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sculpture, art of producing in three dimensions representations of natural or imagined forms. It includes sculpture in the round, which can be viewed from any direction, as well as incised relief, in which the lines are cut into a flat surface.
See also articles on special techniques, e.g., model and modeling.
Techniques and Materials
Sculpture embraces such varied techniques as modeling, carving, casting, and construction—techniques that materially condition the character of the work. Whereas modeling permits addition as well as subtraction of the material and is highly flexible, carving is strictly limited by the original block from which material must be subtracted. Carvers, therefore, have sometimes had recourse to construction in which separate pieces of the same or different material are mechanically joined together. Casting is a reproduction technique that duplicates the form of an original whether modeled, carved, or constructed, but it also makes possible certain effects that are impractical in the other techniques. Top-heavy works that would require external support in clay or stone can stand alone in the lighter-weight medium of hollow cast metal.
The principal sculptural techniques have undergone little change throughout the ages. Hand modeling in wax (see wax figures), papier-mâché, or clay remains unaltered, although the firing of the clay from simple terra-cotta to elaborately glazed ceramics has varied greatly. Carving has for centuries made use of such varied materials as stone, wood, bone, and, more recently, plastics, and carvers have long employed many types of hammers, chisels, drills, gauges, and saws. For carrying out monumental works from small studies, various mechanical means have been developed for approximating the proportions of the original study.
Bronze casting is also a technique of extreme antiquity (see bronze sculpture). The Greeks and Chinese mastered the cire perdue (lost-wax) process, which was revived in the Renaissance and widely practiced until modern times. Little Greek sculpture in bronze has survived, apparently because the metal was later melted down for other purposes, but the material itself resists exposure better than stone and was preferred by the Greeks for their extensive art of public sculpture. Metal may also be cast in solid, hammered, carved, or incised forms. The mobile is a construction that moves and is intended to be seen in motion. Mobiles utilize a wide variety of materials and techniques (see also stabile). Contemporary practice emphasizes the beauty of materials and the expression of their nature in the work.
Sculpture has been a means of human expression since prehistoric times. The ancient cultures of Egypt and Mesopotamia produced an enormous number of sculptural masterworks, frequently monolithic, that had ritual significance beyond aesthetic considerations (see Egyptian art; Assyrian art; Sumerian and Babylonian art; Hittite art and architecture; Phoenician art). The sculptors of the ancient Americas developed superb, sophisticated techniques and styles to enhance their works, which were also symbolic in nature (see pre-Columbian art and architecture; North American Native art). In Asia sculpture has been a highly developed art form since antiquity (see Chinese art; Japanese art; Indian art and architecture).
The freestanding and relief sculpture of the ancient Greeks developed from the rigidity of archaic forms. It became, during the classical and Hellenistic eras, the representation of the intellectual idealization of its principal subject, the human form. The concept was so magnificently realized by means of naturalistic handling as to become the inspiration for centuries of European art. Roman sculpture borrowed and copied wholesale from the Greek in style and techniques, but it made an important original contribution in its extensive art of portraiture, forsaking the Greek ideal by particularizing the individual (see Greek art; Etruscan art; Roman art).
Western Sculpture from the Middle Ages to the Seventeenth Century
In Europe the great religious architectural sculptures of the Romanesque and Gothic periods form integral parts of the church buildings, and often a single cathedral incorporates thousands of figural and narrative carvings. Outstanding among the Romanesque sculptural programs of the cathedrals and churches of Europe are those at Vézelay, Moissac, and Autun (France); Hildesheim (Germany); and Santiago de Compostela (Spain). Remarkable sculptures of the Gothic era are to be found at Chartres and Reims (France); Bamberg and Cologne (Germany). Most of this art is anonymous, but as early as the 13th cent. the individual sculptor gained prominence in Italy with Nicola and Giovanni Pisano.
The late medieval sculptors preceded a long line of famous Italian Renaissance sculptors from Della Quercia to Giovanni da Bologna. The center of the art was Florence, where the great masters found abundant public, ecclesiastical, and private patronage. The city was enriched by the masterpieces of Ghiberti, Donatello, the Della Robbia family, the Pollaiuolo brothers, Cellini, and Michelangelo. The northern Renaissance also produced important masters who were well known individually, such as the German Peter Vischer the elder, the Flemish Claus Sluter, and Pilon and Goujon in France.
In France a courtly and secular art flourished under royal patronage during the 16th and 17th cent. In Italy the essence of the high baroque was expressed in the dynamism, technical perfection, originality, and unparalleled brilliance of the works of the sculptor-architect Bernini. The sculpture of Puget in France was more consistently Baroque in style and theme than that of his contemporaries Girardon and the Coustous.
The 18th cent. modified the dramatic and grandiose style of the baroque to produce the more intimate art of Clodion and Houdon, and it also saw the birth of neoclassicism in the work of Canova. This derivative style flourished well into the 19th cent. in the work of Thorvaldsen and his followers, but concurrent with the neoclassicists, and then superseding them, came a long and distinguished line of French realist sculptors from Rude to Rodin.
Rodin's innovations in expressive techniques helped many 20th-century sculptors to free their work from the extreme realism of the preceding period and also from the long domination of the Greek ideal. In the work of Aristide Maillol, that ideal predominates. The influence of other traditions, such as those of African sculpture and Aztec sculpture (in both of which a more direct expression of materials, textures, and techniques is found), has contributed to this liberation (see African art).
Among the gifted 20th-century sculptors who have explored different and highly original applications of the art are sculptors working internationally, including Pablo Picasso, Constantin Brancusi, Jacques Lipschitz, Naum Gabo, Antoine Pevsner, Ossip Zadkine, Alberto Giacometti, and Ivan Mĕstrović. Important contributions have also been made by the sculptors Jacob Epstein, Henry Moore, and Barbara Hepworth (English); Aristide Maillol, Charles Despiau, and Jean Arp (French); Ernst Barlach, Wilhelm Lehmbruck, and Georg Kolbe (German); Julio González (Spanish); Giacomo Manzù and Marino Marini (Italian); and Alexander Calder, William Zorach, David Smith, Richard Lippold, Eva Hesse, and Louise Nevelson (American).
An element of much modern sculpture is movement. In kinetic works the sculptures are so balanced as to move when touched by the viewer; others are driven by machine. Large moving and stationary works in metal are frequently manufactured and assembled by machinists in factories according to the sculptor's design specifications.
See Sir Herbert Read, A Concise History of Modern Sculpture (1964); G. Bazin, The History of World Sculpture (tr. 1968); A. M. Hammacher, The Evolution of Modern Sculpture (1969); W. Tucker, The Language of Sculpture (1985); B. Ceysson, ed., Sculpture: The Great Tradition of Sculpture from the 15th to the 18th Century (1987).
a form of art based on the three-dimensional representation of an object. Sculptors most frequently represent the human figure. Less common subjects are animals and, especially, nature (landscape) and inanimate objects (still lifes). A sculptor’s principal means of expression include the arrangement of a figure in space; the unification of movement, pose, and gesture; and the representation of light and shade to convey depth. Equally important are the architectonic organization of volume, the visual relationship of mass and weight, the selection of proportions, and the character of the silhouette. Sculptural form is constructed in real space in accordance with the laws of harmony, rhythm, balance, and interaction with the surrounding architectural or natural environment. It is also based on the anatomic or structural characteristics of some model observed in nature.
Two basic types of sculpture are distinguished: sculpture in the round, which stands freely in space, and sculpture in relief, in which the representation is arranged on a flat surface that forms the background. Sculpture in the round, which usually requires viewing from all sides, includes the life-size statue, the sculptural group (two or several figures forming a single sculpture), the statuette (a figure significantly smaller than life-size), the torso (representation of the human trunk), and the bust (representation of a person from the chest up). Various types of relief are distinguished according to its purpose and position on a flat architectural surface (for example, the frieze, pedimental composition, and plafond). Reliefs are distinguished according to height and depth as being low reliefs, high reliefs, intaglios, and sunk reliefs.
According to its content and functions, sculpture is divided into monumental decorative, freestanding, and minor sculpture. Although these three types develop in close interaction, each has its own distinguishing features. Monumental decorative sculpture is designed for an architectural complex or a natural environment. It is markedly public in nature, addressing itself to a great many viewers. Such sculpture is found mostly in public areas—along streets, in squares and parks, and on the facades and in the interiors of public buildings. Monumental decorative sculpture is called upon to give expression to the architectural image and to add new nuances to the expressiveness of architectural forms. The ability to accomplish large ideological and figurative tasks with particular completeness is most characteristic of city monuments and memorial structures, in which stateliness of form and durability of material are integrated with animation and broad generalization.
Freestanding sculpture, not directly correlated with architecture, is of a more intimate nature. Its usual surroundings are exhibition and museum halls and the interiors of houses, that is. places where it can be examined closely. Because it is designed for such surroundings, it tends to be characterized by a certain style, size, and subject (portraits, genre pieces, nudes, animal figurines). An interest in the inner world of man, subtle psychologism, and the ability to tell a story are more characteristic of freestanding sculpture than they are of monumental decorative sculpture.
Minor sculpture includes a wide range of works designed primarily for the interiors of houses and is similar in many ways to decorative applied art. Coins, medals, and cameos belong to this type of sculpture.
The purpose and content of a work of sculpture determine its plastic structure, which in turn influences the choice of material. The technique for creating a sculpture depends largely on the natural properties of the material. Soft substances, such as clay, wax, and Plasticine, are modeled; the most common modeling tools are wire loops and steccas. Hard materials, for example, various kinds of stone and wood, are carved. Unwanted material is removed from a block of hard material, thereby gradually freeing a volumetric form seemingly concealed in the block. A mallet and a set of metal tools (chisel, pitching and corner chisels, among others) are used to work a block of stone, whereas the primary tools for working wood are profiled chisels and drills. Substances capable of changing from a liquid to a solid (various metals, plaster of paris, concrete, plastic) are used to cast works of sculpture in specially prepared molds. For the reproduction of sculpture in metal, electroplating may be used. In the nonmolten form, metal is worked by forging and coining, The creation of ceramic clay sculpture makes use of special clays, which are usually covered with paint or colored glaze and baked in special ovens. Painted sculpture was characteristic in the ancient, medieval, Renaissance, and baroque periods. Nineteenth- and 20th-century sculptors as a rule have been satisfied with the natural color of the material, resorting when necessary only to monochrome overpainting. The 1950’s and 1960’s, however, saw an awakening of interest in polychromatic sculpture.
The process of creating a sculptural work involves a series of stages. The first step is the modeling of sketches and studies out of Plasticine or clay. An armature (iron rods, wire, nails, wood) is then made for sculpture in the round, and a model of the desired size is shaped on a revolving stand. To make a relief a vertically secured panel (wood) is set up, and the model is arranged on it. Clay models are subsequently transformed into plaster of paris models by means of a waste or piece mold. These models are then reproduced in hard materials (stone or wood) with a pointing machine. For working or casting metal the appropriate technique is used, with subsequent coining. The final step is often patinating or painting the sculpture. Some marble and wood sculptures are made without preliminary modeling of a clay original; this direct technique requires exceptional skill.
The origin of sculpture dates back to the primitive era, at which time it was directly linked with man’s work and magic rituals. Paleolithic archaeological sites discovered in many countries—for example, Montespan in France, Willendorf in Austria, and Mal’ta and Buret’ in the Soviet Union—have yielded various animal sculptures and female figurines. The latter represented family matriarchs and included the Paleolithic Venus figures. In the Neolithic, sculpture developed further. Sculpture in the round, usually of small size, was carved out of soft rock, bone, and wood; reliefs were done on stone plates and cave walls. Sculpture frequently was used in making amulets and served as a means of decorating utensils, tools, and hunting weapons. Tripol’e ceramic clay sculpture, large stone human representations, and ornaments of bronze, gold, and silver are among the examples of Late Neolithic and Aeneolithic sculpture found in the USSR. Although primitive sculpture was noted for simplicity of form, it was often distinguished by keen observations and expressiveness.
Sculpture advanced during the collapse of the primitive communal system, with the growth of division of labor and with technological progress. The most outstanding monuments of this period were the gold reliefs of the Scythians, the terra-cotta heads of the Nok culture, and the typologically diverse carved wooden sculpture of the Oceanians.
In the art of slaveholding societies, sculpture was distinguished as a special activity with specific aims and its own practitioners. The sculpture of the ancient Eastern states served as an expression of the all-embracing idea of despotism, an immortalization of the strict social hierarchy, and a glorification of the power of gods and rulers. It represented an attraction shared by all mankind to the significant and the perfect. Such was the sculpture of ancient Egypt, which included imposing sphinxes, statues of pharaohs and their wives, portraits of nobles, colossal reliefs on the walls of tombs and temples, and small sculptural works associated with funerary rituals. Egyptian statuary and portraiture, with their canonical poses, are noted for frontality, symmetry, and balance. The sculpture of the other ancient Eastern despotates, including Sumer, Akkad, Babylonia, and Assyria, developed similarly to that of Egypt.
The sculpture of ancient Greece and, to some extent, ancient Rome is humanistic, appealing to free citizens yet, in many ways, preserving a link with mythology. In their representations of gods, heroes, athletes, and warriors, ancient Greek sculptors embodied the ideal of the harmoniously developed person and established their ethical and aesthetic beliefs. The naïvely integrated yet somewhat constrained sculpture of the archaic period was superseded by the diverse sculpture of the classical period, which was based on a thorough understanding of anatomy. Outstanding sculptors of this period included Myron, Phidias, Polyclitus, Scopas, Praxiteles, and Lysippus. The realism of Greek statues and reliefs (frequently associated with religious architecture), grave steles, and bronze and terra-cotta statuettes is clearly evident in the extremely skillful representations of the nude or draped human body. In his theoretical work Canon, Polyclitus attempted to formulate the laws governing the proportions of the human body on the basis of mathematical calculations. Greek sculpture combined fidelity to reality and expressiveness of form with idealized generalization. In the Hellenistic period the civic spirit and structural clarity of classical sculpture were replaced by dramatic fervor and striking contrasts of light and shade. Hellenistic sculptors produced works noted for a high degree of individualization. The realism of Roman sculpture was most evident in portraiture, which was marked by strikingly sharp renderings of individual and general features. The Romans developed the historical relief, which was used to decorate triumphal columns and arches, and a type of equestrian monument (for example, the statue of Marcus Aurelius, which was later erected by Michelangelo on the Capitoline in Rome).
Christianity, as the prevailing world view, in many ways determined the character of medieval European sculpture. An essential part of the architectural fabric of Romanesque cathedrals, sculpture was subordinated to the austere solemnity of the architecture. Sculpture played a particularly prominent role in the art of the Gothic period. In Gothic cathedrals reliefs and statues of the apostles, prophets, saints, fantastic creatures, and occasionally real people filled the portals, the upper galleries, the niches of towers, and the projections of cornices. The sculpture seemingly “humanized” architecture, enhancing its figurative richness. In ancient Rus’ the art of the relief attained a high level of development (for example, the Kiev slate reliefs, the decoration of churches in Vladimir-Suzdal’). In the Middle Ages sculpture developed intensively in the Middle East and the Far East; of particular significance to world art is the monumental sculpture of India, Indonesia, and Indochina, which combines powerful three-dimensionality with sensual refinement of modeling.
In the 13th to 16th centuries, Western European sculpture gradually was freed from religious and mystical content and became a more direct representation of life. Realist tendencies were revived in the sculpture of Italian proto-Renaissance masters (for example, Nicola Pisano) in the late 13th and early 14th centuries, that is, earlier than in the art of other countries. Italian 15th- and 16th-century sculpture, guided by ancient traditions, was drawn increasingly toward an expression of the ideals of Renaissance humanism. Its primary task was the embodiment of realistic human features imbued with optimism. Important sculptors of this period included Donatello, L. Ghiberti, Verrocchio, Luca della Robbia, and Jacopo della Quercia.
There were great achievements in the creation of freestanding statues (that is, statues relatively independent of architecture) and in the resolution of the problems of the monument in the urban ensemble. Also developed was the many-planed relief. The techniques of casting bronze and coining were perfected, and the use of the majolica technique was introduced in sculpture. The sculptural works of Michelangelo, which were full of titanic power and intense drama, represented one of the summits of Renaissance art. Mannerist sculptors, including B. Cellini, were primarily concerned with decorative effects. Outstanding non-Italian Renaissance sculptors included Claus Sluter (Burgundy), J. Goujon and G. Pilon (France), M. Pacher (Austria), and P. Vischer and T. Riemenschneider (Germany).
In baroque sculpture the harmony and clarity typical of the Renaissance gave way to emphatically dynamic forms frequently marked by solemn splendor. Decorative tendencies developed rapidly; sculpture was literally interlaced with the architecture of churches, palaces, fountains, and parks. Numerous formal portraits and monuments were sulptured in the baroque period. The most prominent baroque sculptors were G. L. Bernini (Italy), A. Schiuter (Germany) and P. Puget (France).
In France classicism developed closely with the baroque style; elements of both styles were interwoven in the works of F. Girardon and A. Coysevox. The principles of classicism, given new meaning in the age of the Enlightenment, played an important role in the development of Western European sculpture of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The portrait took on great significance, as did compositions based on historical, mythological, and allegorical subjects (J.-B. Pigalle, E. M. Falconet, and J. A. Houdon in France; A. Canova in Italy; B. Thorvaldsen in Denmark).
Russian sculpture completed its transition from medieval religious forms to secular forms by the close of the 18th century. Its development in the early 19th century paralleled that of the rest of European sculpture. The fervor accompanying the establishment of a new state system and, later, the civic ideals of the Enlightenment were combined with a realization of the newly discovered plastic beauty of the real world. Falconet’s monument to Peter the Great in St. Petersburg served as a majestic symbol of the new historical aspirations defined in the Petrine period. In the first half of the 18th century outstanding examples of monumental decorative park sculpture, wood carving, and formal portraiture were produced (for example, the art of B.C. Rastrelli).
In the late 18th and early 19th centuries the academic school of Russian sculpture took form and was represented by a number of notable masters; patriotism, stateliness, and classical clarity characterized the works of F. I. Shubin, M. I. Kozlovskii, F. F. Shchedrin, I. P. Marios, V. I. Demut-Malinovskii, and S. S. Pimenov. A synthesis with architecture, and a generalization of representation were typical of classicistic sculpture. In Russian sculpture of the 1830’s and 1840’s interest grew in historical authenticity (B. I. Orlovskii) and in the representation of commonplace objects and events (P. K. Klodt, N. S. Pimenov).
In the late 19th century the general democratization of art found reflection in the sculpture of Russia and Western Europe. The realistic movement—with its openly expressed social purposefulness, its acknowledgement of daily life as worthy of the artist’s attention, and its use of the themes of labor and the problems of social morality (A.-J. Dalou in France, C. Meunier in Belgium)—was in opposition to classicism, which was evolving at that time into salon art. Russian realist sculpture of the first half of the 19th century developed under the strong influence of the painting of the peredvizhniki (the “wanderers’—a progressive art movement). Profound reflections on the historic fates of the homeland, which were typical of the art of the peredvizhniki, distinguished the sculptural work of M. M. Antokol’skii as well. Modern life and the peasant theme were frequent subjects of sculpture by F. F. Kamenskii, M. A. Chizhov, V. A. Beklemishev, and E. A. Lansere.
In the second half of the 19th century the departure of many realist masters from progressive social ideas led to the decline of monumental decorative art. Another cause was the loss of sculpture’s ability to express relevant ideas; this loss was historically inevitable under conditions of developed capitalism. The decline of monumental decorative art may also be explained by the breaking of sculpture’s stylistic ties with architecture and by the spread of naturalistic tendencies. Attempts to surmount the crisis were made in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In search of stable spiritual and aesthetic values, sculpture developed in various directions—impressionism, neoclassicism, expressionism, and other tendencies. The works of a number of artists of this period (Rodin, A. Maillol, and E. A. Bourdelle in France; E. Barlach in Germany; and I. Meŝtroviĕ in Croatia) showed an understanding of life and the laws of realist plastic art and had a powerful influence on all the national schools. The art of S. M. Volnukhin, I. Ia. Gintsburg, P. P. Trubetskoi, A. S. Golubkina, S. T. Konenkov, A. T. Matveev, and A. A. Andreev represented progressive tendencies in Russian sculpture. Along with the revival of realist content, the artistic language of sculpture changed, and the significance of plastically expressive form increased.
As a result of the crisis of bourgeois culture in the 20th century, the development of sculpture has assumed a contradictory character and has frequently been linked with different modernist trends and the formalistic experiments of cubism (A. P. Arkhipenko, H. Laurens), constructivism (N. Gabo, A. Pevsner), surrealism (J. Arp, A. Giacometti), and abstract art (A. Calder). Modernist tendencies in sculpture, breaking with national realist traditions, have led to the total renunciation of the representation of reality and, frequently, to the creation of clearly antihumanist images.
Modernist trends have been consistently resisted by Soviet sculpture, which has developed along the path of socialist realism. The development of Soviet sculpture has been inseparable from the Leninist plan of monument propaganda, on the basis of which were created the first revolutionary monuments and memorial plaques, as well as many later significant works of monumental sculpture.
In the 1920’s and 1930’s the socialist world view and the principles of narodnost’ (close ties with the people) and partiinost’ (party spirit) became firmly established in Soviet sculpture: for example, in S. A. Evseev’s monument to V. I. Lenin in Leningrad, N. V. Tomskii’s monument to S. M. Kirov in Leningrad, S. D. Merkurov’s monument to K. A. Timiriazev in Moscow,
B. D. Korolev’s monument to N. E. Bauman in Moscow, and M. G. Manizer’s monument to T. G. Shevchenko in Kharkov. Such content also characterized the monumental decorative sculpture adorning large public buildings, subway stations, and all-Union and international exhibitions (for example, V. I. Mukhina’s The Worker and the Female Kolkhoznik).
Also central to the sculpture of the 1920’s and 1930’s were the theme of revolution (for example, A. T. Matveev’s October)and the image of the participant in revolutionary events, that is, the builder of socialism. Frequent subjects of freestanding sculpture were the portrait (N. A. Andreev’s Leniniana; works by A. S. Golubkina, S. D. Lebedeva, and V. N. Domogatskii) and the depiction of man as fighter (I. D. Shadr’s The Cobblestone—Weapon of the Proletariat), soldier (L. V. Shervud’s The Sentinel), and worker (G. I. Motovilov’s The Metallurgist). Animal sculpture also developed (I. S. Efimov, V. A. Vatagin), and minor forms of sculpture were revived (V. V. Kuznetsov, N. Ia. Dan’ko).
During the Great Patriotic War of 1941–45, the themes of the homeland and Soviet patriotism came to the fore and were embodied in portraits of heroes (V. I. Mukhina, S. D. Lebedeva, N. V. Tomskii) and in dramatic genre compositions (V. V. Lishev, E. F. Belashova). The tragic events and heroic achievements of the war years are reflected with particular force in the sculpture of memorial structures built since the 1940’s (E. V. Vuchetich, Iu. Mikenas, L. V. Bukovskii, G. Iokubonis).
In the past 30 years sculpture has been used to decorate or spatially organize public buildings and various architectural complexes. It is a common element in urban planning: major new monuments (M. K. Anikushin, V. Z. Borodai, L. E. Kerbel’. A. P. Kibal’nikov, N. Nikogosian, V. E. Tsigal”) have always been erected, statues have been set up along highways, and sculpture has been designed for residential areas.
Minor forms of sculpture seek relevance to modern life and strive to aesthetically individualize the modern interior. Since the 1950’s freestanding sculpture has been noted for an acute sense of the present and a search for ways to revitalize the medium’s devices. A striving to embody the character of the modern person—the builder of communism—and the use of the themes of friendship between nations and the struggle for peace are common to national schools of Soviet sculpture. These same tendencies are also inherent in the sculpture of other socialist countries, which have produced a number of outstanding masters (X. Dunikowski in Poland, F. Cremer in the German Democratic Republic, A. Augustinčiĕ in Yugoslavia, Z. Kisfauldi-Stróbl in Hungary).
In Western European sculpture the reaction against fascism and war has encouraged the activity of more progressive forces and has furthered the creation of works filled with humanism (M. Mazzacurati and G. Manzù in Italy, W. Aaltonen in Finland). The sculpture of the leading artists popularizes the progressive ideas of the present and reconstructs historical and current events with particular broadness and expression. Contrastingly, the representatives of the different modernist trends are breaking the vital link with reality—withdrawing from urgent problems and entering a world of subjective fantasy and formalistic experiments.
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See also references under ART and PLASTIC ARTS.
M. L. NEIMAN