probes or pointers are strategically placed on the frame to intersect with the sculpture, creating what is similar to a height map or a 3D bitmap in today’s laser scanning technology.
  • Marble – Once the “bitmap” is completed, the frame is taken away from the wax model and placed around the marble base. From there, material is removed until the probes or pointers could fit into their places on the frame, creating the same bitmap on the marble layout. This process was often repeated, creating several new “bitmaps” to get what we would consider a higher resolution of detail. The mapping process may seem time-consuming and tedious but led to sculptures so perfect they could hardly be believed.
  • Finishing – Once the artist is happy with the mapped-out portion of a sculpture, he would do the finishing work, which includes smoothing and fine detail. This is the most skilful part of sculpting, as it requires perfection and caution as not to ruin months of work already done.

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