I mentioned in an earlier post my intention of making a monument for my late wife. These are the finished marble pieces for her grave.
This was the first time I ever really sculpted or carved anything. I had a great deal of help doing the initial sculpture in clay from the director of the sculpture program at the Florence Academy of Art, Robert Bodem, who let me use his studio for a couple of months and showed me what to do. He also did the plaster casts for me. The sculpture technique at the FAA is very drawing-based, so all my years of charcoal and pencil portraits was of some help. I still really had no idea what I was doing. Rob would often come in with a trowel and take off lots of clay. Another old friend, Calyxte Campe gave me a day of hands-on help with the bust, and Johanna Schwaiger helped with the final stages of the marble.
Everything about this project was different. Normally, the process with portraiture is that the closer you get to a likeness the happier you feel about the work. When sculpting one’s wife a month after her death, the dynamic is very much the opposite.
Alba had always wanted a dog. After they discovered the tumor she adopted a little stray from the streets of Naples, Emma. The dog always sleeps with it’s ears perked up, but after Alba’s death it slept for a few days with the ears down. I tried to capture that in the sculpture.
‘Emma’ will go at the foot of the grave, with Alba’s bust near the headstone. An architect friend of hers, Rudi Ulivi, has done a very elegant design for it all, something of a modern version of Jacopo della Quercia’s tomb of Ilaria del Carretto.
Here are some photos from the process. The dog was done in our apartment from life. She sleeps on her pillow next to the radiator most of the winter anyways, so she was a pretty easy model. I tried to make the pillow look like one of the many cheap Ikea pillows we had around the house.
Alba was done from photographs. Here I’m working in Rob’s studio in Florence.
The clay pieces were then cast into plaster, and laser-scanned by a marble-carving company in Carrara, Italy. After picking out a sculpture-grade marble block, the scans were sent to the robot (pictured below) which carves the blocks to within a millimeter of the specifications of the scan. It’s hard to tell the scale in the photo but Mickey is bigger than a person.
It may seem like cheating, but I learned that every sculptor since Michelangelo has had assistants block in the marble from the maestro’s clay model.
This digital process worked to my advantage in that, having never sculpted before, I had made the bust of Alba way too big. By using this method of the laser-scan and 3D computer image I was able to measure an old sight-size oil portrait I did of her and reduce the dimensions of the digital wireframe model to her exact scale.
After the marble comes back from the robot it still needs a great deal of work. I tried rasps and chisels but at the end found it easier to use a dremel.
When Alba learned of her tumor she desperately wanted some form of immortality, I guess we all do. None of us will get it.
This was the best I could do.