Belgian black marbles

Belgium

Anet (France), entrance of the castle, Philibert Delorme, ca. 1550, initially highly polychromatic.

Year designation

2024

Lithology

Dark micritic limestones, very poor in macrofossils

Aesthetics

Rare intense and uniform black color when honed and polished

Geological settings

Paleozoic – Upper Devonian (Frasnian) and Lower Carboniferous (Viséan)

Location

Wallonia, provinces of Hainaut, Namur and Liège, today one underground quarry

Anet (France), entrance of the castle, Philibert Delorme, ca. 1550, initially highly polychromatic.

The darkest of all dark limestones

The Belgian black marbles were already used since Antiquity as marble sheets for inscriptions and dark tessera for mosaics. During the Middle Age, the famous tombs of the dukes of Burgundy fashion for this kind of mausoleum, replicated in many churches of Western Europe. Quarries around Namur and Dinant were very close to the Meuse river, one of the major European trade routes ever. Upstream, black marbles were transported to France, downstream, material were able to reach the sea through Holland and to travel further to the North (following the Hanseatic network to Denmark, Poland and Baltic states), to England or to the South, sometimes very far. The black marbles were also transported by the Rhine, upstream from the Meuse confluence in Dordrecht (for example to the Cologne Dom). In the early 17th c., many elements were transported to Florence, for the Medici workshops of Pietre Dure marquetries. The black marbles were often used for Baroque decoration, in churches following the Trento Council, or in secular buildings, in contrast with lighter or brighter colors. Since the 19th c., Belgian black marbles were exported all over the world, and are still today appreciated everywhere by architects, designers and artists.

Florence (Italy), Opificio delle Pietre Dure, detail of a marquetry with many different kinds of stones and marbles, the background being a black ‘marble’ from Belgium (‘Paragone di Fiandra’)

Versailles (France), marble court of the castle, restored during the 2d half of 20th c. with white Carrara marble and black Belgian ones (the former black ‘marble’ was replaced by Soignies and Tour

Francis Tourneur.

SPW/ARNE, 15 avenue Prince de Liège, B-5100 Jambes

francis.tourneur@spw.wallonie.be