The Greeks did not give a fig whether it was white or not; to them marble was just another handy sculpture material which they painted liberally in bright, almost garish colours after it was hewn to shape. But the original blues, blood reds, tulip yellows, coal blacks and lizard greens became so bleached and weathered by time that for centuries all of us believed they had not even existed.

It was Michelangelo and his like who began to exalt the whiteness of marble after they had found the colossal figures of Greek Laocoon and his sons in the earth of Rome and had cleaned and exhibited them. Ever since, despite the wealth of other stone and the most modern sculpture materials, the silvered whiteness of marble, creamy, nearly transparent, cool and docile, has possessed sculptors with an inexplicable hunger