THE MARBLES OF ANCIENT ROME

From this marble, by a slight tinge of yellow and a little darker shade, the livid white marble of Lesbos, the Marmor Lesbium, or Marmo Greco Giallognolo, may be distinguished. It is not a beautiful material; and yet, strange to say, the statues of some of the most beautiful women of antiquity, such as those of Julia Pia in the Vatican, and of the Capitoline Venus in the Museum of the Capitol, were made of this marble, obtained from the birthplace of Sappho. More beautiful is the kind known as the Marmor Tyrium, or the Greco-Turchinicchio, which has a light bluish tinge. It was shipped by the ancients at the port of Tyre from some unknown quarry in Mount Lebanon, which supplied the marble used without stint in the building and decoration of Solomon's Temple and Palace. In this quarry every block was shaped and polished before it was sent to be inserted in its place in the Temple wall, which therefore, as Heber beautifully says, sprang up like some tall palm in majestic silence. In Rome this marble was very rare. The doors in the great piers which support the dome of St. Peter's are each flanked by a pair of spirally-fluted columns of Tyrian marble, supposed to have been brought to Rome by Titus from the Temple of Jerusalem. They originally decorated the confessional of the old Basilica. The twenty-eight steps of the Scala Santa at the Lateran, said by ecclesiastical tradition to have belonged to Pilate's house in Jerusalem, and to have been the identical ones which our Saviour descended when He left the judgment-hall, are made of this marble; so that, whatever we may think of the tradition itself, there is a feature of verisimilitude in the material.

The chief supply of pure white marble in Rome was derived from the quarries in the mountains at Luna, an old Etruscan town near the Bay of Spezia, which fell to decay under the later Roman emperors. This ancient Marmor Lunense is called by the Italians Marmo di Carrara, because it is identical with the famous modern Carrara marble, and belongs to the same range of strata; the ruins of the ancient Luna being only a few miles from the flourishing town of Carrara, the metropolis of the marble trade. From Parian and Pentelic marble, Lunar marble, as already mentioned, can be easily distinguished by the less brilliant sparkle of its crystal facets, as shown by a fresh surface, and also by its more soapy-white colour. It is simply an ordinary Jurassic limestone altered by subsequent metamorphic action. The mountains which contain the quarries are highly picturesque, rising with serried outline to a height of upwards of five thousand feet, their flanks scarred by deep gorges and torrent-beds, and their lower slopes clothed with olive groves, vineyards, and forest trees. Lunar marble was first brought to Rome in the time of Julius Cæsar; and Mamurra, so bitterly reviled by Catullus, the commander of the artificers in Cæsar's army in Gaul, lined with great slabs of this marble the outside and inside of his house on the Coelian Hill—the first recorded instance of veneering or incrusting walls with marble. The discovery of this method of cutting marble into thin slices, and decorating structures of ordinary materials with them, was stigmatised by Pliny as an unreasonable mode of extending luxury. The use of Lunar marble, on account of its easy accessibility, speedily extended to every kind of building, public and private. So vast were the quantities sent to Rome, that Ovid expressed his fear lest the mountains themselves should disappear through the digging out of this marble; and Pliny anticipated that dreadful consequences would be produced by the removal in this way of the great barriers erected by Nature.