Two children nestle on the landing of the main oak staircase, captured forever in translucent marble. Despite the fact that the little figures are carved from something so incredibly hard and heavy, the statue seems to reflect the light, inviting the observer almost to hold one child’s hand, to admire the perfect realism of their little toes and feet.
The sculptor carved them snuggled together as loving siblings, the pose reminding us of how loved they once were, cuddled and kissed by their mother. How they must have chattered and gone on adventures together but are now locked in an eternal silent pose.
The Romans called marble “luna stone” – stone of the moon – because it has a light that shines out. Like any statue, this particular work of art undoubtedly began as a sketch, the sculptor working out how to define their expressions and proportions. Then it’s down to hammers and point work, pitching tools, rasps and riffles. Sharp chisels make the crystals bounce back the light and a pumice stone removes any marks.
Since ancient times Carrara marble has been particularly treasured. It can take a high gloss polish and holds fine detail. The Carrara quarries have produced more marble than any other place on earth. They have both created local wealth and been a cause of jealousy and anarchy but by the late 20th century Carrara’s highest-grade marble had run out.
Marble Arch, for example, a triumphal arch in central London, was created and carved in white Carrara marble two hundred years ago by a team of craftsmen. It has eight huge Corinthian columns each of which were cut from a single slab and was once situated nearer to Buckingham Palace before being removed to a corner of Hyde Park.
In contrast, Highclere’s two children were carved by a single master, an Italian called Pietro Tenerani (1789 -1869) born in Terano near Carrara who was commissioned by the Carnarvon family during a tour of Europe.
Tenerani was taught firstly by his maternal uncle, the sculptor Pietro Marchetti, before obtaining a stipend to study in Rome. There he worked primarily in the studio of Bertel Thorvaldsen, a Danish sculptor of international renown who, along with Antonio Canova, inspired many young sculptors to flock to Rome. The pretty rococo style of the 18th century had given way to the strength and clarity of neoclassicism which referenced Greek and Roman art and highlighted harmony of form and simplicity.
Whilst Tenerani ‘s most prominent commissions were for the tomb of Pope Pius VIII in Rome and the colossal statue of St Alfonso de Liquori for the Vatican, he also undertook private commissions for visitors to Rome such as the Earl and Countess of Carnarvon.
The statue of their two children was and still is much admired as emotionally real and artistically perfect. The children themselves remained devoted to each other throughout their lives, echoing the closeness depicted in their statue.
That most famous of sculptors Michelangelo famously explained:
“I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free”
One of the hardest decisions however must be when to stop. To know when a piece is finished and nothing more can be achieved. To quote the poet John Keats:
“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”