Jasper - Ancient Libeccio of Sicily
Undisputed king of the Baroque, this marble was particularly loved
by the sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini who used it profusely
in many of his works, among these, the drape carved in the tomb
of Pope Alexander VII in St. Peter's in the Vatican is admirable.
King of Baroque
The soft jasper of Sicily is quarried in the mountains of Custonaci, it has an unpredictable colouring that ranges from dark red to yellow ochre, with rare white intrusions. In the past it was also known by the name of Libeccio di Custonaci.
From the same quarry are extracted the pontifical breccia and the Sicilian Rose
Unique in the world
Its uniqueness together with the difficulties involved in its extraction make the soft jasper of Sicily a particularly precious material: once used mainly in the most important churches and noble palaces, today it is used in open-spot slabs for important floors or wall coverings in bathrooms and living rooms.
The ancient libeccio or jasper is a polygenic limestone with clasts up to decimetric in size, originating from variously coloured layers of a single formation and sometimes mixed with clusters of bioclasts. These fragments, whose contours are mainly angular, are immersed in a cement composed of calcareous mud deposited in paleokarst pockets whose chromatic tones range from burgundy red to brown, from dark yellow to beige and pistachio green. Belonging to the geological formations of the Upper Triassic period (about 200 million years ago), it was formed in a marine environment.
Historically known as Libyan of Trapani or soft Sicilian jasper, it is quarried at about 550m above sea level in the Custonaci area of Trapani, the largest mining basin in Sicily and the second largest in Europe.
The first traces of its use are found at the end of the 1500s, when the use of this stone was refined with Carrara marble in the decoration of monuments and churches, and its use began to spread, first in Sicily and then in the rest of Italy. It was also appreciated outside Sicily and was exported from the nearby port of Trapani during the 17th and 18th centuries, finding use in the important architecture of many Italian cities. Among the most prestigious works is the tomb of Alexander VII in St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican, sculpted by Gian Lorenzo Bernini between 1672-78; in the funeral monument centred on the statue of the praying pope, the jasper, overcoming the difficulties related to the uneven nature of the material, was used to model the heavy drapery that surrounds the sculptures -personifications of Charity, Truth, Justice and Prudence and hangs over the door below, incorporating a golden skeleton with the hourglass. In the Royal Palace of Caserta, built by Luigi Vanvitelli in 1751 for Charles III of Bourbon, together with other Sicilian marbles (Castronovo yellow and Billiemi grey) libeccio was used to embellish the interiors, as in the balustrade of the imposing staircase leading to the royal apartments or in the hexagonal tile floor of the hall of Mars.
Even in Piedmont it is possible to find jasper creations: here Filippo Juvarra, perhaps mindful of the quality of the marble of his land of origin, used it in various architectures, as shown in the interior of the church of the Confraternity of the Holy Trinity (1717-1734), where blocks of this marble imported from Sicily were used to make cornices and mirrors.
The architectures mentioned certainly do not exhaust the cases of study, and the selection made merely for illustrative purposes shows how ancient libeccio marble from Custonaci, in all its possible uses (small tesserae for inlays and thin slabs for veneers, as well as large slabs combined "open stain" to create extraordinary polychrome designs for wall coverings and altar mirrors, or even elements in the round, such as balustrades and medium-sized columns), because of its material characteristics, which make it a natural "mixed" marble, in Vasari's meaning of the term, it can be considered the most "baroque" of Sicilian marbles, perfectly in line with the creative tension underlying many of the works of this artistic season.
Saint Peter in the Vatican
Tomb of Pope Alexander VII
last work of Gian Lorenzo Bernini