Looking at the sculptures, covered with the thinnest marble veil, one ponders: How to sculpt the thinnest, transparent fabric from a block of solid stone? A truly divine gift of brilliant artists and sculptors allows you to convey in stone the tenderness and airiness of the lightest fabric, bends and folds while preserving every feature of the face and body. It is impossible to believe that this is the creation of human hands.
The first sculptures created using this technique appeared in the 17th century. They are made so delicately that some contemporaries cannot even believe that they were made by ordinary, albeit very talented, masters, with ordinary human hands. These are marble sculptures decorated with a veil. The viewer has a complete feeling that the statues are covered with the finest fabric.
The first sculptor who managed to create a marble veil was the Neapolitan master Antonio Corradini, born in 1668. His most famous sculpture ‘under the veil’ is ‘Chastity’, 1752, is now situated in Naples, in the Chapel of San Severo.
You can see that in the same Chapel there is another sculpture, no less astonishing, ‘Deliverance from the Enchantments’, which Francesco Quirolo completed in 1757. Although it has nothing to do with marble veils, nevertheless, the imagination is no less striking. It is simply not comprehensible to the mind how it was possible to manually create such a masterpiece.
The authorship of Corradini belongs to several more busts, made using the same technique of marble veil, and for the creation of another piece of art with a similar effect, Antonio was overtaken by death.
The master had just started completing the order of Raimondo de Sangro, Prince of San Severo. But, he managed to create only a clay model of the sculpture, now known as Christ under the Shroud. Luck in such a peculiar way smiled at another Neapolitan sculptor, Giuseppe Sammartino, whose name became famous thanks to this work. He somewhat changed the original plans of Corradini, but left the essence unchanged.
The image of Christ, the symbolism of the compositional elements and that very amazing marble veil, all this turned this work of art into an imperishable masterpiece. The greatest of those is kept in the Chapel of the Princes of San Severo. Surprisingly, nothing even approximately equal in magnitude to Giuseppe Sammartino has been created since.
For almost a century sculptors have turned to the most complex and, at the same time, the spectacular technique of marble veil. In the middle of the XIX century, Giovanni Strazza distinguished himself by sculpting the bust of the Virgin Mary with the same effect.
Another similar sculpture of the same period is ‘Rebecca under the veil’; the sculptor is Giovanni Maria Benzoni. It is surprising, but other similar works of the sculptors have not survived, and the sculptors themselves have not won special fame.
However, another Italian sculptor, Raphael Monti, who happened to be in England, nevertheless returned the fashion to the marble veil, so to speak. In addition, it was he who described the technological process of creating such sculptures, which, presumably, he learned at home, in Italy, and later successfully applied in England.
The bottom line turned out to be simple, Monty used a special material. He selected marble with an unusual structure, two-layer. The top layer was more transparent, the bottom denser. The veiling effect was achieved due to the finest processing, as a result of which the very ‘transparent’ veil was obtained from the top layer of marble – such a thin layer of material remained.
The art of Rafael Monti, his marble veils make you think. It seems that two opposites, soft transparent silk and the hardest and most light-proof stone, have come together in the works of a talented master.
The complexity of this technique in conditions where everything is done by hand, try to imagine. Earlier craftsmen probably also used marble with a similar structure.
If you think about it, the titanic complexity of the work, willy-nilly, suggests that we definitely don’t know something about the people who created these ingenious sculptures and the conditions in which they worked. So it remains only to enjoy their beauty and marvel at the skill with which they are created, imbued with respect for human nature and the ability to create something beautiful.
P.S. Curiously, the Third Reich’s architectural triumphs, Olympic events and trade exhibitions were extravagantly adorned by the most stunning sculptures. These splendours have since been destroyed and their records airbrushed out of the history books by the victors of World War II.
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