Tuesday, October 24, 2006

History of Sculpture


This article traces the history of Western sculpture from prehistoric times to the present day; for non-Western sculpture, see African Art; Chinese Art; Indian Art; Iranian Art; Islamic Art; Japanese Art; Korean Art; Oceanian Art; Pre-Columbian.

A. Prehistoric Sculpture

Venus of Willendorf This so-called Venus figurine from the area of Willendorf, Austria, is one of the earliest known examples of sculpture, dating from between 30,000 and 25,000 bc. The figure, which is carved out of limestone, is only 11.25 cm (4.5 in) high, and was probably designed to be held in the hand. It is believed the Venus may be a fertility symbol, which would explain the exaggerated female anatomy.

The earliest sculptured objects, cut from ivory, horn, bone, or stone, are 27,000 to 32,000 years old. A small ivory horse with graceful, curving lines is among the oldest of these objects; it was found in a cave in Germany. Also found on cave floors are little stone female figurines carved with emphasis on the reproductive organs, the breasts, and the buttocks. These figures are thought to represent fertility goddesses and therefore are given the name Venus. One such figure, the Venus figurine from the area of Willendorf, Austria (30,000?-25,000? bc, Naturhistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria), with bulbous proportions although a mere 11.5 cm (4.5 in) high, was painted red to resemble blood, thereby signifying life. In Jericho, human skulls covered with plaster were naturalistically rendered some 9000 years ago.

B. Egyptian Sculpture

Akhenaton and Nefertiti This painted limestone statuette depicts King Akhenaton and Queen Nefertiti, rulers of Egypt during the Amarna period. During this period, the Egyptians worshiped one god, Aton,... who embodied both the male and female principles of the universe. Artists therefore portrayed Akhenaton, who was the representative of Aton on earth, with characteristics they regarded as feminine, such as narrow shoulders, a high waist, and pronounced belly, buttocks, and thighs.Bridgeman Art Library, London/New York

Among the oldest Egyptian sculptures is a piece of slate carved in low relief, known as the Palette of King Narmer (3100? bc), Egyptian Museum, Cairo). It portrays the victory of Upper over Lower Egypt, depicting the kings, armies, servants, and various animals. The kings (pharaohs) were also commemorated in magnificent life-size statues, set in funerary temples and tombs (see Egyptian Art and Architecture). Not true portraits, these sculptures are idealized representations, immobile of features and always frontal in pose. Strong geometric emphasis was given to the body, with the shoulders and chest plane resembling an inverted triangle, as in a carved diorite sculpture (2500? bc, Egyptian Museum) of the pharaoh Khafre. During the reign of Akhenaton, greater naturalism of representation was attained, as seen in the exquisite painted limestone portrait bust (1350? bc, Staatliche Museen, Berlin) of his queen Nefertiti.

C. Mesopotamian Sculpture

Art of Sculpture Revitalized

Mesopotamian art includes several civilizations: Sumerian, Akkadian, Babylonian, and Assyrian (see Mesopotamian Art and Architecture). About 2600 bc the Sumerians carved small marble deities noted for their wide, staring eyes. Other details—hair, facial expression, body, clothing—were schematically treated with little interest in achieving a likeness. These qualities remained characteristic of later Mesopotamian sculpture. The Mesopotamians were also fond of portraying animals and did so with great skill, as can be seen on palace gates and reliefs on walls during the Assyrian period (1000-612 bc, examples in British Museum, London, and Metropolitan Museum, New York City).

D. Aegean and Greek Sculpture

Nike of Samothrace Nike of Samothrace (also known as Winged Victory), created about 200 bc, is one of the most famous Greek sculptures from the Hellenistic period. The marble statue, which stands about 2.4 m (about 8 ft) high, was originally part of a much larger monument that featured a large sculpture of a warship with the goddess of victory on the prow. The monument also included a two-tiered fountain. Formerly located on the island of Samothráki (Samothrace), the sculpture is now part of the collection of the Louvre Museum, Paris, France.Giraudon/Bridgeman Art Library, London/New York

Aegean art includes Minoan sculpture, such as terra-cotta and ivory statuettes of goddesses, and Mycenaean works, consisting of small carved ivory deities. The Greeks, masters of stone carving and bronze casting, created some of the greatest sculpture known. Working on a monumental scale, they brought depiction of the human form to perfection between the 7th and 1st centuries bc. In the earliest period, the Archaic, figures appeared rigid and bodies were schematized along geometric lines, as in Egyptian art. By the Classical period, in the 5th and 4th centuries bc, however, naturalism was attained; figures were well proportioned and shown in movement, although faces remained immobile. Gods and athletes were favorite subjects during this period; the most famous sculptors were Phidias, Polyclitus, Praxiteles, and Lysippus. Highly esteemed is the architectural sculpture made for the Parthenon on the Acropolis in Athens, such as Three Goddesses (British Museum), whose rhythmically swirling drapery clings to their reclining bodies. During the Hellenistic period (4th-1st century bc), works became increasingly expressive, as reflected in the facial features and complicated body positions. The Nike of Samothráki, or Winged Victory (190? bc, Louvre, Paris), is a highly dramatic masterpiece from this time. See Aegean Civilization; Greek Art and Architecture.

E. Etruscan and Roman Sculpture

She-Wolf of the Capitol Although She-Wolf of the Capitol (circa 500 bc) is actually an Etruscan sculpture, it is associated with Roman art. The bronze statue, which stands 85 cm (33 in) high, is the symbol of the city of Rome. The mythological Romulus and Remus were supposed to have been kept alive by a wolf in order to fulfill their destiny as founders of the city. The figures of the infants were created during the Renaissance, but the wolf is Etruscan.Capitoline Museums, Rome/Canali PhotoBank, Milan/SuperStock

The Etruscans, who inhabited the area of Italy between Florence and Rome from the 8th to the 3rd century bc, made life-size terra-cotta sculptures portraying the gods; they also depicted themselves, in reclining positions, on the lids of terra-cotta sarcophagi (coffins). Superb bronze sculptures were also created, such as the She-Wolf (500? bc, Museo Capitolino, Rome), which became the symbol of Rome.

Greek Artists Represent the Human Figure

The Romans were avid collectors and imitators of Greek sculpture, and modern historians are indebted to their copies for knowledge of lost Greek originals. Their distinctive contribution to the art of sculpture was realistic portraiture, in which they recorded even the homeliest facial details. The Romans' sense of the importance of historic events is evident in many sculptured commemorative monuments in Rome, such as the Arch of Titus (ad 81?), Trajan's Column (106?-113 AD), and the equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius (175?); the last- named became the prototype for most later equestrian sculptures.

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