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The making of art: sculptors, artisans, and artists in the Apuan Alps



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Ruiz del Río, Javier 


This dissertation investigates the sculpture industry in the Apuan Alps and its relation to claims of artistic value. For centuries, this Italian district has specialized in extracting, marketing, and processing marble into luxury commodities. Ahead of many other parts of this economy (including design and architecture), art manufacturing has dominated local identity and commercial strategies. This thesis studies the Apuan industry in the context of transnational artmaking processes. It maintains that production reveals aspects of these economic activities that cannot be fully studied from the side of circulation alone. For example, while a sculpture’s making can be fundamental to our appreciation, we often rely on highly restricted information, sometimes misleading, in order to respond as spectators. In foregrounding production, this dissertation hopes not only to improve our understanding of sculpture-making itself but also to explain why it is often mystified. Its treatment of the topic refers to debates in the anthropology of art and those more traditionally engaged by scholars of economy and labour, such as technology, practical rationality, and alienation. Methodologically, the analysis combines in-person and remote fieldwork with a historical framework. As an international art centre since the Florentine Renaissance, the Apuan Alps present an ideal location for such inquiry.

Around Carrara, Pietrasanta, and the rest of a local 20-kilometre-wide marble district, workshops host a diversity of carving activities. In the sculpture firms, artisans fabricate works for their clients, which may involve different degrees of automation and creative input. In private studios, amateurs and professionals share spaces to make art, for themselves and for others. The thesis’ approach to this intricate economic reality is structured around a central question: How can we understand art as industrial production? The response is both empirical and theoretical. In the Apuan Alps, sculpture-making appeared fraught with conceptually challenging phenomena, like outsourcing and mechanization. Consequently, the empirical investigation demanded a theoretical discussion of varied notions at play (including ‘art/industry’ or ‘design/execution’), which often appeared in conflict with one another. The main contribution of this work is establishing such dialogue between the anthropologies of art and the anthropologies of the economy.

The argument proceeds in three parts. First, it explains the industry’s place and organization. Chapter 1 locates the district in the political economy of high art, while Chapter 2 describes its general organization and problematizes the notion of the ‘industrial district’. Then, the thesis investigates sculpture-making processes. Chapter 3 breaks such processes into operational sequences, interrogating whether art is a special ‘kind’ of production. Building on this discussion, Chapter 4 focuses on the division of roles (between the ‘artist’ and the ‘artisan’) that underpins fundamental phenomena like alienation and authorship. Finally, the third section (Chapter 5) questions why people dedicate themselves to sculpture in the way they do. When examining sculptors’ personal trajectories, it becomes apparent that the picture of practical reasoning championed by the anthropology of ethics has overlooked the non-moral goods that guide people’s actions in the workplace. These five chapters will contribute ethnographically and theoretically to an understanding of artmaking in an industrial context.





Sanchez, Andrew


Apuan Alps, art, industry, labour, sculpture


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge