Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Marble In Architecture: The Historical Perspective

Marble has been there since the first day of the earth. Naturally, since the dawn of modern civilization, this amazing stone has entertained human race with its amazing colors and textures. It has been there in the ancient civilizations in the Greece, India and Egypt and in many other countries.

However, the excessive use of the marble in architecture started with the Roman civilization. With the expansion of the Roman Empire in the Mediterranean basin, the Romans started to come across different types of marble and its colors. They found the yellow marbles in Tunisia, white and purple marble from Turkey, and red, black and green marbles from Greece. They started to import the Sardonyx from India. However, Egypt was the greatest source of colored stones with hundred of different colors of basalt, granite, and other sedimentary stones. The volcanic glasses were also imported from there.

The great Roman Emperor Augustus Cesar claimed that he turned Rome into a city of marble from a city of stone and thus hinting at the golden era of Roman civilization. That was quite a realistic remark since Romans were the first to invent cement. They used the marble extensively in building houses. The entire city of Rome was decorated anew with the marble slabs and that became the most beautiful city in the world. At the time of Augustus, the Romans were aware of at least 50 different types of marbles. In fact, they had set up special docks to import marbles from different corners of the world.

Architecture was not the only area where the Romans applied marble; they used it for sculpture as well. Some of the greatest sculptures in the world had been constructed in this era. Their specimens in the museums still amaze people all over the world.

The craft of using marble in sculpture received a whole new dimension during the time of renaissance. Unlike the Romans, who preferred colored marbles in sculpture, the artists of this period started using the white marbles more extensively. However, many of the ancient works of art has been destroyed because of poor maintenance.

During the 12th to 14th century, the Cosmati work started to evolve in the Roman churches. Initially, there were two families who practiced this art and they were called Cosmas. It is believed that they move from Byzantium to Rome. Basically, this was one type of mosaic that used triangles and squares of colored stone for decoration.

The use of marble for pavements has a rich heritage as well. It was somewhere between 1066 and 1071 when new pavements were laid using marble. However, the pavement was heavily damaged during the Second World War. Traditionally, the serpentine green and the red marbles were the two most popular marbles that were used to lay pavements. Apart from that, there was pavonazzetto marble as well as the white ones that were used for this purpose.

Generally, they were laid alternatively to create a contrast between the dark and the light color marbles. This is the trademark of the Italian technique and it became very poplar in Rome during the 16th century and in Florence in subsequent times.

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