In every block of marble I see a statue as plain as though it stood before me, shaped and perfect in attitude and action. I have only to hew away the rough walls that imprison the lovely apparition to reveal it to the other eyes as mine see it. ~ Michelangelo
We have been living in the shadows of the Carrara Marble Mountains in the Apuan Alps for a few months. It is hard to explain the magnetic quality of these peaks. Perhaps it is because pristine, white marble precipices are exposed and beckoning. Perhaps it is because they are so close they seem to throw darkness our way as we play on the beach in Forte dei Marmi. New Year’s Day we decided to take a drive and see if these mountains revealed anything more of their mystery, up close.
As the road snaked and dropped and climbed before us, we were stunned. We learned from many locals that Michelangelo made his way up these mountains more than 500 years ago to handpick and manage the quarry process, which was all done by hand. He not only picked the marble for each project through prospecting the quarries, but he also roughed out the statues to lighten the load for the ox-carts. He also checked for any impurities and arranged the transport of these massive blocks to the docks where he would contract ships to carry the piece to distant cities.
We thought it would be a beautiful drive through the mountains and somehow the marble would be more accessible. It was beautiful but I would not know it because I was glued to the floor of the car in sheer terror as the guard rails fell away and the rustic tunnels opened to rivers of marble that seemed flow to the sea.
Michelangelo was so deliberate and the process was so tedious that often, he would return to clients after procuring the marble for the project, to find they had canceled their order. He was not deterred from his calling no matter what the process entailed.
Michelangelo believed that the masterpiece was already present in the material. It was not a process of adding anything but a process of taking away excess to reveal beauty. I will never look at art the same way again. He has taught me, 450 years after his death, that with true passion, moving mountains is not only possible but necessary.