CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

Call for papers: Carrara Marble and the Low Countries, Late Middle Ages-2012

Potential speakers are invited to submit a proposal of maximum 200 words with a brief CV (no more than a few lines) by Friday 25 November, 10 am to the conference organisers Emile van Binnebeke
( and Léon Lock (

The present international conference wishes to discuss the extraction of Carrara marble, the trade of it to the Low Countries and its use in architecture and sculpture in the Low Countries, from the Late Middle Ages to today.

Status Quaestionis. The history of the use of Carrara marble in the Low Countries has principally been written in the form of piecemeal studies or on the occasion of specific uses in architecture and sculpture, rather than as a subject in itself. These writings generally remained superficial both on a technical and a historical level, and rarely grasped the importance of the field of material studies. A review of this situation is sorely needed in a field dominated by literature written nearly exclusively in Italy (e.g. the major exhibition in Rome I marmi colorati della Roma imperiale, 2002), without any connections to the Low Countries, despite the fact that the Low Countries formed a major trading partner since about 1600. Inversely, studies in Belgium have generally been focussed on local marbre extraction, commerce and use, e.g. the exhibitions Pouvoir(s) de Marbres (2004) and the conference at Versailles Les Wallons à Versailles (2007).

The conference attempts to offer a critical review of this situation and to foster cross-fertilisation within a wide range of domains, from the Renaissance to the present day, in order to establish Carrara marble as a subject worthy of study in its own right. The conference will start with a historical part, encouraging new research on the trading connections between Carrara and the Low Countries, following the work of amongst others Frits Scholten (1993) and Marie-Christine Engels (1997). It will further link historical studies with both art historical and material studies, in the tradition of that engaged in by the Royal Museums of Art and History (Bulletin vol. 53/2, 1982), but also following studies such as: Ype Koopmans, Muurvast en gebeiteld (1994), Frits Scholten, Sumptuous Memories (2003), Valérie Herremans (ed.), Heads on Shoulders. Portrait Busts in the Low Countries 1600-1800 (2008), Piet Lombaerde (ed.), Innovation and Experience in Early Baroque in the Southern Netherlands. The Case of the Jesuit Church in Antwerp (2008), Léon Lock, South Netherlandish Sculpture. Art and Manufacture c.1600-1750 (diss., 2008), Sandra Beresford (ed.) “Sognando il marmo”. Cultura e commercio del marmo tra Carrara, Gran Bretagna e Impero (1820-1920 circa) (2009), Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child in Bruges. Context and Reception (conference Firenze 2010).

The material studies aspect of the conference will concern the mapping of technical and technological developments in the quarrying and treatment of marble, all placed within exchanges between Italy and Belgium. These two countries boast a tradition in marble quarrying that goes back to antique Roman times and that culminated in the nineteenth century with the invention of marble extraction techniques used throughout the world today.

Examples include marvels of interior architecture such as the Carrara and other marble cladding in the dining room of the castle of Corroy-le-Château (c.1848). The conference also hopes to encourage material studies of Carrara marble applications in the Low Countries following theoretical and practical models explored in Italy in the last few decades, particularly those concerning Michelangelo, Bernini and Canova; and inversely those of conservation/restoration techniques and philosophies explored in the Netherlands and Belgium (e.g. the projects of the tomb monuments of William the Silent and Admiral Tromp).

As such, the conference intends to obtain a greater understanding of the use of Carrara marble in the sculpture and architecture of the Low Countries, while studying the success factors of this marble, those that stimulated it and brought it to such a development. One might even tentatively speak of a Carrara marble “revolution” in the Low Countries (from about 1600 onwards), completely changing the practice and perception of both sculptural and architectural endeavour in the Low Countries, a phenomenon that remains undervalued and understudied.

The conference will also have a natural follow-on with the one organised in September 2012 by the Musée provincial des Arts anciens at Namur on the extraction and use of Belgian marble, particularly that of Saint-Remy.

Possible issues to be addressed (non-limitative list):

International exchanges between Carrara and the Low Countries
– The trade in Carrara marble
– The Low Countries communities in Carrara, Livorno and Genova
– Technical innovation between Carrara and Belgium: the example of the large scale marble decoration at the castle of Corroy-le-Château
– Low Countries sculptors in Carrara

The introduction of Carrara marble in Belgium and the Netherlands and its flourishing in the 17th century
– The Master of Rimini
– The Michelangelo Madonna & Child in Bruges
– Conrat Meit/Jacques Du Broeucq/Pietro Torrigiani
– The “Marble Temple” in Antwerp, the Jesuit church
– Rubens and marble
– The town hall of Amsterdam (today royal palace)

The social prestige of Carrara marble
– The prestige of the association of Carrara white and Belgian black marble
– Carrara marble in Antwerp-style baroque altarpieces
– The imitation of Carrara marble in altarpieces
– The imitation of Carrara marble in historic interiors
– The imitation of Carrara marble in plaster sculpture
– Portraiture in Carrara marble

Carrara marble as a vehicle for classical ideals
– Carrara marble vs. alabaster in antique-style architecture of the Low Countries
– The collecting of antique and antique-style sculpture in the Low Countries
– Neoclassicism, Canova, Thorwaldsen and their epigones between Rome and the Low Countries,
– Troubadour neo-gothic and Carrara marble Carrara marble in the third world power, Belgium (c.1880-1914)
– As reflected in the collections of the Royal Museums
– The Brussels Cemetary at Laken
– The Brussels courts of justice
– Victor Horta and Carrara marble
– The interiors of the Palais Stoclet and Carrara marble
– Carrara marble in Brussels architecture 1880-1914 Carrara marble in the Netherlands (c.1880-1914)
– The Peace Palace, Den Haag

Historic Carrara marble floors
– Renaissance to Baroque
– The techniques and tradition of single-slab marble hallways
– Carrara within mosaic floors
– Sol Lewitt (Brussels Royal Opera House)

Low Countries artists and architects at home and abroad
– Laurent-Benoît Dewez
– Henry van de Velde’s Hohenhof
– Hilde van Sumeren
– Aart Schonk
– Tom Pucky
– …


The conference will be a collaborative effort between a large number of institutions in Italy and the Low Countries, supported by the highest authorities in each country. It also marks the tenth anniversary of the creation of the Low Countries Sculpture Society and it will constitute a follow-up from the study days it held in Belgium about the extraction and use of Belgian marble in 2003, 2006 and 2009.


Individual arrival in Rome

Monday 4 June 2012, 9.00-18.00 and Tuesday 5 June 2012, 8.45-17.00

Pre-conference excursions in Rome: Galleries in Roman palaces and villas c.1500-1830

Tuesday 5 June 2012, 18.00-
Roma, Keynote Lectures
Night in Rome

Wednesday 6 June 2012, 9.00-18.00
Roma, first day of conference
Night in Rome

Thursday 7 June 2012
Morning: transfer to Carrara
Afternoon: conference excursion: The extraction and transport of Carrara marble from Classical Antiquity to today
Evening: Keynote Lectures
Night in Carrara

Friday 8 June 2012, 9.00-16.30
Second day of conference
End of conference and individual return.