Marble and sculpture. The workshops from which Italian Art, the one with a capital A, has passed, starting with Michelangelo. The somewhat closed, reserved and anarchic-flavored atmosphere in the city. The fountain in the square with its incredible hydraulic play, the cathedral, the thrills that can be felt as you drive up in a jeep on the winding mountain paths leading into the quarry. Carrara is a town off the beaten tourist track. But perhaps only because it is little known.
I was in Carrara for the first time recently, on the occasion of the inauguration of the new CarMi Museum, Museo Carrara e Michelangelo: the ribbon-cutting ceremony took place just last June 2. It is less than an hour’s drive from where I live, yet neither work nor circumstances had ever before brought me to visit the Tuscan town.
I must say that the impact was good. I had been invited by IMM, curators of the museum opening and a series of marble-related side activities. And, as is my wont, I arrive half an hour before the appointment. Of course, this is an excuse to be able to wander around a bit on my own and undisturbed and take a few photos. The first thing that is inevitable to notice is the mountain range overlooking Carrara. And, clear, marble lecave on the Apuan Alps. The day is clear, but there are a few clouds. The view, from the city, is beautiful.
I arrive on foot at Via Roma, and here again the spectacle shown to me is striking. On the street in fact there are dozens and dozens of stalls. On top of each one is a piece of marble. I discover late in the morning that those are the students of the Academy of Fine Arts of Carrara, engaged in a week of outdoor work and dissemination of their arts. A magnificent spectacle. Boys and girls (many foreigners, particularly Chinese) intent on sculpting and finishing their work, with many people obviously stopping to observe and ask questions.
Not far away is the former Square of Arms. See the fountain, all made of marble, and its peculiar hydraulic play: a large marble sphere is held suspended and spun by a continuous stream of water from below, in a perfect and striking balance. I hope the small clip renders:
Carrara, the marble workshops and the cathedral
My guided tour begins, and a bit unfortunate since despite the fact that the event was organized we find several realities closed to the throng of journalists, bloggers and photographers who came especially from all over Italy.
Not far from the town center are two of the workshops that have made history in Carrara and in art in general. I Laboratoria, Nicoli, which have been operating since the first half of the 1800s, and Lazzerini Studios, famous for, among other things, producing the black marble statue of model Naomi Campbell. On normal opening days it is possible to take a tour inside (but they are somewhat reluctant to allow photographs of their work, some of which is on display in front of the entrance anyway).
Carrara, the cathedral
Definitely worth visiting is the beautiful Piazza Duomo, in the center of the city. To get there we walk down some typical Carrara streets, all very neat, clean, with architecture of the buildings (for those who know) of great historical and artistic value.
In the square we find an open-air sculpture symposium (in Carrara, in every square and corner, you find a marble statue anyway, it is inevitable and fascinating). And we indulge in a quick visit to the cathedral of St. Andrew, a building that dates as far back as 1035 but subsequently the building was almpied, improved and renovated on several occasions until the second half of the 1300s. Very beautiful is the central rose window above the place of worship.
Carmi, Carrara Museum and Michelangelo
We then arrive at the highlight of the day, the press preview visit of the new museum dedicated to the relationship between Carrara and Michelangelo. A space that finds its home in the restored Villa Fabricotti, a museum dedicated to the great Italian artist’s relationship with the city of Carrara and its marble quarries. It is called Carmi, which stands for Museo Carrara e Michelangelo.
The permanent exhibition on Michelangelo
Carmi recounts the relationship between Carrara, its marble quarries and Michelangelo. There are no original works by the sculptor
The new museum complex is dedicated to Michelangelo Carrara and has three levels. The ground floor is intended to host temporary exhibitions while it is the second floor, called the ‘piano nobile,’ that is dedicated entirely to Michelangelo with a permanent exhibition. Completing the exhibition itinerary is the basement level where, in addition to rooms for educational purposes and a cafeteria space, there are rooms dedicated to film productions centered on the artist.
At the entrance to greet visitors is a large plaster reproduction in actual proportions of Michelangelo’s Moses, a copy dating from 1854.
The main floor is the highlight of the museum. On display are several plaster copies used by numerous artists who passed through Carrara almost all dating back to the early 1800s. The rooms dedicated to Michelangelo then feature various information panels and numerous multimedia materials, such as monitors that tell different aspects of the sculptor’s life and his relationship with the city. Suggestive is the reproduction of Michelangelo’s famous David, offered to museum visitors in the form of a hologram.
Also on display are photographs, maps, prints and historical documents: the museum tour thus offers insight into the visceral and ongoing relationship between artist and territory, between Carrara and marble.
The floor designed for temporary exhibitions currently houses an in-depth section on the history of the Villa and the Fabricotti family and two plaster cast exhibits. The basement, on the other hand, is dedicated to the two movie which in 2017 celebrated the connection between Michelangelo and the city of Carrara: The Sin (a work by Andrei Konchalovsky) and “Michelangelo” (an original Sky Arte production starring Enrico Lo Verso), with costumes and photos that give a sense of the historical research that preceded the two works.
Michelangelo’s name, along with Florence and Rome, is inextricably linked to Carrara, where he spent a total of two years attending the “masters of quarrying marble.” The material with which he made his works was of extraordinary importance to him. The relationship between Michelangelo and Carrara was often stormy and conflictual but always intense and fundamental to the sculptor’s works. His first trip to Carrara was in November 1497, but it was on his third trip, in 1505, that he established the special relationship with the territory that would profoundly mark his work
To those who think they will find original works by Michelangelo, I say this now: there are none. There will be, perhaps, for some temporary exhibitions. But for now, to admire the great artist, one still has to go to Rome or Florence. Enthusiasts will surely find bread for their teeth, though.
The ticket costs 5 euros. But it also grants access to the Marble Museum and Cap, the Plastic Arts Center.
Carrara, Academy fine arts and Canova ‘hidden’
Thanks to the kindness of our accompanying guide, Anna Fabrizi (whom I take this opportunity to thank with this post) we also have the chance to pay a quick visit to the Academy of Fine Arts in Carrara. I had already seen it, without knowing what it was, when I accidentally discovered the sculptors on the street. But the interior is really full of surprises.
Two things stand out to me. One is the conference room: on the walls are large portions of marble. There are dozens and dozens, each one different from the next: it is the almost full range of hues (textures) that marble can take, from statuary white to black (extinct in many cases), from red to gold-veined.
The other thing that strikes me is that there is an entire room that conservagessi by Canova and that at normal things is closed to the public. You can visit it, they explain to me, only if you contact the Academy in advance. If you pass through Carrara it is worth making a phone call and guaranteeing a visit.
Maybe it’s just a feeling, but as you walk around the city, you almost feel like you are breathing that air of revolt and anarchy that has always distinguished Carrara. Then, in Piazza Duomo, two confirmations. The memorial plaque for the life and thought of the philosopher Giordano Bruno (placed right in front of the house where Michelangelo lived, also indicated by a marmal plaque). And, just down there, the Carrara Anarchist Circle. But you only have to walk into any bar to hear about hours and working conditions, contracts and rights.
In all I spend in Carrara half a day, intense. I will return there, perhaps to take a more leisurely look at its many hidden aspects.