Carrara marble

Carrara Marble: Unveiling Its Artistic Legacy From Italy to the World

Carrara marble, also known as “Marmo di Carrara” in Italian, is highly esteemed and globally recognized. It is sourced from quarries nestled in the Apuan Alps, situated in the northwestern region of Tuscany, specifically in the provinces of Massa-Carrara and Lucca. With a rich history spanning thousands of years, the extraction of this marble has been instrumental in shaping the entire landscape. Since the era of Ancient Rome, Carrara marble has been employed to craft internationally renowned works of art and architecture, including the famed Michelangelo’s David, a symbol of the Renaissance. Beyond its artistic contributions, Carrara marble serves various purposes, such as flooring, stairs, cladding, kitchen countertops, and tombstones.

The distinct white hue of Carrara marble results from its pure composition, although variations in color and veining may occur based on the presence of impurities. In 2020, data from the Institute for Studies and Research of the Massa-Carrara Chamber of Commerce indicated that marble production from Carrara quarries reached 2.8 million tons, reflecting an increase from previous years despite market challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Carrara marble remains a notable emblem of the Italian industry, continuing to be a resource of immense value and aesthetic appeal.

What is a “marble”

Marble is a metamorphic rock resulting from the transformation of limestones, and sedimentary rocks formed in marine environments through the compression of calcium carbonate from the skeletons and shells of marine organisms. Subject to high pressures and temperatures around 400°C, limestones undergo radical transformations, organizing calcium carbonate into white calcite crystals and stabilizing impurities.

The word “marble” originates from the Greek “marmaros,” literally meaning “shining stone.” Prized since antiquity for its inherent brightness due to calcite’s low refractive index, marble has a long history of use dating back to Neolithic times in Greece, known for its abundant marble quarries. Used for the earliest Neolithic objects, marble later spread to the art of Greek sculpture and architecture of the classical period. Composed mainly of calcium carbonate (CaCO3), marble has several types classified according to their composition and internal impurities.

How is the “Carrara marble”?

Carrara marble is derived from the metamorphosis of limestone rocks and originates from limestone similar to that of today’s tropical coral reefs, formed in the Jurassic period, about 190 million years ago, at the bottom of a vast sea that covered much of the regions corresponding to northern Tuscany. Characterized by a slightly cloudy pearly white background tone, Carrara marble has grayish intrusions and dots, along with variegated grayish, millimeter, or centimeter veins.

Contrary to common perception, Carrara marble is not exclusively white; the label “Carrara marble” embraces several types extracted from quarries in the Apuan Alps, each with distinctive shades and veins. Among these, the most celebrated varieties include Bianco, Statuario, and Calacatta, each presenting a pearly white base with more or less obvious variations of gray. Carrara’s quarries also produce other fine marbles, such as Venato, Arabescato, Bardiglio, and Cipollino Zebrino, offering a rich variety of choices in the selection of unique stones.

What color is Carrara marble?

As said before, despite the white one being the most famous and most luxurious one, there are several “types” of “Carrara marble”. Marble reveals not only an aesthetic appearance but also its durability and performance over time-based on its composition and the presence of minerals. Its hue, which ranges from pearly white to ivory white, is mainly due to the almost total absence of impurities and the extremely uniform composition, mainly consisting of Calcium Carbonate. This characteristic gives white marble a pure and luminous color. This variety of marble, with its uniform color characteristics, is particularly popular for marble furniture.

As said, marble wall coverings and tiles are widely used in the stone industry, with Carrara white marble and Biancone marble standing out among preferences for their distinctive color and uniform composition. It should be noted that white marble, due to its almost impurity-free composition, retains a constant luminosity over time, making it a popular choice in a variety of architectural and design contexts. Based on the color of the substrate, two types are distinguished: White Carrara C (lighter background) and White Carrara CD (darker background).

No two marble slabs exhibit identical appearances, affirming that each type encompasses its distinct sub-varieties quarried from specific locations, typically limited to one or two places. In essence, the primary distinguishing factor for Carrara marble lies not only in its coloration but prominently in its origin and exceptional quality. It’s crucial to note that Carrara marble stands out as an optimal choice, seamlessly blending beauty, longevity, and durability. Dr. Piero Primavori’s research identifies seven principal marble types extracted from the Carrara Area:

  1. White Carrara Marble
  2. Veined Marble
  3. Bardiglio Marble
  4. “Cloud”-like Marble
  5. “Arabesque”-like Marble
  6. Statuary Marble/Veined Statuary
  7. Calacatta Marble

Which are the most famous Carrara marble works in the world?

As said in the intro, the Carrara marble has a rich history spanning thousands of years. One example of a Roman work with marble is the Arch of Titus, which is one of the most known Roman monuments in the world. The Senate crafted it as a gesture of honor to Emperor Titus (reigned from 79 to 81 AD). Another example, still in Italy, is the Pisa Cathedral, you can find more information about it in our dedicated article.

Outside the country, one of the most iconic works made with Carrara marble is for sure The USA Capitol, the residence of the two Congressional Houses. This is no surprise given the neoclassical design of the monumental structure, envisioned by William Thornton, drawing inspiration from the Louvre in Paris and the Pantheon in Rome. The term “Capitol” itself pays homage to the Eternal City. Carrara marble finds application in both architectural and artistic facets, adorning the Capitol with a plethora of statues and friezes. Interestingly, starting from 1805, numerous artists from Carrara migrated to the USA expressly to contribute to the construction of the Capitol.

Cover Photo: by Gianluca from Pixabay.