For centuries the craftspeople of Pietrasanta have translated artists’ ideas into marble and bronze.
The quarries among the marble crests of the Apuan Alps — gleaming white, like snowcaps on the ridge’s peaks — transformed the pocket-size town of Pietrasanta (2018 population: 23,600) and its surrounding hamlets into Italy’s world-renowned sculpture capital.
Pietrasanta counts 55 marble workshops and bronze foundries in its mere 16 square miles, sandwiched between the mountains and the Tyrrhenian Sea in Tuscany. Over the years it has drawn celebrated international artists — including Henry Moore, Isamu Noguchi, Igor Mitoraj, Joan Mirò, Fernando Botero and Niki de Saint Phalle — to work and, in some cases, to live here.
The town’s intimate grid of lanes is an open-air museum of marble and bronze, with 75 public monuments by artists like Kan Yasuda, Botero and Mitoraj (a longtime local whose first dedicated museum is scheduled to open here in 2022) alongside workshop lots crowded with Pietàs and Venus de Milos, Virgin Marys and Salomés, Eisenhowers and Saddam Husseins.
The first sculpture workshops in Pietrasanta opened their doors in the 1400s; the workshops flourished with the 1842 inauguration of a high school to train artisans (today called the Stagio Stagi creative arts school), and as the Neoclassical vogue drove demand for statues in cemeteries and churches, and for civic commissions to suit the nationalist objectives of the leaders of a newly united Italy.
Henry Moore, the first modern artist to settle in the area, arrived in 1957 to make “Reclining Figure” for the UNESCO headquarters in Paris. Smitten, he bought a home in nearby Forte dei Marmi and enticed friends like Noguchi, Mirò, Jean Arp and others to the area.
Over the last two decades, Pietrasanta’s artisan workshops have been resettled just beyond the minuscule center to keep the dust away from residents, but the artist’s studios remain there, between the upscale shops and restaurants aimed at the growing number of art-curious tourists. The main piazza, with its milk-colored marble Romanesque church and rotating public exhibitions of large-scale sculpture, is bordered by rows of alfresco bar tables where artists and artisans continue to gather after a day’s work.
At one corner of the square, a 16th-century convent is home to the Museo dei Bozzetti, or the Museum of Maquettes, which claims to be the only museum of artists’ plasters in the world.
“It’s a museum where the direct relationship between artists and the craftspeople who fabricated their works is visible,” said Chiara Celli, the director, as she motioned toward a vitrine with a 10-inch plaster piece by Noguchi, made in 1968. The small, sinuously gnarled turkey bone of a model, blanketed in pencil points and guidelines, was converted by Henraux’s artisans into the 7.5-foot “Ding Dong Bat,” a serpentine marble sculpture now at the Noguchi Museum in New York City.
Since it opened in 1984, the Bozzetti museum has collected almost 900 of the models that were rendered as full-size artworks by the local marble workshops and bronze foundries.