When stone appears in literature, film or theater, its image is not positive: it stands for coldness, threat, often also for death and the underworld. Interestingly, this does not apply to art in general – in sculptures, for example, white marble in particular has the status of value, style and elegance.
The best-known example of stone on stage is probably Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni, based on the age-old Don Juan theme: the main character seduces women with obsession and even kills the father of one of his victims as he flees. In the cemetery, Don Giovanni mocks the murdered man and invites him to dine with him – and the victim later emerges from the grave as a marble statue and visits Don Giovanni. He admonishes him to desist from his deeds – but the culprit refuses and is then swallowed up by the earth.
Unfortunately, we have not found a statue of Don Giovanni anywhere, even though the subject is treated so frequently in literature and theater. But the Commendatore, the murdered man, is a bronze statue in the old town of Prague in front of the Estates Theatre, where the opera premiered in 1787.
The work was created by the sculptor and painter Anna Chromy (1940-2021), and it needs to be clarified that the famous figure of the empty cloak, her best-known work, was also erected elsewhere under the title “Pietà” or “Cloak of Conscience”. One of these versions is 4.7 m high and made of Carrara marble; you can enter its interior.
Of course, the figure looks familiar: The posture and cape are reminiscent of the supervillain from Star Wars. For that film epic, director George Lucas looked to the fairy tales and myths of mankind and invented his own universe around the Jedi as central figures.
As far as we know, there is no character made of stone in the film epic. But stone is of course used as decor: for example, as building material for Queen Amidala’s palace or in a race through a rocky landscape that is modeled somewhat on Petra in Jordan and ends in a Roman-style arena.
In 2007, stone played a somewhat active role in the art action “Still Life with Spirit and Xitle” by Jimmie Durham, the result of which can be seen in the Hirschhorn Museum in Washington DC, among other places: the conceptual artist dropped a block of red basalt weighing 9 tons onto a car from a crane and sprayed a smiley face on the thick lump to conclude the action. He had obtained the stone from Mexico, where the eruption of the Xitle volcano some 2000 years earlier had created chaotic living conditions for the people. He wanted to recreate this with his own means and use the laughing face to comment on the clash between then and now. Our photo shows the same work in Sydney.
In the film “The Man of Marble” (1977), Polish director Andrzej Wajda examines the doctrinaire and hypocritical socialist system: a film student wants to make a documentary about the heroes of labor in Poland and comes across the marble statue of one such hero, the bricklayer Mateusz Birkut, in a museum. Using documents from the archives, she reconstructs the true story. Although Wajda’s work was shown in Poland, it was banned for export. It was shown illegally and won an award at the 1978 Cannes Film Festival.
The perspective that director Yuri Ancarani adopts in the documentary film “Il Capo” about the Carrara quarries is unusual: although you can see the huge excavators moving the rock in the trailer of just under 3 minutes, they are controlled by the mere snapping of a foreman’s fingers. The film, produced by the marble company Gemeg, has won numerous awards.
In his little-known novel “The Narrative of_Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket”, Edgar Allen Poe chose black stone as the setting: a young sailor sails on board a whaler towards the South Pole, there are misadventures, mutinies and even cannibalism on board and finally the arrival on the island of Tsalal. The island consists entirely of black granite, black is the color of the plants and animals there and the inhabitants have black skin. White is unknown to them. The story ends abruptly, as if the narrator had to stop, but as if further episodes were to follow.
The legends of many peoples about rulers who have been enchanted and are waiting to be resurrected are not so scary, but not exactly homely either. One example is the Kyffhäuser legend [only in Thuringia] from the state of Thuringia in Germany: Emperor Barbarossa has been sleeping in a cave there for centuries and his beard is constantly growing. The old ruler regularly wakes up and checks the surface to see if the time is ripe for a new empire – but as long as ravens circle around the summit, he sleeps again for a century.
(21.12.2023, USA: 12.21.2023)