Obelisk Art History

The stone that glows like human skin

Perhaps no material is as closely tied to an era as marble is to the classical world. Marble is a pale, metamorphic rock derived from limestone, and though it has been used to make art since before written language, marble is most commonly associated with the heroic, idealized, beautiful sculptures of the human form created at the height of the Greek and Roman empires. The sculptors of these cultures not only developed an unparalleled naturallism in their rendering, but took advantage of marble’s most unique characteristic, a property called subsurface scattering. Marble’s composition leaves it slightly transparent, allowing light to sink into marble in the same way that it plays across and through human skin, giving human forms captured in marble an etherial, lifelike quality.

Reed Enger, "Marble, The stone that glows like human skin," in Obelisk Art History, Published January 23, 2015; last modified July 20, 2019, http://arthistoryproject.com/mediums/marble/.

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Female figure, Neolithic

Female figure

4500 BCE-4000 BCE
Cycladic Figure, Aegean Civilizations

Cycladic Figure

2800 BCE
Early Cycladic female figure, Aegean Civilizations

Early Cycladic female figure

3200 BCE-2800 BCE
Cycladic seated harp player, Aegean Civilizations

Cycladic seated harp player

2800 BCE-2700 BCE
Cycladic female figure, Aegean Civilizations

Cycladic female figure

2300 BCE-2200 BCE
Moschophoros (calf-bearer), Ancient Greece

Moschophoros (calf-bearer)

560 BCE
Peplos Kore, Ancient Greece

Peplos Kore

530 BCE
Warrior of Capestrano, Ancient Rome

Warrior of Capestrano

500 BCE
Head of Plato, Ancient Greece

Head of Plato

370 BCE
Dying Gaul, Ancient Rome

Dying Gaul

250 BCE
Laocoön and His Sons, Ancient Greece

Laocoön and His Sons

200 BCE
Philosopher, Ancient Greece


200 BCE
Athena, Ancient Greece


100 BCE
Nero's Bath, Ancient Rome

Nero's Bath

64 CE
Young Hercules, Ancient Rome

Young Hercules

69 CE-96 CE
Portrait of Aristotle, Ancient Greece

Portrait of Aristotle

100 CE
Statue of Aphrodite, Ancient Rome

Statue of Aphrodite

100 CE
The Braschi Antinous, Ancient Rome

The Braschi Antinous

138 CE
Emperor Antoninus Pius, Ancient Rome

Emperor Antoninus Pius

138 CE-161 CE
Apollo Seated With Lyre, Ancient Greece

Apollo Seated With Lyre

200 CE
The Three Graces, Ancient Rome

The Three Graces

200 CE
Daughter of Mousaios, Funerary Stele, Coptic Art

Daughter of Mousaios, Funerary Stele

250 CE
Kneeling Male Attendant, Khmer Art

Kneeling Male Attendant

921 CE-945 CE
St. Mark, Donatello

St. Mark

Donatello, 1411
St. John the Evangelist, Donatello

St. John the Evangelist

Donatello, 1408-1415
Saint George, Donatello

Saint George

Donatello, c. 1416-1417
Prophet Habbakuk, Donatello

Prophet Habbakuk

Donatello, 1423-1426
Assumption of the Virgin, Donatello

Assumption of the Virgin

Donatello, 1427
Delivery of the Keys to St Peter and the Ascension of Christ, Donatello

Delivery of the Keys to St Peter and the Ascension of Christ

Donatello, 1425-1430
Herod's Banquet, Donatello

Herod's Banquet

Donatello, c. 1435
Pietà, Michelangelo


Michelangelo, 1498-1499
David, Michelangelo


Michelangelo, 1501-1504
Moses, Michelangelo


Michelangelo, 1513-1515
The Goat Amalthea with the Infant Jupiter and a Faun, Gian Lorenzo Bernini

The Goat Amalthea with the Infant Jupiter and a Faun

Gian Lorenzo Bernini, 1615
Ecstasy of Saint Teresa, Gian Lorenzo Bernini

Ecstasy of Saint Teresa

Gian Lorenzo Bernini, 1647-1652
Apollo and Daphne, Gian Lorenzo Bernini

Apollo and Daphne

Gian Lorenzo Bernini, 1622-1655
Psyche Revived by Cupid's Kiss, Antonio Canova

Psyche Revived by Cupid's Kiss

Antonio Canova, 1787-1793
Hampstead Heath with Bathers, John Constable

Hampstead Heath with Bathers

John Constable, 1821
Head of a Vestal Virgin, Antonio Canova

Head of a Vestal Virgin

Antonio Canova, 1821-1822
Venus Italica, Antonio Canova

Venus Italica

Antonio Canova, 1822-1823
Reclining Naiad, Antonio Canova

Reclining Naiad

Antonio Canova, 1819-1824
Columbus, Mary Edmonia Lewis


Mary Edmonia Lewis, 1865-1867
Forever Free, Mary Edmonia Lewis

Forever Free

Mary Edmonia Lewis, 1867
Bust of Dr. Dio Lewis, Mary Edmonia Lewis

Bust of Dr. Dio Lewis

Mary Edmonia Lewis, 1868
Hiawatha's Marriage, Mary Edmonia Lewis

Hiawatha's Marriage

Mary Edmonia Lewis, 1871
Hermione, Sarah Bernhardt


Sarah Bernhardt, 1875
After the Storm, Sarah Bernhardt

After the Storm

Sarah Bernhardt, 1876
Ophelia, Sarah Bernhardt


Sarah Bernhardt, 1880
Andromeda, François Auguste René Rodin


François Auguste René Rodin, 1885-1886
Funerary Portrait of Jacques Damala, Sarah Bernhardt

Funerary Portrait of Jacques Damala

Sarah Bernhardt, 1889
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Watercolor, Mediums


Etching, Mediums


Charcoal, Mediums


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