Extracts from Stanley's letters to Irving Stone
Oct 15 1958
I have often been influenced by the surrounding architectural forms. What captivates me mostly is that the inner life of the structure is actually a living experience, (a self-realization) where the spirit is (word missing) and protected. In sculpture this process is reversed. Man stands outside exposed to the elements (of his time and all time) breathing outwards his inner spiritual message. In sculpture we can speak of the space outside the form that absorbs the content while in architecture it is the inner contained space.
This (Monte Altissimo near Arni) was another world, yet I felt so close to it. Here were the mountains where the material I worked with and knew so well came from. I somehow sensed an inner life to these mountains of marble. Towering mountains with massive slashes on their sides as if some giant had taken a knife and with one blow cut off a section exposing the inside. That itself was fascinating to see a large slash on the mountain marble – man exposing the true character of the marble. It was almost like touching creation itself.
These men (marble workers) must feel very strong inside. Nature never seems to let go her possessions easily. Yet with all the struggle that goes into getting out the marble, it has to be respected as a material and one’s hatred turns into love. We never speak of the material as “stone” but marble. When I first started working with marble I got a tongue-lashing for that mistake. One very interesting point I observed was that the workers wear no glasses to protect their eyes. Through habit they automatically close their eyes when the hammer blow strikes the marble.
February 17 1959
Today I did some more photographic work; this time around the Santa Croce area. As I walked up the few stairs and then the flat plane in front of Santa Croce, I suddenly realized the fact, I was standing on pietra serena slabs. Then a thought struck me. The last glimpse the body of Michelangelo had of his beloved city took place on the stone that had shaped his life, the stone he grew up on and with. It seemed like a fitting conclusion for even the pietra serena to bid farewell to its master – Michelangelo.
March 2 1959
I want to mention a point I noticed while looking at Michelangelo’s painting of La Sancta Famiglia. On the middle right hand side is a figure of a young boy; in his left hand is a stick which rests on his shoulder. Behind his back there is a suggestion of a weight (attached, I presume, to the stick). I recall now what Papini mentioned when he spoke of the“old times” and remembered when a young boy went to the houses of the stone masons to pick up their noontime meal! They placed the contents on a stick.
August 21 1959
The moment the sculptor picks up his hammer to carve, a battle takes place. In front of him up to this moment stood a mute, speechless, unknown, unnamed mass of marble. It is what it only is – a white, heavy, fully packed volume. Just as one feels inside the body, so Michelangelo felt and perceived human images inside the marble block. He found the tangible image by removing to reveal. The moment, the first moment, that a flicker of the image shines out – the block ceases to be a mute mass and becomes a source of life as it can communicate with man. This moment gives the sculptor intense satisfaction. Hatred was felt for the marble that had to be peeled away. The initial roughing-out stage is not pleasing aesthetically. The mound of marblechips beside the block is pictorial enough to tell the story of the intense search or the whole, vital, human form.
Aug 23 1959
Doesn’t all great art have a soul? In the true sense of the word, the soul is immortalized within the created form. Time passes by about it but its message never diminishes. In marble carving, it’s not entirely a matter of forcing one’s intensity of will on it, but rather an interplay of the respective personalities of the sculptor and his medium – marble.
Ancient carvings are often found broken in several pieces, yet when they are assembled, its spirit, its soul still pulsates – the core of its message persists. The distinguishing quality of the sculptures of Michelangelo is that he felt equal intensity for every vein, bone and muscle. Observe the arm on the left side of the Pieta Rondanini. This arm, I feel, could exist by itself, suspended in space as it is here. Michelangelo likewise felt creative life in everything in him that breathed life.
April 24 1960
In the Florentine autumn and winter there were many foggy days. I used to enjoy walking about the area of the Piazza della Signoria, then to and over the Ponte Vecchio and to the south bank of the Arno river, and from there to look back at the Ponte Vecchio and the river Arno flowing under it and be captivated by the over-all mysteriousness of this vista, clothed in silvery tones. I am enclosing a photo I took on such a day.