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ARTAges- History of Sculpture

Sculpture, like other arts, is a record of human experience. From earliest times to our own day, sculpture records experiences that range from wars and worship to the simplest joys of seeing and touching suspended shapes designed to move in the wind. In sculpture there is everything from the marble gods of Phidias to the mobiles by Alexander Calder. People everywhere have found the need for sculpture, whether it be in work, in play, or in prayer. Sculpture also records the desire to commemorate the deeds of nations and of individuals.



Tradition in Sculpture
Each period in art is a link in the golden chain of creative a achievement. If sculptors use historical examples and techniques to sharpen their vision, to deepen their insight, and to solve their problems, they use tradition creatively.

Lighting and Point of View
While working on a statue, the sculptor relies on proper light to study the planes by which masses turn from the light into the shade, creating the sense of solidity and third dimension. Only by light properly cast can he study shape, texture, and character.

The sculptor strives to show his finished work in the same light by which he worked originally. A light cast too weakly or too strongly from a source too high or too low can undo the effort of the sculptor and destroy the effectiveness of his creation.

Materials and Processes
To fashion sculpture man had to learn to use certain materials and to develop appropriate tools and processes. Carving is the process of reducing substances such as stone, wood, or ivory to a desired shape by cutting or chipping away unnecessary parts. The earliest carvings were probably nothing more than figures scratched into the flat surface of a rock. As time went on primitive sculptors discovered that by cutting away the background surrounding the figure, the animal or other figure appeared more real. This was the beginning of relief sculpture. Sculpture in which the figures extend from the background less than half of their natural volume is called low relief. That which extends beyond this point is called high relief, and sculpture that stands completely away from its background is said to be in full round.

Types of Casting
Casting is the process by which a piece of sculpture is reproduced through the use of a mold. A plaster mold consisting of two or more tightly fitting parts is made over or around the original clay model. When it is hard, the mold is removed, cleaned, oiled on the inside, and reassembled. Through an opening left for the purpose a creamy mixture of plaster and water is poured into the mold, and the mold is gently rolled so that the plaster is distributed evenly over the inner surface. The excess is poured out and the process is repeated until the desired thickness is achieved. When it is dry, this newly formed plaster shell is freed by chipping away the outer mold. The result is a perfect replica of the original model. Because the original clay model and the mold are both destroyed in the process, this is known as a waste mold.

The plaster cast can now be given a desired surface quality by paint or shellac or can be used as a model for further casting in more durable materials such as bronze and other metals, terra cotta, and cement. More complex molds, which permit more than one replica to be produced, must be used for this purpose. Thus it differs from the waste mold.

The casting of metals requires special skill and great care. Bronze has proved to be the most versatile metal for casting. The two principal methods are the sand mold process and the lost-wax (cire-perdue in French) process. The first uses a specially prepared sand mold, the second a silica mold.

Each mold has an inside core, built so as to leave a thin space between itself and the outer mold. The outer contour of this space bears the exact contour of the original cast from which the mold was made. When hot liquid bronze is poured into this space it takes the shape of the original plaster, thus resulting in a perfect reproduction. The space in the silica mold is filled with wax until it is melted out by the hot bronze, hence the name lost-wax process. This is the process made famous by Benvenuto Cellini and so skillfully practiced by many ancient peoples, especially the Chinese.

Patina is the term used for the surface color and quality of bronze and other materials. Without waiting for time, use, and atmospheric conditions to give a lovely surface to sculpture, artists use acids, heat, and other devices to achieve immediate effects of mellowness, age, and subtle color.

And now, having indicated an approach to the understanding of sculpture, we will undertake a brief survey of its history.



Sculpture Among Early Peoples
The earliest club wielded by the caveman was no great work of art, but it was sculpture of a kind. The gods that early peoples created out of their fear required a form as tangible as the club, though more complex. The earliest worshipers could not cope with abstract ideas of their gods. They had to see, touch, sacrifice to, and sometimes punish them.

In Polynesia and Peru, in southern France, New Zealand, Africa, and Mexico we find evidence that sculpture entered into every aspect of primitive life. Many of these early objects--whether intended for use or decoration--are fascinating in their strangeness and beautiful in their design. Modern artists, seeking new and vital forms of expression, have found a rich fountain of inspiration in these crude but serious efforts of early humans.

In the Americas sculpture thrived long before the arrival of Columbus. The Tarascans and Aztecs of ancient Mexico and the highly gifted Mayas of Central America rank high in pre-Columbian sculpture.

Among the most interesting finds in pre-Columbian sculpture are the archaeological remains near the town of Tula, Mexico--the ancient capital of the Toltecs. Among the structures were a palace complex, temple pyramids, a civic center, and a platform altar. Distinctively carved columns supported part of the main temple. Typical of these are the two sculptures pictured: warriors 15 feet tall and decorated with what may be ceremonial ornaments and dress of their time.

The Art of Egypt
As far back as 5,000 years ago Egypt had introduced a style that, with surprisingly little change, continued for almost 3,000 years. Rules for the making of statues were rigidly prescribed, as were social and religious customs. Religion was the dominant force in life on Earth and it required certain preparations for the life beyond. Sculpture was entirely associated with the needs of religion and the gods or with the earthly rulers who were regarded as their representatives (see Egypt, Ancient).
To symbolize the godlike role of the kings, they were represented as half human, half animal. The great Sphinx at Gizeh is the best-known example. To express their power and eternal life they were carved in the hardest stone and in colossal proportions. The statues of Rameses II at Abu Simbel are examples.

Woman Griding Grain
24th Century B.C. Egypt
Painted Limestone


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Mesopotamia and Its Art
More than 4,000 years ago the valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers began to teem with life--first the Sumerian, then the Babylonian, Assyrian, Chaldean, and Persian empires. Here too excavations have unearthed evidence of great skill and artistry. From Sumeria have come examples of fine works in marble, diorite, hammered gold, and lapis lazuli. Of the many portraits produced in this area, some of the best are those of Gudea, ruler of Lagash.

Babylonian and Assyrian sculpture is impressive in its vitality, massiveness, and rich imagination. Huge fanciful lions or winged bulls with human heads stood guard at palace entrances. Inside, the walls were carved with scenes of royal hunting parties, battles, and festivities. In Persia too, especially at Persepolis, fine sculpture was produced.

The Glorious Sculpture of Greece
The glory of Greece was its sculpture. The roots of Greek sculpture reach into the earlier cultures of Crete, Mycenae, and even Egypt. The figures of the 7th and 6th centuries BC lack life and movement; their faces wear the frozen smile peculiar to archaic sculpture. Even so, these early craftsmen, whose names are lost with the temples they decorated, show sensitivity to the qualities of marble and a superb sense of design. As if to make up for the lack of life in their statues, archaic sculptors sought naturalism by painting them.
Greek sculpture rose to its highest achievement in the 5th century BC, when the spirit of Greece itself was at its height. ( see Greek art for examples )

From the Romans to the Renaissance
The Romans lacked the intellectual and aesthetic sensibilities of the Greeks. Their strength lay in military prowess, engineering, road building, and lawmaking. Their emperors required realistic portraits and triumphal arches to impress their own people and the subjugated nations of their far-flung empire.
The triumphal arches of the Emperors Titus and Constantine, adorned with scenes of victory and battle, have inspired similar efforts in Europe and America, from the Arc de Triomphe, in Paris, to the Memorial Arch of Valley Forge.

By the 2nd century AD, however, Rome and sculpture both had lost their vigor. As collectors, copyists, and imitators of Greek sculpture, however, the Romans handed on to later generations the partial fruits of Greek labor. ( see Roman art for examples )

Christianity and a New Art
In the 4th century the Roman Empire accepted Christianity as its religion. This meant a new kind of art. Sculpture, like painting, music, and philosophy, turned for inspiration to the church, and the church, faced with the need of interpreting the new religion for great masses of people, used the arts to good advantage. The vast majority of people could not read, and sculpture and painting became their books--as stained glass windows would a few centuries later.

Art was austere, symbolic, and otherworldly from about the 8th to the 1 2th century, the middle period of the Middle Ages. It was decidedly abstract, not realistic. Religious in subject matter, sculpture was closely related to church architecture.

The Renaissance in Italy
The term Renaissance, meaning "rebirth," is used to describe the vigorous cultural activity of 14th- and 15th-century Italy and the revival of classical learning. Following Italy's lead, France and northern Europe also turned their interests from the rewards of heaven to the opportunities of their own world. In doing so they found themselves akin in spirit to the Romans and Greeks before them. In their new love of life and search for knowledge they reached back a thousand years for every shred of instruction and inspiration. The Italians needed only to dig into the ground beneath them to find examples of the splendid sculpture of Rome.

Michelangelo 1475-1564, Italy
Pieta, Detail of the Face of the Madonna


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The Baroque in Sculpture
Michelangelo had shown the way to express robust power with technical excellence. In his day these attributes of art were urgently desired by both church and state--the church to bolster its prestige in the face of Protestant successes, and the state to glorify its rising power. This trend carried over into the 17th century, when the zeal that built St. Peter's in Rome expressed itself in a renewed vigor wherever Roman Catholicism prevailed.

The leader of the baroque movement was Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680), architect as well as sculptor. The series of 162 figures that surmounts his imposing colonnade in front of St. Peter's in Rome is only a part of the tremendous amount of work he did for the church. His fountains of Rome, including the 'Fountain of the Four Rivers', gave the Eternal City a new and lasting splendor. Typical of Bernini's style is his 'St. Teresa', where the overactive drapery and theatrical setting are designed to show off skill rather than to convey meaning.

Sculpture in France
The Renaissance in France began about the time of Francis I (1494-1547). To his court were invited many Italian artists and architects, among them Benvenuto Cellini and Leonardo da Vinci. A little later, as the power of Italy waned and that of France rose, the ideas transplanted to the new country took deep root and blossomed into new life.

Neoclassicism in Sculpture
For all the interest in classical antiquity during and after the Renaissance there had been no systematic study of classical remains until the brilliant and inspired work of the German archaeologist Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1717-68). His published writings on Herculaneum and Pompeii led to a new, impassioned interest in the ancient art of Greece and Rome. Artists now resolved to revive classical purity by adhering strictly to the style of original examples.

This movement, known as neoclassicism, began in the latter half of the 18th century and continued into the early 19th, when it gained political support through Napoleon's interest in Greek ideology. The leading exponent of this style in Italy was Antonio Canova (1757-1822). However correct in principle, his work remains cold in feeling, just as were the works of his followers in England, Germany, and Denmark.

The 19th Century
The formality and coldness of neoclassicism came as a reaction against the theatrical baroque and against the florid rococo, which flourished in 18th-century France. Moreover, the political atmosphere in which the new art operated was sympathetic to the reverence for the ancients. Napoleon saw himself as another Caesar. His minister of art, Jacques-Louis David, caused even furniture and dress to be designed in classical lines. Gradually, however, artists returned to the life about them. François Rude (1784-1855) broke through classical restraint to create one of the world's most stirring relief compositions--the 'Marseillaise' on the Arc de Triomphe, in Paris. Rude's pupil Jean Baptiste Carpeaux (1827-75) carried on the active, emotional themes.

Auguste Rodin, France, 1840-1917
Jeune Fille au chapeau fleuri des roses (Young woman with flower hat with roses)
Terra Cotta, approx. 1871


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Sculpture in the United States
The first American sculptor of significance was the Philadelphian William Rush (1756-1833), who worked in wood. He left a fine full-size carving of George Washington as well as a vigorous self-portrait. His younger contemporaries, however, were studiously copying European examples of the neoclassical school in Italy. Horatio Greenough (1805-52) made an imposing figure of Washington in which he looks more like a half-dressed Roman emperor than the father of his country. Thomas Crawford (1814-57) decorated the Capitol in Washington, D.C. The statue of 'Armed Liberty' surmounting the dome and the bronze doors are among his best works.

Other noteworthy American sculptors;
Henry Kirke Brown (1814-86), John Quincy Adams Ward (1830-1910), Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848-1907), Daniel Chester French (1850-1931), Frederick MacMonnies (1863-1937), George Grey Barnard (1863-1938), Paul Wayland Bartlett (1865-1925), Frederic Remington (1861-1909), Gutzon Borglum (1867-1941).

Asian Sculpture
Reports of the splendor of Asian art were brought to Europe by Marco Polo. By the 18th century Europeans not only possessed original ceramics, enamels, and furniture from the East but were adapting Asian designs and skills in their own products. Chinese Chippendale furniture and chinaware are examples. The art of Japan was brought into prominence in the mid-19th century in Paris by the Goncourt brothers, and it was Auguste Rodin who first gave public recognition to the sculpture of India. In the latter part of the 19th century, when artists were seeking inspiration for a newer, fresher art, these sources, together with those of Africa and Muslim countries, provided them with rich material.

Sculpture in India was centered on the worship of Buddha and the three gods who form the trinity of Hinduism--Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. Although Siddhartha Gotama, the Buddha, lived in the 6th century BC, it was not until the 1st century AD that the familiar statues of him appeared. The Gupta period, lasting from the 4th to the 6th century AD, produced some of the finest examples of Buddhist sculpture. For the first 700 years of the Christian Era, the Gandhara region, now in modern Pakistan and Afghanistan, produced many examples of Greco-Buddhist sculpture. The Hellenistic influence was introduced following the conquest of north India by Alexander the Great. To Shiva are dedicated the monumental rock-hewn temples of the period from the 5th to the 8th century. The equally majestic sun temples to Vishnu date from the 11th to the 13th century.

The Chinese were master craftsmen and produced fine sculpture, especially in bronze. Although bronze casting existed a thousand years earlier, it was in the Chou period (1122-221 BC) that China developed the art to its peak.

From an article by Jack Bookbinder, former Director of Art Education, Philadelphia Public Schools and by Christopher Lyon, Editor, Department of Public Information, The Museum of Modern Art, New York.



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This epic sculpture features the faces of four exalted American presidents: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln. These 60-foot high faces are 500 feet up.

Sculptor Gutzon Borglum began grilling into the 5,725-foot mountain in 1927. Creation took 14 years and cost a mere $1 million.


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  • rushmore
Last edited by Inda
Wonderful thread dear Indra! he he.. Tongue

The picture at the top of this page (mermaid) has me wanting to swim around Coopenhagen (splleing?) Hula kiss2

OK OK Back on topic! Spam Wiggum

My father, Ted Vincent has been doing "Black Indian Mexico" research for perhaps a decade now, and he took some great pictures when studying in Mexico. His web site (done by an expert websitist) is These images are from the gallery:

The Olmec civilization was centered in towns in Veracruz and Tabasco and thrived from around 1200 b.c. to around 500 b.c. Aspects of Olmec life have been found throughout Southern Mexico. Called, the "cultural mother" of Mexican civilization, the Olmecs apparently had connections with Africans, and quite possibly with Asians, the Chinese of those times being Ocean travellers. The African ties, reflected in the giant stone heads, were a natural development of strong Atlantic Ocean currents that swept from West Africa into the Caribbean Sea.

Foot high statue from the Yucatan was tentatively dated from around 800 a.d. If this is accurate, it shows an African presence that was long after the Olmecs, and yet before the arrival of the Spaniards.

Have the heart of a gypsy, and the dedication of a soldier -Beethoven in Beethoven Lives Upstairs

Last edited by Teo
Beautiful sculptures!

Dear Teo, I visited the site of your father and I am amazed at the vast research he has done. My compliments!

Today we have been in one of the many beautiful churches around the famous Piazza Navona ... I found the statue of St. Agnese of Agona very beautiful, dated 1661. Will see if I can find it ... no could not find it!

Well then, being in Piazza Navona, I will share some pictures of the statues which represent the four rivers of the omonimous fountain ...

The Danube Statue

The Ganges Statue

Bernini's Four Rivers Fountain

Sharing my Saturday afternoon promenade ...
Love to all of you my sweet friends.
Margherita dpm Eek
Thank you Teo for sharing your Dad's work. This looks all very interesting.

Dear Margherita, the sculpture in the Piazza Navona is magnificent. Thank you for posting the images.

Thank you Vicky. I have passed that Henry Moore many times.

I thought we should not forget Rodin's well known sculpture


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  • rodin
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Degas - "The Little Dancer of Fourteen Years," 1879-81, cast 1921
Bronze with gauze tutu and silk ribbon, 38-1/2 x 14-1/2 x 14-1/4 inches
Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts

Dear All, on Saturday we have visited the Degas exhibition in Rome, with a very well prepared guide and it was highly interesting indeed.

The above Sculpture is considered of special value as it is Degas' attempt to combine different material. Bronze combined with gauze and silk.

What I did not know is that Degas prepared countless sculptures in wax which after his death were made in bronze, like these:

He used them to study the movements in every detail and different position before painting his dancers on the canvas.

There were of course quite a few beautiful paintings.
He was part of the Impressionist group, but he was the less impressionist of all. Nonetheless he participated to all the impressionist exhibitions.

Love and Joy.
Margherita Smile
This box belonged to Maria Maddalena of
Austria. The little dog carved in ivory and placed on the cover is a King Charles spaniel, a breed much loved by the Stuart king Charles II. The statuette, which honors a dog that belonged to Maria Maddalena, was a present from her husband; it passed into the collection of Ferdinand II and was later kept at the Uffizi, from where it was transferred to the Pitti Palace, during the second half of the 18th century.

Ivory dog on a ebony box. Height 2 1/2 inches, length 7 inches, box 10 by 6 inches. Florence, Museo degli Argenti


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