The Art of Sculpture
Stone, Marble, Bronze, Wood, Jade, Ivory.

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Doryphorus (440).
Museo Nazionale, Naples.
Greek statue by Polykleitos.
Notice the contrapposto
stance, which creates tense
and relaxed parts of the body.

For two essays on sculpture
appreciation, please see:
How to Appreciate Sculpture
3-D art from Stone Age to 1850.

Definition, Types - Statues, Reliefs


What is Sculpture?
Definition of Sculpture
History, Origins of Sculpture
The Theory of Sculpture (Elements & Principles of Design)
Materials Used in Sculpture
Modern Materials
Types of Sculpture
Sculpture As a Public Art
More Information About Sculpture

For an easy-to-follow account of the most creative epoch in the history of plastic art, see: Greek Sculpture Made Simple.

David (1501-4) by Michelangelo.
One of the great works of High
Renaissance Biblical art, inspired
by the Sculpture of Ancient Greece.

Chinese Terracotta Warriors.
A ceramic masterpiece created
during the era of Qin Dynasty art
(221-206 BCE). Arguably the greatest
ever example of representational art.
For more about carving in China,
see: Chinese Buddhist Sculpture

For a list of masterpieces, see:
Greatest Sculptures Ever.
For the world's best 3-D artists:
Greatest Sculptors.

What is Sculpture?

The most enduring and, arguably, the greatest form of fine art known to man, sculpture has played a major role in the evolution of Western culture. Its history and stylistic development are those of Western art itself. It is a key indicator of the cultural achievements of Classical Antiquity, and became an important influence on the development of Renaissance art in Italy. Together with architecture, it was the principal form of monumental religious art which for centuries (c.400-1800) was the driving force of European civilization. Even today, although continuously evolving, sculpture is still the leading method of expressing and commemorating both historical figures and events.

During its history, it has attracted some of the world's greatest artists, including classical sculptors like Phidias, Myron of Eleutherae, Polyklitos, Skopas, Lysippos, Praxiteles and Leochares, as well as Donatello (1386-1466), Michelangelo (1475-1654), Giambologna (1529-1608), the great Bernini (1598-1680), Auguste Rodin (1840-1917), Henry Moore (1898-1986), Picasso (1881-1973), Constantin Brancusi (1876-1957), and Damien Hirst (b.1965).

Supreme examples of this long-established form of public art can be found in many of the best art museums.

Also known as "plastic art", for the shaping process or "plasticity" it involves, sculpture should be fairly simple to define, but unfortunately it's not.

The Kiss (1889), by Auguste Rodin.
This influential marble cast (of
which there are three copies)
typifies Rodin's unique ability
to express intense emotion
through the physicality of sculpture.

The famous Colossus of Rhodes
(Chares of Lindos) (c.280 BCE),
one of the Seven Wonders of the
Ancient World
, which was toppled
in an earthquake in 225 BCE.
Over 100 feet high, it was the
tallest stone sculpture of the
Greco-Roman world.

Phidias (488-431 BCE)
Myron (Active 480-444)
Polykleitos (5th century)
Callimachus (Active 432-408)
Skopas (Active 395-350)
Lysippos (c.395-305)
Praxiteles (Active 375-335)
Leochares (Active 340-320)

Ever-Expanding Art Form

This is because the definition or meaning of sculpture has widened a great deal during the 20th century. With the development of new sculptural tools and technology, contemporary works now employ such a huge variety of new materials, techniques and spatial schemes of reference, that "sculpture" is no longer a fixed term which refers to a fixed category of objects or creative activities, but rather an ever-expanding art form that is constantly evolving and redefining itself.

Definition of Traditional Sculpture

Traditional sculpture prior to the 20th century had four main defining characteristics. First, it was the only three dimensional art form. Second, it was representational. Third, it was viewed as an art of solid form. Any empty spaces involved were essentially secondary to its bulk or mass. Moreover, as a solid form it had no movement. Fourth, traditional sculptors used only two main techniques: carving or modelling. That is, they either carved directly from their chosen material (eg. stone, wood), or they built up the sculpture from the inside, so to speak, using clay, plaster, wax and the like. The models for traditional sculpting derive from Greek and Roman Sculpture of Classical Antiquity.

Gislebertus (12th century)
Master of Cabestany (12th century)
Master Mateo (12th century)
Benedetto Antelami (active 1178-1196)
Nicola Pisano (c.1206-1278)
Giovanni Pisano (c.1250-1314)
Arnolfo di Cambio (c.1240–1310)
Giovanni di Balduccio (c.1290–1339)
Andrea Pisano (1295-1348)
Filippo Calendario (pre-1315-1355)
Andre Beauneveu (c.1335-1400)
Claus Sluter (c.1340-1406)
Hans Multscher (c.1400-1467)
Giorgio da Sebenico (1410-1473)
Michel Colombe (c.1430-1512)
Veit Stoss (c.1447-1533)
Tilman Riemenschneider (c.1460-1531)
Gregor Erhart (c.1460-1540).

For information about ceramic
sculptors, see Ceramic Art.
For details of clay sculpture
in China, see: Chinese Pottery.
For information about clay
modelling in Ancient Greece,
see: Greek Pottery.

Definition of Modern and Contemporary Sculpture

The art of sculpture is no longer restricted by traditional sculptural concepts, materials or methods of production. It is no longer exclusively representational but frequently wholly abstract. Nor is it purely solid and static: it may reference empty space in an important way, and can also be kinetic and capable of movement. Finally, as well as being carved or modelled, it can be assembled, glued, projected (holographically), or constructed in a wide variety of ways. As a result the traditional four-point meaning and definition of sculpture no longer applies.

Basic Forms of Sculpture Now Outdated

Previously, the history of art understood only two basic sculptural forms: sculpture in the round (also called free-standing sculpture) and reliefs (including bas-relief, haut-relief, and sunken-relief). Nowadays, new forms of light-related sculpture (eg. holograms) and mobile sculpture necessitate a redefinition of the possible forms.

Nanni di Banco (1375-1421)
Lorenzo Ghiberti (1378-1455)
Donatello (1386-1466)
Luca Della Robbia (1400-1482)
Antonio Rossellino (1427-1479)
Antonio Pollaiuolo (1432-98)
Andrea Della Robbia (1435-1525)
Niccolo Dell'Arca (1435-94)
Andrea del Verrocchio (1435-1488)
Guido Mazzoni (1450-1518)
Michelangelo (1475-1564)
Alonso Berruguete (c.1486-1561)
Jacopo Sansovino (1486-1570)
Baccio Bandinelli (1493-1560)
Benvenuto Cellini (1500-1571)
Francesco Primaticcio (1504-1570)
Juan de Juni (1507-1577)
Germain Pilon (1529-1590)
Giambologna (1529-1608)
Jean Goujon (Active 1540-1563)
Barthelemy Prieur (1536-1611)
Adriaen de Vries (1560-1626)
Stefano Maderno (1576-1636)

Juan Martines Montanes (1568-1649)
Francois Duquesnoy (1597-1643)
Bernini (1598-1680)
Alessandro Algardi (1598-1654)
Alonso Cano (1601-67)
Pierre Puget (1622-94)
Francois Girardon (1628-1715)
Antoine Coysevox (1640-1720)
Grinling Gibbons (1648-1721)
Balthasar Permoser (1651-1732)
Andreas Schluter (1664-1714)
Guillaume Coustou (1677-1746)
Louis-Francois Roubiliac (1695-1762)
Jean-Baptiste Pigalle (1714-1785)
Etienne Falconet (1716-1791)
Franz Xaver Messerschmidt (1736-1783)
Joseph Nollekens (1737-1823)
Clodion (1738-1814)
Jean-Antoine Houdon (1741-1828)
John Flaxman (1755-1826)
Antonio Canova (1757-1822)
Bertel Thorvaldsen (1770–1844)
Francois Rude (1784-1855)

See: History of Art Timeline.

Auguste Preault (1809-1879)
Alfred Stevens (1817-75)
George Frederick Watts (1817-1904)
Pierre-Louis Rouillard (1820-81)
Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux (1827-1875)
Frederic Leighton (1830-1896)
Jean Falguiere (1831-1900)
Auguste Bartholdi 1834-1904
Auguste Rodin (1840-1917)
Marius Mercier (1845-1916)
Camille Claudel (1864-1943)
Daniel Chester French (1850-1931)

Definition and Meaning of Sculpture Today

The sheer diversity of 21st century plastic art has left us with only one defining characteristic: three dimensionality. Thus the current definition of sculpture is something like this:

"Sculpture is the only branch of the visual arts that is specifically concerned with expressive three-dimension form."

The History of Sculpture

Three-dimensional art begins with prehistoric sculpture. The earliest known works of the Stone Age are The Venus of Berekhat Ram and The Venus of Tan-Tan, both primitive effigies dating to 230,000 BCE or earlier. Thereafter, sculptors have been active in all ancient civilizations, and all major art movements up to the present. After Egyptian Sculpture, the principal Golden Ages in the evolution of sculpture have been: (1) Classical Antiquity (500-27 BCE); (2) The Gothic Era (c.1150-1300); (3) The Italian Renaissance (c.1400-1600); and (4) Baroque Sculpture (1600-1700). For a detailed chronology of the origins and development of 3-D art, see: History of Sculpture.

The Theory of Sculpture

Because of its three-dimensional nature and the fact it can be displayed in many more different types of location than (say) painting, there are a number of important concepts, and theoretical issues which govern the design and production of sculpture. Here is a brief sample.

Elements of Sculptural Design

The two principal elements of sculpture are mass and space. Mass refers to the sculpture's bulk, the solid bit contained within its surfaces. Space is the air around the solid sculpture, and reacts with the latter in several ways: first, it defines the edges of the sculpture; second, it can be enclosed by part of the sculpture, forming hollows or areas of emptiness; third, it can link separate parts of the sculpture which thus relate to one another across space.

Works of sculpture can be assessed and differentiated according to their treatment of these two elements. For instance, some sculptors focus on the solid component(s) of their sculpture, while others are more concerned with how it relates to the space in which it sits (eg. how it "moves through" space or how it encloses it). Compare Egyptian sculture with the works of Alexander Calder (1898-1976) and Naum Gabo (1890-1977) and you'll see what I mean.

Ernst Barlach (1870-1938)
Raymond Duchamp-Villon (1876-1918)
Anna Hyatt Huntington (1876-1973)
Umberto Boccioni (1882-1916)
Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968)
Jean Arp (1886-1966)
Sophie Taeuber-Arp (1889-1943)
Ossip Zadkine (1890-1967)
Naum Gabo (1890-1977)
Henri Gaudier-Brzeska (1891-1915)
Jacques Lipchitz (1891-1973)
Joan Miro (1893-1983)
Katarzyna Kobro (1898-1951)
Alexander Calder (1898-1976)
Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966)
Marino Marini (1901-80)
Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985)
Richmond Barthe (1901-1989)
Barbara Hepworth (1903-1975)
David Smith (1906-1965)
Seamus Murphy (1907-1975)
FE McWilliam (1909-1992)
Meret Oppenheim (1913-85)

Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010)
Cesar Baldaccini (1921-1998)
Pol Bury (1922-2005)
Nandor Glid (1924-97)
Eduardo Paolozzi (1924-2005)
Anthony Caro (1924-2013)
Jean Tinguely (1925-1991)
Duane Hanson (1925-96)
Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008)
Vassilakis Takis (b.1925)
Sol LeWitt (1928-2007)
Claes Oldenburg (b.1929)
Magdalena Abakanowicz (b.1930)
Jasper Johns (b.1930)
Niki de Saint-Phalle (1930-2002)
Edward Delaney (1930-2009)
Fernando Botero (b.1932)
Mark Di Suvero (b.1933)
Carl Andre (b.1935)
Walter de Maria (b.1935)
Richard Serra (b.1939)
Bruce Naumann (b.1941)
John De Andrea (b.1941)
Giuseppe Pen One (b.1947)
Anthony Gormley (b.1950)
Rowan Gillespie (b.1953)
Anish Kapoor (b.1954)
Jeff Koons (b.1955)
Damien Hirst (b.1965).

Another important element of (most) sculptures are their surfaces. These can produce quite different visual effects according to whether they are (eg) convex or concave, flat or modelled, coloured or uncoloured. For example, convex surfaces express contentment, satiety, internal pressure and general "fullness", while concave surfaces suggest external pressure, an inner insubstantiality and possible collapse. Then again, a flat surface carries no suggestion of three-dimensionality, while a modelled surface - one that contains light/shadow-catching ridges or hollows - can convey strong effects of 3-D forms emerging from or retreating into darkness, similar to a painter's use of chiaroscuro. Although most traces of pigment have now disappeared, a good deal of the sculpture produced in Antiquity (eg. Egyptian, Greek, Roman statues/reliefs) and Medieval times (eg. gothic cathedral scultures) was covered with paint or other colouring materials, including gold or silver leaf and other precious colourants. Alternatively, sculptors carved directly from precious coloured materials, like ivory, jade, and gold, or combinations thereof. Colour can obviously endow a surface with differing attributes of (inter alia) texture, proportion, depth and shape. An interesting use of colour by a modern sculptor can be seen in the Pop-Art work Ale Cans (1964, oil on bronze, Offentliche Kunstsammlung, Basel) by Jasper Johns (b.1930).

For a guide to the aesthetic principles behind Oriental sculpture in China, see: Traditional Chinese Art: Characteristics.

Principles of Sculptural Design

These regulate the approach of sculptors to such matters as orientation, proportion, scale, articulation and balance.

To create a sense of harmony (or disharmony) in the sculpture itself, or between parts of it, or between the sculpture and the viewer, or between the sculpture and its surroundings, the sculptor usually works to a particular spatial plan or scheme of reference. Such a plan, often based on a system of axes and planes, is essential to maintain linear proportion amongst other things. Thus for instance, the poses of human figures are typically calculated and created with reference to the four cardinal planes, namely: the the principle of axiality (eg. anatomical movement), the principle of frontality (predominant in the kouros standing figures of Greek Archaic sculpture), contrapposto - the dynamic pose in which one part of the body twists or turns away from another part, exemplified in works by Michelangelo (1475-1564) and Giambologna (1529-1608) - and the chiastic stance (the pose in which the weight of the body rests mainly on one leg, a typical characteristic of Greek figurative sculpture of the High Classical period).

For an guide to the aesthetic and
classification issues concerning
fine/plastic arts, see:
Art Definition, Meaning.

Definitions, forms, styles, genres,
periods, see: Types of Art.

How sculptors handle proportionality varies considerably. Some (eg. Egyptian sculptors) observed hierarchic non-naturalistic canons of proportion (eg. Gods the largest, Pharaohs next largest, citizens smallest etc). Other sculptors have followed more naturalistic but equally iconometric rules of proportion. By comparison, many tribal cultures employ systems which - for religious or cultural reasons - accord greater size to certain parts of the body (eg. the head). In addition, the specific siting of a sculpture may require a special approach to proportionality. For example, a human statue mounted on the top of a tall structure may require a larger upper body to balance the effects of foreshortening when viewed from ground level. (The great rococo painter Tiepolo was a master at counteracting this effect when creating his ceiling frescos).

This refers, for example, to the need to create a sculpture in tune with the scale of its surroundings. Walk around any major Gothic cathedral and observe the great variety in the scale of the sculptures which decorate the doorways, facades and other surfaces. In addition, certain groups of figures, illustrating Biblical scenes, may contain several different scales: the Virgin Mary and Jesus may be similar in size, while (eg) the Apostles may be smaller.

This describes how sculptural figures (and other forms) are jointed:, either how the differing parts of a body merge in a single form, or how separate sections come together. The realist French sculptor Auguste Rodin (1840-1917) created impressionist-style continuity in his figures, in contrast to the earlier Greek classical sculptors (eg. Polyklitus) and Renaissance sculptors who preferred distinct units of delinated form.

In freestanding figurative sculpture, balance involves two principal matters. First, the sculptural body must be physically stable - easy enough to achieve in a crawling or reclining figure, less easy in a standing statue, especially if leaning forwards or backwards. If naturally unstable, a base must be used. Second, from a compositional viewpoint, the statue must project a sense of dynamic or static equilibrium. Without such harmony, beauty is almost impossible to achieve.

The Best Way to Understand Sculpture

Are you baffled by all these weird concepts about the elements and principles of sculptural design theory? Don't worry, many art critics are, too. The best way to understand sculpture is to look at as much of it as you can, ideally in the flesh. If possible, visit your nearest public art museum and take a look at some copies of Greek or Renaissance sculpture. This should give you a good grasp of traditional-style works. In addition, if feasible, visit any exhibition which includes works by abstract sculptors like Umberto Boccioni (1882-1916), Jean Arp (1886-1966), Naum Gabo (1890-1977), Alexander Calder (1898-1976), Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966), Barbara Hepworth (1903-1975), Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010), Sol LeWitt (1928-2007), or Richard Serra (b.1939). Works of abstract sculpture by any of these modern artists should give you plenty to think about.


Almost any material capable of being shaped in three dimensions can be used in sculpting. But some materials like stone - especially hard limestone (marble) - wood, clay, metal (eg. bronze), ivory and plaster have exceptional "plastic" attributes and have therefore proved most popular to sculptors from prehistoric times onward. As a result, for most of its history, sculpture has been created using four basic methods: stone carving, wood carving, bronze casting and clay firing. A rare type was chryselephantine sculpture, reserved exclusively for major cult statues.

Stone Sculpture

Stone sculpture, probably the earliest form of monumental sculpture as well as the best medium for monumental works, was common to many eras of the Paleolithic Stone Age. Prototype works of prehistoric stone sculpture include the basaltic figurine known as The Venus of Berekhat Ram (c.230,000 BCE or earlier) and quartzite figurine known as The Venus of Tan-Tan (c.200,000 BCE or earlier). Since then, probably the largest body of stone sculpture was the series of column statues and reliefs produced for the great European Gothic cathedrals of Chartres, Notre Dame de Paris, Amiens, Reims, Cologne, among many others, during the period 1150-1300.

Stones from all three principal categories of rock formation have been sculpted, including igneous (eg. granite), sedimentary (eg. limestones and sandstones) and metamorphic (eg. marble). Pure white Italian Carrara marble was used in Roman art and in Italian Renaissance Sculpture by artists like Donatello and Michelangelo, while Greek artists preferred Pentelic marble to make the Parthenon sculptures. (See also: Marble Sculpture.) Irish sculpture in the late medieval era was principally confined to Celtic High Crosses, made from granite.

Supreme examples of marble sculpture are Venus de Milo (c.130-100 BCE) by Alexandros of Antioch; Laocoon and His Sons (c.42-20 BCE) by Hagesander, Athenodoros and Polydorus; Pieta (1497-99) and David by Michelangelo; The Ecstasy of St Teresa (1647) by the Baroque genius Bernini; Cupid and Psyche (1796-7) by the Neo-classicist Antonio Canova; and The Kiss (1889) by the French genius Auguste Rodin.

Jade Sculpture

The best-known form of hardstone sculpture, jade carving has been a speciality of Chinese master craftsmen ever since Neolithic times. Nephrite and Jadeite are the two most common types of jade stone, although bowenite (a form of serpentine) is also used. The Chinese attribute important qualities to jade, including purity, beauty, longevity, even immortality, and sculptors value jade stones for their lustre, translucent colours and shades.

Wood Sculpture

Wood carving is the oldest and most continuous type of sculpture. Especially convenient for small works, wood carving was widely practised during the Prehistoric age, and later during the era of Early Christian sculpture - see, for instance, the gilded oak carving known as the Gero Cross (965-70, Cologne Cathedral) - and had its Golden Age in the West, especially in Germany, during the era of late Medieval art: witness the exquisite religious limewood carvings of the German wood-carvers Veit Stoss (1445-1533) and Tilman Riemenschneider (1460-1531). Later, in the Baroque era, wood was often coated in plaster stucco and painted, in the manner of ancient Egyptian art. Great modern wood-sculptors include Henry Moore (1898-1986) known for his elmwood Reclining Figure (1936), and Barbara Hepworth (1903-75).

Bronze Sculpture

Sculpting in bronze is a complicated process which was developed independently in China, South America and Egypt. Bronze casting requires the modelling of a form in clay, plaster or wax, which is later removed after the molten bronze has been poured. The lost-wax method was a common technique during the Renaissance era. It was also a widely used technique in African sculpture from Benin and Yoruba.

Famous pieces include The Dancing Girl of Mohenjo-Daro (c.2,500 BCE), a masterpiece of early Indian sculpture from the Harappan Culture or Indus Valley Civilization in India, and the large hoard of bronze plaques and sculptures (made using piece-mold casting) with jade decoration found in the Yellow River Basin of Henan Province, Central China, dating from the Xia Realm and later Shang Dynasty Period (from c.1,750 BCE).

Later bronze masterpieces include the Gates of Paradise, by Lorenzo Ghiberti (1378-1455), David by Donatello (1386-1466), and by Michelangelo, Rape of the Sabines (c.1583) by Giambologna, The Burghers of Calais (1884-9) and the Gates of Hell (1880-1917) by Auguste Rodin, Unique Forms of Continuity in Space (1913) by Umberto Boccioni (1882-1916), Bird in Space (1923) by the Romanian abstract sculptor Constantin Brancusi (1876-1957), Woman with her Throat Cut (1932) and Walking Man I (1960) by Alberto Giacometti (1901-66), and The Destroyed City (1953) by Ossip Zadkine (1890-1967).

Clay Sculpture

Sculpting in clay dates from the Paleolithic era of the Stone Age. Known (when fired) as terracotta sculpture, it is the most plastic of all sculpting methods, versatile, light, inexpensive and durable. Although clay mainly used for preliminary models, later cast in bronze or carved in stone, it has also been used to produce full-scale sculpture. The earliest known clay sculpture is the Venus of Dolni Vestonice (c.26,000 - 24,000 BCE), a ceramic figurine dating to the Gravettian Period, discovered in the Czech Republic. Another Paleolithic masterpiece is the Tuc d'Audoubert Bison of the Magdalenian period (c.13,500 BCE), an unfired relief of two bison, found in the Tuc d'Audoubert Cave, Ariege, France. A third prehistoric masterpiece is the Thinker of Cernavoda (c.5,000 BCE), the iconic terracotta figurine created during the mesolithic Hamangia Culture in Romania.

However, the most famous example of clay sculpture must be the Chinese Qin Dynasty Terracotta Army (the 'Terracotta Warriors'), a collection of 8,000 clay warriors and horses unearthed in 1974 in Shaanxi province, China. Dating to 246-208 BCE, each of the 8,000 clay soldiers is unique, with a different facial expression and hairstyle.


Other Sculptural Materials

Other traditional materials employed to create sculptures include ivory and whalebone, as well as precious metals.

The earliest known examples of ivory/bone sculpture include: the celebrated mammoth ivory carvings of prehistoric animals, birds, and therianthropic figures (c.33,000-30,000 BCE) discovered in the Vogelherd caves of the Swabian Jura, Germany; the Venus of Kostenky (c.22,000 BCE), a mammoth ivory carving of a female figure, found in Russia; and the Lion Man of Hohlenstein-Stadel (c.38,000 BCE) a mammoth ivory statuette found in the Swabian Jura.

Famous works made from precious stones include the Mesopotamian sculpture known as the Ram in a Thicket (c.2500 BCE), a small statue made from gold-leaf, copper, lapis lazuli, and red limestone, dicovered in the Great Death Pit, Ur; and the Maikop Gold Bull (c.2,500 BCE), a gold sculpture (made using the lost-wax casting method) from the Maikop Culpture of the North Caucasus, Russia.

Modern Materials Used in 20th Century Sculpture

Materials employed by 20th century sculptors include secondary materials such as concrete, as well as an endless list of modern materials such as stainless steel, fibreglass, aluminium, foam rubber, papier mache, bicycle-parts, plastics, stained glass, "found" items, and so on. For more about certain types of postmodernist plastic art, see: Ice sculpture and also Sand art.

Notable 20th century sculptures made from non-traditional materials include:

Merzbau (Merz building) (1923) made from paper scraps, multi-media.
By Kurt Schwitters (1887-1948)

Lobster Telephone (1936) made from plastic, painted plaster, mixed media.
• Mae West Lips Sofa (1937) made from wood & satin.
Both by the Surrealist artist Salvador Dali (1904-89)

Object ("Furry Breakfast") (1936) Fur-covered cup, saucer & spoon.
By the Dadaist/Surrealist sculptor Meret Oppenheim (1913-85)

Young Shopper (1973) made from polyester and fibreglass.
By the Superrealist American sculptor Duane Hanson (1925-96)

Floor Burger (1962) made from canvas, foam-rubber and cardboard
By the American Pop-artist Claes Oldenburg (b.1929)

Berlin Junction (1987) made from steel
By the monumental contemporary sculptor Richard Serra (b.1939)

Puppy (1992) made from flowering plants, steel, wood, and earth.
By the contemporary Neo-expressionist artist Jeff Koons (b.1955)

Maman (1999) (spider) made from steel and marble.
By the "contemporary Surrealist" Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010)

For the Love of God (2007) made from human skull, platinum and diamonds.
By the postmodernist sculptor and artist Damien Hirst (b.1965)

Types of Sculpture

The basic traditional forms of this 3-D art are: free-standing sculpture, which is surrounded on all sides by space; and relief sculpture (encompassing bas-relief, alto-relievo or haut relief, and sunken-relief), where the design remains attached to a background, typically stone or wood. Examples of relief work can be seen in megalithic art such as the complex spiral engravings found at Newgrange (Ireland), on Trajan's Column in Rome, the Temple of Zeus at Olympia, and the Parthenon. Gothic architectural reliefs appear on all major European Cathedrals of the period: witness the Saints on the south trancept of Chartres cathedral, and the apostles on the north trancept of Rheims cathedral.

It can also be classified by its subject matter. A statue, for instance, like the two versions of David by Donatello and Michelangelo, is usually a representational full length 3-D portrait of a person, while a bust usually depicts only the head, neck and shoulders - see the bust of George Washington (1788) by Jean-Antoine Houdon (1741-1828). A statue of a person on horseback, such as the one by Giambologna (1529-1608) of Cosimo de' Medici in Florence, is termed an equestrian sculpture. Perhaps the greatest ever equestrian statue is Falconet's Baroque-style Bronze Horseman in Decembrist Square, St Petersburg: a monument to Tsar Peter the Great and a masterpiece of Russian sculpture, albeit created by a Frenchman.

Sculpture as Public Art

A sculpture's vivid physical presence makes it an ideal form of public art: supreme examples in Western culture being the monumental megaliths at Stonehenge, the classical sculptures of the Parthenon in Athens, the Celtic High Crosses of Ireland, and the 12th/13th century Gothic column statues and reliefs in the cathedrals of Northern France and Germany.

Religious wood-carving was taken to new heights during the Northern Renaissance by master carvers like: Tilman Riemenschneider and Veit Stoss, known for their intricate wooden altarwork and figurines, while the Baroque Counter-Reformation stimulated supreme examples of Catholic Christian art in the form of bronze and marble sculptures by (inter alia) Gianlorenzo Bernini (1598-1680), known for the Cornaro Chapel series (1645-52) including The Ecstasy of St Teresa.

Modern secular public art features famous sculptures like the Statue of Liberty, the Chicago Picasso - a series of metal figures produced for the Chicago Civic Centre and the architectural sculpture The Spire of Dublin, known as the 'spike', created by Ian Ritchie (b.1947). Contemporary public sculpture continues to challenge traditional concepts of 3-D art through its new spatial concepts and its use of everyday materials assembled or created in numerous installation-type and fixed forms of sculpture.

Modern versus Postmodern Sculpture

Since the 1960s, so-called modern art has been replaced by contemporary art or postmodernism. Unlike the earlier modernists, today's postmodernist sculptors (eg. Pop artists like Claes Oldenburg, Robert Indiana and Neo-Pop artist Jeff Koons), feel free to use a wider variety of materials, images and methods of display. Styles tend to be more localized, as today's tendency among contemporary art movements is to distrust the grand ideas and internationalism of the modern art movements of the late 19th century and early-mid 20th century.

More Information

For important periods/movements, see: Medieval Sculpture (c.400-1000);
Romanesque Sculpture (c.1000-1200); Gothic Sculpture (c.1150-1280);
English Gothic Sculpture; German Gothic Sculpture;
Renaissance Sculptors (1400-1600); Baroque Sculpture (1600-1700);
Neoclassical Sculpture (c.1750-1850); 19th Century Sculptors (1800-1900).

• For more information about the plastic arts, including works cast in bronze, carved in wood or ivory, or created out of marble, terracotta, ceramic clay, or stone, see: Visual Arts Encyclopedia.

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