The History of Sculpture
Gothic Sculpture (c.1145)
Column statues from
Any chronological account of the origins and evolution of three-dimensional art should properly occupy several volumes, if not a whole library of books. Compressing it into a single page means that most of the story is unavoidably omitted. Even so, it's still a great story! From Prehistory, through Classical Antiquity, the Gothic era, the Renaissance to the 21st century, the history of sculpture is filled with extraordinary artists - most sadly anonymous - whose visual expressiveness remains with us in the form of wonderful marble statues, stone reliefs, and immortal bronzes.
Even today, visit any cathedral, or any of the great cities, squares or buildings of the world, and you are certain to see great examples of 3-D art.
TYPES OF SCULPTURE
Chronology of Fine Art Sculpture
Sculpture begins in the Stone Age. Exactly when, we don't know. The earliest known examples are the two primitive stone effigies known as The Venus of Berekhat Ram and The Venus of Tan-Tan. The Venus of Berekhat Ram (dating from c.230,000 BCE or earlier) is a basaltic figurine made during the Acheulian Period, which was discovered on the Golan Heights. The Venus of Tan-Tan (c.200,000 BCE or earlier) is a quartzite figurine from the same period.
If these objects are pre-sculptural forms, the earliest prehistoric sculpture proper emerged around 35,000 BCE in the form of carvings of animals, birds, and therianthropic figures, made during the Lower Perigordian/Aurignacian Period and discovered in the caves of Vogelherd, Hohle Fels, and Hohlenstein-Stadel, in the Swabian Jura, Germany. The earliest figurative sculpture is the ivory carving known as the Lion Man of the Hohlenstein Stadel (38,000 BCE).
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Another early type of Stone Age sculpture are the miniature obese figurines called Venuses: such as the Venuses of Willendorf, Kostenky, Monpazier, Dolni Vestonice, Moravany, Brassempouy, and Gagarino. Made from materials as varied as mammoth bone, ceramic clay and bone ash, as well as various types of stone like steatite, oolitic limestone, serpentine, and volcanic rock, these venus figures have been located in sites across Europe, from Russia to Spain. Anthropologists believe they may have been used in fertility rituals, although why fat women should be so iconic remains a mystery. (Lack of food? Ed).
Mesolithic Sculpture (c.10,000-4,000 BCE)
Mesolithic art witnessed more bas-reliefs and free standing sculpture such as the anthropomorphic figurines unearthed in Nevali Cori and Gobekli Tepe near Urfa in eastern Turkey, and the statues of Lepenski Vir (eg. The Fish God) in Serbia. It also witnessed the creation of the Shigir Idol (7,500 BCE) - the world's oldest surviving wood carving - found near Sverdlovsk in Russia. Arguably the greatest Mesolithic work of art is the terracotta sculpture from Romania, known as The Thinker of Cernavoda, an unmistakable image of cognitive thought.
Neolithic Sculpture (c.4,000-2,000 BCE)
Neolithic art is noted above all for its pottery, but it also featured free standing sculpture and bronze statuettes - in particular from the Indus Valley Civilization, the North Caucasus and pre-Columbian art in the Americas. The most spectacular form of Neolithic art was Egyptian pyramid architecture whose burial chambers led to an increased demand for various types of reliefs as well as portable statues and statuettes. (See Egyptian sculpture.) Indeed, the advent of the Bronze Age (In Europe: 3000-1200 BCE) as well as the emergence of cities and public buildings, and the development of more sophisticated tools, triggered a general increase in the demand for all types of art, including sculpture. See, for instance, Mesopotamian sculpture (3000-500). It was during this era that art began to assume a significant role in reflecting the aspirations of powerful rulers and the deities they worshipped. In short, prosperous and ambitious communities were good for sculpture.
Eastern Mediterranean Sculpture (c.2000-1100 BCE)
Following the flowering of architecture and other arts in Egypt, the Levant also witnessed the rise of the Minoan culture on the island of Crete, which was noted for its sculpture and metalwork. After an unknown catastrophe (probably earthquake) around 1500 BCE, the Minoan civilization collapsed, and Crete was conquered by the Myceneans from the Greek mainland, who were themselves overcome and the city of Mycenae destroyed around 1100 BCE.
Far Eastern Sculpture (c.1700-1000 BCE)
Chinese art during the Shang Dynasty (c.1600-1050) developed along quite different lines to Western varieties. For the finest bronze sculpture produced in China during this period, see: Sanxingdui Bronzes (1200-1000 BCE).
Due to the cultural stagnation of the Greek "Dark Ages" (1100-900 BCE) and the predominance of pottery during the Geometric Period (900-700 BCE), Greek sculpture did not really appear until the Daedalic or Oriental-Style Period around 650 BCE. Thereafter it developed according to the traditional chronology of Greek art, in the following periods: The Archaic Period (c.650-500 BCE); The Classical Period (c.500-323 BCE); and The Hellenistic Period (c.323-100 BCE). For more, see: Greek Sculpture Made Simple.
Archaic Greek Sculpture (c.600-500 BCE)
Classical Greek Sculpture (c.500-323
Hellenistic Greek Sculpture (c.323-27
Despite the political and military demise of the Greek City States from around 200 BCE, and the consequent rise of Rome, Greek sculpture retained its status as the finest ever made. Even the Romans failed to overcome their sense of inferiority in the face of Greek artistry, although they were cute enough to copy as many Greek works as possible, and it is largely through these copies that the art of Greek sculpture is known. The real influence of Hellenistic sculpture actually occurred 1600-1700 years later when it was "rediscovered" by artists of the Early Renaissance in Italy, after which it formed the cornerstone of European art for the next four centuries. In short, the Greeks get maximum points.
Let's not forget the Celts - a series of nomadic tribes which emerged from the Caucasus around 800 BCE, and gradually spread westwards across Europe (600-100 BCE) as far as the Iberian peninsula, Britain and Ireland. Although highly mobile, and masters of blacksmithery and goldsmithery, they were too disorganized to compete with the highly disciplined and centralized State of Rome. Eventually wholly Romanized, at least on the Continent, their Celtic metalwork art included some of the finest metal sculpture of the age (eg. the Broighter Boat c.100-50 BCE). They were also exceptional traders and their intricate metalwork designs were exported and imitated throughout the known world. For stonework by the Celts, see: Celtic Sculpture. For monumental Keltoi stone sculpture, see: the Turoe Stone.
Until about 27 BCE, despite the influence of earlier Etruscan sculptors - noted for their "joi de vivre" - Roman sculpture was unidealized and realistic; thereafter it became sternly heroic, and quite mediocre. It was designed above all to express the majesty and power of Roman rule, thus aside from a number of magnificent historical reliefs (eg. the spiral bas-relief of Trajan's Column) and rare monuments (eg. the Ara Pacis Augustae), Roman sculptors were largely employed in the production of portrait busts of the Emperors and other dignitaries. In short, no big deal.
Up until the fourth century, early Christian sculpture had been almost exclusively tomb reliefs for sarcophagi in Rome. When the Roman Empire divided into East and West, the Eastern capital was located in Constantinople. The art of the Eastern Roman Empire, based in Byzantium, was almost entirely religious, but, aside from some shallow ivory reliefs and goldsmithing, the Eastern Orthodox brand of Christianity did not permit 3-D artworks like statues or high reliefs. Good for painters, bad for sculptors.
As the name suggests, this was a dark and quiet time for European sculptors. The Church was weak, the Barbarians (who weren't big into sculpture) were strong, and cities were impoverished and uncultured. There was some activity on the fringes of Europe, for instance in Ireland, where (from 800-1100) the monastic church began commissioning a number of freestanding stone crosses known as Celtic High Cross sculptures - decorated with Gospel scenes and other Celtic-style patterns - but nothing much happened on the Continent.
The revival of medieval sculpture began with Charlemagne I, King of the Franks, who was crowned Holy Roman Emperor in 800. The Carolingian empire dissolved quite quickly but Charlemagne's patronage of the arts was a crucial first step in the revitalization of European culture, not least because many of the Romanesque and Gothic churches were built on the foundations of Carolingian architecture. Charlemagne's architectural achievements were continued by the Holy Roman Emperors Otto I, II and III, in a style known as Ottonian. So the art of sculpture was back, albeit on a modest scale. See also: Medieval Artists.
Romanesque Sculpture (c.1000-1200)
In the 11th century, a more confident Christian Church began to reassert itself. This doctrinal expansionism led to the Crusades to free the Holy Land from the grip of Islam. The Crusaders' success and their acquisition of Holy Relics triggered the construction of new churches and cathedrals across Europe in the fully fledged Romanesque style of architecture - a style known in Britain and Ireland as "Norman" architecture. This in turn led to a huge wave of commissions for Romanesque sculpture and stained glass. Thus finally, the art of sculpting was back. And with this new demand for plastic art came the establishment of new carving and modelling workshops, apprenticeships, and recognition for master-craftsmen. Indeed, by the 12th century the leading sculptors became highly sought-after by Abbots, Archbishops and other secular patrons, for their unique contribution to the visual impact of the religious buildings under construction.
The Church's building program stimulated the development of new architectural techniques. These techniques came together during the mid-late 12th century in a style which Renaissance architects later dubbed "Gothic architecture". Characteristic Romanesque-style features such as rounded arches, massively thick walls and small windows and were replaced by pointed arches, soaring ceilings, thin walls and huge stained glass windows. This completely transformed the interior of many cathedrals into inspirational havens, where the Christian mesage was conveyed in a variety of Biblical art, including beautiful stained glass windows, and by a wide variety of sculpture. Cathedral facades and doorways were typically filled with sculptural reliefs depicting Biblical scenes, as well as rows of sculptures portraying Prophets, Apostles, ancient Kings of Judea, and other gospel figures. Interiors featured column statues and more reliefs, the whole thing being laid out according to an intricate plan of gospel iconography designed to educate and inspire illiterate worshippers.
In essence, the Gothic cathedral was intended to represent the Universe in miniature - a unique piece of Christian art designed to convey a sense of God's power and glory and the rational ordered nature of his worldly plan. Among the greatest homes of Gothic architectural sculpture are the French cathedrals of Notre Dame de Paris, Chartres, Reims, and Amiens; the German cathedrals of Cologne, Strasbourg and Bamberg, and the English churches of Westminster Abbey and York Minster - among many others. In summary, Gothic sculpture represented the high-point of monumental religious art. Although the Church would continue to invest heavily in the power of painting and sculpture to inspire the masses (notably in the Counter Reformation Baroque period), the Gothic era was really the apogee of "idealistic" religious artistry. Henceforth, the art of sculpture would become more and more enmeshed in secular as well as Papal politics.
Famous Gothic Sculptors:
Italian Renaissance art was based on the "rediscovery" of, and reverence for, the arts of Classical Antiquity, especially in the field of architecture and sculpture. It was also coloured by a strong belief in Humanism and the nobility of Man. It began in Florence, being inspired by individuals such as the architect Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446), the sculptor Donatello (1386-1466), the painter Tommaso Masaccio and the theorist Leon Battista Alberti (1404-72), and financed by the Medici Family. It then spread to Rome - where it received support from the Papal ambitions of Pope Sixtus IV (1471-84), Pope Julius II (1503-13), Pope Leo X (1513-21) and Pope Paul III (1534-45) - and Venice. The arts in Northern Europe (notably Flanders, Holland, Germany and England) also underwent a renaissance, particularly in oil painting, printmaking and to a lesser extent wood-carving, although this so-called Northern Renaissance developed somewhat independently due to the Reformation (c.1520) and the consequent lack of religious patronage from a Protestant Church that took a dim view of religious painting and sculpture.
Early Renaissance Sculpture (1400-90)
Given the respect accorded to the Italian Renaissance, it's easy to forget that many Italian artists were strongly influenced by Gothic traditions and craftsmanship. Renaissance sculptors, in particular, were indebted to their Gothic predecessors. One need only study the reliefs on the facades and doorways of 12th century cathedrals to see the extraordinary three-dimensional realism and emotionalism which was being achieved centuries before the Renaissance. The big difference between Gothic and Renaissance sculptors is that the names of the latter are now world-famous, while many of the former are unknown.
Bearing this in mind, Early Renaissance sculptors sought to improve further on Gothic works, taking much of their inspiration from Classical Roman and Greek sculpture. In so doing, they injected their statues with a range of emotion and imbued them with new energy and thought. The three greatest 3-D artists of the Early Renaissance were Lorenzo Ghiberti (1378-1455), Donato di Niccolo di Betto Bardi, known as Donatello, and Andrea del Verrocchio (1435-88).
In 1401, a competition was held for the commission to create a pair of bronze doors for the Florence Baptistry of St. John - one of the oldest surviving churches in the city. Lorenzo Ghiberti duly won the commission for the doors, which took him 27 years to finish. A second similar commission followed, occupying Ghiberti for a further 25 years. However, his gates became a tangible symbol of Florentine art, causing Michelangelo to refer to them "the Gates of Paradise".
Donatello, the first real genius of Italian Renaissance Sculpture, reinvented the medium of sculpture in much the same way as Masaccio, Piero della Francesca and Mantegna revolutionized the art of painting. Capable of investing his figures with intense realism and emotion, his masterpiece is his bronze sculpture David (c.1435-53), the first life-size nude sculpture since Antiquity, which was created for the Medici family and sited in the Palazzo Medici in Florence. The slender form of the Biblical shepherd boy seems hardly capable of the homicidal skill required to slay Goliath, but both his pensive feminine pose with its Classical contrapposto (twist of the hips), exerts a hypnotic effect on the viewer. It must surely be one of the greatest statues ever created. For details, see: David by Donatello.
Andrea del Verrocchio
The David (c.1475) by Andrea del Verrocchio is more refined but less intense than Donatello's statue, while his equestrian statue of the condottiere Bartolommeo Colleoni (1480s) is less heroic but conveys a greater sense of movement and swagger than Donatello's Gattamelata (1444-53) in Padua.
Other important sculptors of the early Renaissance include: Jacopo della Quercia (c.1374-1438); Nanni di Banco (c.1386-1421); the terracotta sculptors Luca Della Robbia (1400-1482), his nephew Andrea Della Robbia (1435-1525), Niccolo Dell'Arca (1435-94) and Guido Mazzoni (1450-1518); Antonio Rossellino (1427-79); Antonio Pollaiuolo (1432-98).
High Renaissance Sculpture (c.1490-1530)
Renaissance sculptors were dominated by Michelangelo (1475-1564), the greatest sculptor of the Italian Renaissance, and arguably of all time. The art historian Anthony Blunt said of Michelangelo's works like Pieta (1497-9, marble, Saint Peters Basilica, Rome), David (1501-4, marble, Galleria dell'Accademia, Florence) and Dying Slave (1513-16, marble, Louvre, Paris) that they possessed a "superhuman quality" but also "a feeling of brooding, of sombre disquiet... they reflect the tragedy of human destiny." Some of Michelangelo's marble carvings have a flawless beauty and polish, testifying to his absolute technical mastery. In the field of the heroic male nude he remains the supreme exponent. For more, see David by Michelangelo.
Northern Renaissance Sculpture (c.1400-1530)
In Northern Europe, the art of sculpture was exemplified in particular by two awesome craftsmen who took the art of sculpting in wood to new heights: the German limewood sculptor Tilman Riemenschneider (1460-1531), noted for his reliefs and freestanding wood sculpture; and the wood-carver Veit Stoss (1450-1533) renowned for his delicate altarpieces.
Mannerist Sculpture (1530-1600)
If the confidence and order of the High Renaissance period was reflected in its idealised forms of figurative sculpture, Mannerist sculpture reflected the chaos and uncertainty of a Europe racked by religious division and a Rome recently sacked and occupied by mercenary French soldiers. Mannerist sculptors introduced a new expressiveness into their works, as exemplified by the powerful Rape of the Sabines by Giambologna (1529-1608), and Perseus (1545-54) by Benvenuto Cellini (1500-71). However, compare the famous naturalistic recumbent marble statue of Saint Cecilia by Stefano Maderno (1576-1636). See also Juan de Juni (1507-1577), who spread the Renaissance to Spain, Alonso Berruguete (c.1486-1561) who introduced Mannerism to Spain, and Francesco Primaticcio (1504-1570) who launched Mannerism in France. For the top French Mannerist sculptors, see: Jean Goujon (c.1510-68), Germain Pilon (1529-1590), Barthelemy Prieur (1536-1611) and Adriaen de Vries (1560-1626).
During the later 16th century, in response to the Protestant Reformation, the Roman Catholic Church launched its own Counter Reformation. This propaganda campaign, designed to persuade worshippers to return to the "true" Church, employed the full panoply of the visual arts, including architecture, sculpture and painting, and became associated with a grander, more dramatic idiom known as Baroque art. It entailed massive patronage for artists - good news for sculptors!
Even Saint Peter's Square in Rome, was remodelled in order to awe visitors. The genius architect/sculptor Bernini (1598-1680) designed a series of colonnades leading to the cathedral, which gave the impression to visitors that they were being embraced by the arms of the Catholic Church.
Bernini was the greatest of all Baroque sculptors. After working for Cardinal Scipione Borghese, he became the leading sculptor for Pope Urban VIII. Drawn to the dramatic naturalism of what is called the Hellenistic baroque style of the second and first century BCE, (eg. see works like The Vanquished Gaul Killing Himself and his Wife) Bernini's unique contribution was to create sensational illusionistic masterpieces (eg. by depicting a moment in time), in a manner hitherto only achieved by painters. It was as if he treated the relatively intractable materials of sculpture as if they were entirely malleable. His sculptural technique and composition were so stunning that he attracted no little criticism from envious rivals.
His main rival was Alessandro Algardi (1598-1654), the favourite sculptor of Pope Innocent X. If Bernini epitomized Greek dramatic naturalism, Algardi's style was more restrained (critics say feeble). Another rival was the Flemish sculptor Francois Duquesnoy (1594-1643) whose style was entirely classical. Duquesnoy was rather a shadowy figure who worked in a severe, unemotional style which was nevertheless highly regarded by academic writers for its perfect synthesis of nature and the antique. The draperies flow elegantly, following the shape of the body, while the figure is balanced in perfect grace and repose - the complete opposite of Bernini's dynamic movement and intense feeling.
French Baroque sculpture was exemplified by Francois Girardon (1628-1715), a sort of French Algardi, and his rival Antoine Coysevox (1640-1720) whose looser style was still relatively restrained compared to Bernini, and Pierre Puget (1620-94) who was one of the very few sculptors to recapture the immediacy of Bernini's best work.
For more, see: Baroque Sculpture.
Basically a French reaction against the seriousness of the Baroque, Rococo art began in the French court at the Palace of Versailles before spreading across Europe. If Baroque sculpture was dramatic and serious, Rococo was all frills and no substance, although in reality it was not so much a different style from the Baroque but rather a variation on the style brought to fruition by Bernini and his contemporaries. Even so, one can talk about Rococo qualities in a work of sculpture - informality, gaiety, a concern for matters of the heart and a self-conscious avoidance of seriousness.
The most successful sculptor of the first
half of the 18th century was Guillaume
Coustou (1677-1746), Director of the French Academy from 1707, who
continued the baroque trend of his uncle Coysevox. His pupil, Edme Bouchardon
(1698-1762), is a more interesting figure. whose feeling for the antique
led him to anticipate the later trend towards neoclassicism.
In England, the leading sculptors of the 17th/18th century included the classicist Michael Rysbrack (1694-1770), the more theatrical Louis Francois Roubiliac (1705-62), and the eminent wood-carver Grinling Gibbons (1648-1721). German Rococo sculpture was exemplified in works by the Dresden sculptor Balthazar Permoser (1651-1732), small groups of craftsmen working in the churches of Catholic southern Germany, and Ignaz Gunther (1725-75) whose figurative sculptures have a hard surface realism and polychromed surface reminiscent of medieval German wood-carving.
Whimsical decadent Rococo was swept away by the French Revolution which ushered in the new sterner style of Neoclassicism.
Neoclassical art - basically Greek art with a modern twist - was dominated (like the Gothic era) by architecture. Neoclassical buildings include the Pantheon (Paris), the Arc de Triomphe (Paris), the Brandenburg Gate (Berlin), and the United States Capitol Building. In sculpture, neoclassicism involved an emphasis on the virtues of heroicism, duty and gravitas. Leading neoclassical sculptors included the exceedingly severe and heroic Antonio Canova (1757-1822), the troubled portrait-bust master Franz Xaver Messerschmidt (1736-1783), the more naturalistic/realist Jean-Antoine Houdon (1741-1828), the rather light-hearted Claude Michel called Clodion (1738-1814), and the English sculptors Joseph Nollekens (1737-1823), Thomas Banks (1735-1805), John Flaxman (1755-1826), and Sir Richard Westmacott (1775-1856). Only later in the 18th century did a worthy successor to Canova appear in the person of the Danish sculptor Bertel Thorwaldsen (1770-1844), who approached the antique with a comparable high-mindedness albeit with less originality.
In many ways, the nineteenth century was an age of crisis for sculpture. In simple terms, architectural development had largely exhausted itself, religious patronage had declined as a result of the French Revolution, and the general climate of "populism", began to cause much confusion in the minds of institutional and private patrons as to what constituted acceptable subjects (and styles) for sculptural representation. Being involved in a more expensive art-form than painters, and thus dependent on high-cost commissions, sculptors often found themselves at the mercy of public opinion in the form of town councils and committees. Aside from a number of grandiose public monuments, and the usual commemorative statues of Bishops and Kings - invariably executed in the sterile, conformist style required by the authorities (eg. the Albert Memorial) - sculptors had few opportunities to showcase their originality. Painting on the other hand was undergoing huge and exciting changes. In short, it was not a great time to be involved in 3-D art.
Nineteenth century sculptors worth a mention include the versatile James Pradier (1790-1852), the romantics Francois Rude (1784-1855), David d'Angers (1788-1856), Antoine-Louis Barye (1796-1875), and Auguste Preault (1809-79), and the Florentine Neo-Renaissance sculptress Felicie de St Fauveau (1799-1886). One of the most talented artists was the light-hearted Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux (1827-75), whose sensuality was adapted to the demands of decorative sculptors of the 1860s by Ernest Carrier-Belleuse (1824-87), otherwise most noted for the fact that one of his pupils was an unknown sculptor called Auguste Rodin. Jules Dalou (1838-1902) was a more contemplative and serious follower of Carpeaux. Among the 19th century classicists, leading figures included John Gibson (1791-1866), the talented but frustrated Alfred Stevens (1817-75), the versatile George Frederick Watts (1817-1904), and the American Hiram Powers (1805-73).
We should also not forget the imaginative French sculptor Auguste Bartholdi (1834-1904) - better known as the creator of the world-famous sculpture - The Statue of Liberty - in New York harbour. Also the great monumental American sculptor Daniel Chester French (1850-1931), noted for the seated figure of Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC.
The great exception was the incomparable French genius Auguste Rodin (1840-1917). One of the few authentic masters of modern sculpture, Rodin saw himself as the successor to his iconic hero Michelangelo - although the Florentine was a carver in marble while Rodin was principally a modeller in Bronze. Also, while Michelangelo exemplifies the noble and timeless forms of Classical Antiquity, Rodin's most characteristic works convey an unmistakable modernity and dramatic naturalism. Arguably, Rodin's true predecessors were the Gothic sculptors, for he was a passionate admirer of the Gothic cathedrals of France, from whose heroic reliefs he derived much of his inspiration. In any event, Rodin's impact on his art form was greater than any sculptor since the Renaissance.
With sculpture less able to reflect the new trends of modern art during the 19th century, leaving artists like Auguste Rodin (1840-1917) free to pursue a monumentalism derived essentially from Renaissance ideology, and others to celebrate Victorian values in the form of patriotic and historical figures, likewise executed in the grand manner of earlier times, it wasn't until the emergence of modern 20th century sculptors like Constantin Brancusi (1876-1957), Umberto Boccioni (1882-1916) and Naum Gabo (Naum Neemia Pevsner) (1890-1977), that sculpture really began to change, at the turn of the century. For the influence of tribal cultures on the development of 20th century sculpture, see: Primitivism/Primitive Art. In this regard see the work of Henri Gaudier-Brzeska (1891-1915) and his mentor Jacob Epstein (1880-1959). In particular, note the impact of African sculpture on modern sculptors of the Ecole de Paris.
In fact, the early decades of the 20th century saw fine art in a ferment. The revolutionary Cubism movement, invented by Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) and Georges Braque (1882-1963), smashed many of the hallowed canons of traditional art, and triggered a wave of experimentation in both painting and sculpture. The latter was significantly redefined by a series of sculptors like Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968) - see his "readymades" - Jacques Lipchitz (1891-1973), and Alexander Archipenko (1887-1964), as well as Brancusi, Boccioni and Gabo. Representationalism was rejected in favour of new abstract expressions of space and movement, often using non-traditional materials never before used in sculpture.
In the wake of Cubism, The Great War (1914-18) and the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution had a further huge impact on artists across Europe, as exemplified in the influential iconoclastic movements of Dada and Constructivism. Sculptors joined painters in producing works of art reflecting new icons like the machine, as well as new ideologies of design (eg. Bauhaus design school theories), and form (eg. the incredible Merzbau of Kurt Schwitters).
The 1920s in Paris saw the emergence of Surrealism, a hugely influential movement which sought a new "super-realism" in a style which embraced both abstraction and naturalism. Famous surrealist artists working in 3-D include: Salvador Dali (1904-89) who produced his surrealist Mae West Lips Sofa and Lobster Telephone; Meret Oppenheim (1913-85) who created Furry Breakfast; and FE McWilliam (1909-1992) who produced Eyes, Nose and Cheek. Other modern sculptors like Jean Arp (1886-1966) as well as Henry Moore (1898-1986) and Barbara Hepworth (1903-75) - leaders of modern British sculpture - were experimenting with new forms of biomorphic/organic abstraction, while the American Alexander Calder (1898-1976) was pioneering mobile sculpture and kinetic art, and David Smith (1906-65) was developing abstract metal sculpture. Many sculptors developed their style as the century progressed: Alberto Giacometti (1901-66), for instance, began in surrealist mode during the 1920s and 1930s before perfecting his unique semi-abstract figurative works. See also the modernist British-American artist Jacob Epstein (18801959), whose bold figurative works proved highly controversial.
No sculpture emerged in New York or Paris to compare with the predominant painting style of Abstract Expressionism (c.1945-62), although innovation there certainly was, chiefly in the use of new materials and a growing mood of conceptualism - a style which focuses on the idea behind the 3-D object, rather than the object itself - as well as a blurring between painting and sculpture. Major innovations - mostly by American sculptors, but see Destroyed City (1953) by the Russian sculptor Ossip Zadkine (1890-1967) - included the "sculptured walls" of Louise Nevelson (1899-1988) - assemblages composed of found objects, mostly wood, sprayed in white, black or gold paint and arranged in box-like shelves occupying a wall; the felt sculptures of Robert Morris (b.1931); the neon and fluorescent works of Bruce Nauman (b.1941); the works of Cesar (1921-98) made from car-parts; the junk sculptures (eg. heaps of broken telephones) of Arman (Armand Fernandez) (b.1928); the kinetic art of Jean Tinguely (1925-1991) and the abstract sculpture of the British artist Sir Anthony Caro (1924-2013).
Chronologically, the first major post-war movement involving sculptors, was 1960s Pop-Art, which originated in the pioneering work of Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008) and Jasper Johns (b.1930) during the 1950s. Famous Pop sculptures include: Japanese War God (1958) by the pioneer Eduardo Paolozzi (b.1924), Ale Cans (1964) by Jasper Johns, the canvas, foam rubber and cardboard Floor Burger (1962) and Giant Fag-Ends (1967) by Claes Oldenburg (b.1929), and the witty Joe Sofa (1968) by the Italians Jonathan De Pas (1932-91), Donato D'Urbino (b.1935) and Paolo Lomazzi (b.1936) - all showing traces of earlier surrealist art. Pop sculpture isn't serious but it's great fun.
In complete contrast to Pop art, 1960s Minimalism explored the purity of ultra-simplified forms to the point of absurdity. Famous Minimalist sculptors include Sol LeWitt (b.1928) - the American conceptual artist noted for his skeletal, geometric box-like constructions; the uncompromising simplified forms of Donald Judd (1928-94); the experimental artist Walter de Maria (b.1935); and the Massachusetts-born Carl Andre (b.1935). Minimalist sculpture can be fully appreciated by anyone with a PhD in Fine Art Interpretation.
Land Art: Environmental Sculpture
The 1960s also witnessed a completely new type of sculpture known as Land Art (Earthworks, or Environmental art). Like kids building sand castles on the beach, artists rushed out into the wilds and dug, excavated and re-shaped the natural landscape to create (what they hoped was) art. The pioneer environmental sculptor was the pessimistic Robert Smithson (1938-73). Latterly, the artist-couple Christo and Jeanne-Claude Javacheff have achieved fame by wrapping parts of the environment in coloured fabric, while Andy Goldsworthy (b.1956) specializes in temporary environmental sculptures (eg. made of snow) that decompose or disappear.
By 1970, an increasing amount of contemporary art was becoming extremely experimental - art critics might say wacky, incomprehensible and kitsch-like. From the 1970s onwards, this tendency was christened "Postmodernist art". Nobody really knows what this word means, and, if they do, they can't explain it. As far as postmodernist sculpture is concerned, the best one can say is that it takes sculpture to the limit of three-dimensional expression, and frequently crosses over into other art-forms like installation, pure assemblage art and even theatre. One of the most famous postmodernist sculptors is the Indian-born British Turner Prize Winner Anish Kapoor (b.1954).
Postmodernism is exemplified by the works of Damien Hirst (b.1965), the ingenious, market-driven leader of the 1980s Young British Artists movement, who achieved world-wide fame for The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living (1991), a dead Tiger shark pickled in a tank of formaldehyde - Is it a sculpture or installation? Nobody really knows. Other controversial works by Hirst include: Virgin Mother (2005) a huge work depicting a pregnant female human, cut away to display the fetus, muscle tissue and cranium; and his diamond encrusted skull For the Love of God (2007). Critics claim Hirst is no more than a very innovative showman, but collectors - as well as the public - seem to love him. Let history have the final say on this multi-millionaire artist.
Not all contemporary sculpture is controversial as Hirst's dead shark. The late-20th century has witnessed a number of exceptional sculptors working in more or less traditional modes, albeit with a modernist conception. Famous examples of contemporary sculpture include: the large scale metal sculptures of Mark Di Suvero (b.1933), the monumental public forms of Richard Serra (b.1939), the hyper-realist figures of Duane Hanson (1925-96) and John De Andrea (b.1941), the environmental structures of Antony Gormley (b.1950), the fabulous realist figures of Rowan Gillespie (b.1953), the innovative Neo-Pop works of Jeff Koons (b.1955), and the surrealist Maman spider sculptures of Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010).
Acclaimed sculptures of the early 21st century include works by Eduardo Chillida (1924-2002) (eg. the iron piece Berlin, 2000, Bundeskanzleramt, Berlin-Tiergarten); by Sudobh Gupta (b.1964) and Damian Ortega (b.1967), among others too numerous to mention.
See also: Irish Sculpture.
Although outside the scope of this article, mention should be made of great iconic works of architectural sculpture, including: The Colossus of Rhodes, The Statue of Liberty, The Eiffel Tower, Nelson's Column, The Chicago Picasso, and The Dublin Spike, among others.
For more about the origins and history of sculpture, see: Visual Arts Encyclopedia.
ENCYCLOPEDIA OF ART