You are here: Home :: History of sculpture

Versione italiana

History of sculpture

African sculpture

The dame from Lataha

#The dame from Lataha

Sculptures are created to symbolize and reflect the regions from which they are made. Right from the materials and techniques used, the pieces have functions that are very different from one region to the other. In West Africa, the figures have elongated bodies, angular shapes, and facial features that represent an ideal rather than an individual. These figures are used in religious rituals. They are made to have surfaces that are often coated with materials placed on them for ceremonial offerings. In contrast to these sculptures of West Africa are the ones of Mande-speaking peoples of the same region. The Mande pieces are made of wood and have broad, flat surfaces. Their arms and legs are shaped like cylinders. In Central Africa, however, the key characteristics include heart shaped faces that are curve inward and display patterns of circles and dots. Although some groups prefer more of geometric and angular facial forms, not all pieces are exactly the same. Also, not all pieces are made of the same material. The materials used range from mostly wood all the way to ivory, bone, stone, clay and metal. Overall, though, the Central African region has very striking styles that is very easy to identify. With the distinctive style, one can easily tell which area the sculpture was produced in. Eastern Africa is not known for their sculptures but one type that is done in this area is pole sculptures. These are a pole carved in a human shape and decorated with geometric forms, while the tops are carved with figures of animals, people, and various objects. These poles are then placed next to graves and are associated with death and the ancestral world. Southern Africa’s oldest known clay figures date from 400 to 600 a.d. and have cylindrical heads. These clay figures have a mixture of human and animal features. Other than clay figures, there are also wooden headrests that were buried with their owners. The headrests had styles ranging from geometric shapes to animal figures. Each region had a unique style and meaning to their sculptures. The type of material and purpose for creating sculpture in Africa reflect the region from which the pieces are created.


Ramesse statue

#Ramesse statue

The monumental sculpture of Ancient Egypt is world-famous, but refined and delicate small works are also a feature. The ancient art of Egyptian sculpture evolved to represent the ancient Egyptian gods, and Pharaohs, the divine kings and queens, in physical form. Very strict conventions were followed while crafting statues: male statues were darker than the female ones; in seated statues, hands were required to be placed on knees and specific rules governed appearance of every Egyptian god. Artistic works were ranked according to exact compliance with all the conventions, and the conventions were followed so strictly that over three thousand years, very little changed in the appearance of statues except during a brief period during the rule of Akhenaten and Nefertiti when naturalistic portrayal was encouraged.


Sculpture in what is now Latin America developed in two separate and distinct areas, Mesoamerica in the north and Peru in the south. In both areas, sculpture was initially of stone, and later of terra cotta and metal as the civilizations in these areas became more technologically proficient. The Mesoamerican region produced more monumental sculpture, from the massive block-like works of the Olmec and Toltec cultures, to the superb low reliefs that characterize the Mayan and Aztec cultures. In the Andean region, sculptures were typically small, but often show superb skill. In North America, wood was sculpted for totems, totem poles, masks, and boats. The arrival of European Catholic culture readily adapted local skills to the prevailing Baroque style, producing enormously elaborate retablos and other mostly church sculptures in a slightly hybrid style. Later, artists trained in the Western academic tradition followed European styles until in the late nineteenth century they began to draw again on indigenous influences. The history of sculpture in the United States after Europeans' arrival reflects the country's 18th-century foundation in Roman republican civic values and Protestant Christianity. Compared to areas colonized by the Spanish, sculpture got off to an extremely slow start in the British colonies, with next to no place in churches, and was only given impetus by the need to assert nationality after independence. American sculpture of the mid- to late-19th century was often classical, often romantic, but showed a bent for a dramatic, narrative, almost journalistic realism. Public buildings of the first half of the 20th century often provided an architectural setting for sculpture, especially in relief. By the 1950s, traditional sculpture education would almost be completely replaced by a Bauhaus-influenced concern for abstract design. Minimalist sculpture often replaced the figure in public settings. Modern sculptors use both classical and abstract inspired designs. Beginning in the 1980s, there was a swing back toward figurative public sculpture; by 2000, many of the new public pieces in the United States were figurative in design.


Features unique to the European Classical tradition:

  • Full figures: using the young, athletic male or full-bodied female nude.
  • Portraits: showing signs of age and strong character.
  • Use of classical costume and attributes of classical deities.
  • Concern for naturalism based on observation, often from live models.

Features that the European Classical tradition shares with many others:

  • Characters present an attitude of distance and inner contentment.
  • Details do not disrupt a sense of rhythm between solid volumes and the spaces that surround them.
  • Pieces feel solid and larger than they really are.
  • Ambient space feels sacred or timeless.

The topic of nudity



An unadorned figure in Greek classical sculpture was a reference to the status or role of the depicted person, deity or other being. Athletes, priestesses and gods could be identified by their adornment or lack of it. The Renaissance preoccupation with Greek classical imagery, such as the 5th century b.c. Doryphoros of Polykleitos, led to nude figurative statues being seen as the 'perfect form' of representation for the human body. Subsequently, nudity in sculpture and painting has represented a form of ideal, be it innocence, openness or purity. Nude sculptures are still common. As in painting, they are often made as exercises in efforts to understand the anatomical structure of the human body and develop skills that will provide a foundation for making clothed figurative work. Nude statues are usually widely accepted by most societies, largely due to the length of tradition that supports this form. Occasionally, the nude form draws objections, often by fundamentalist moral or religious groups. Classic examples of this are the removal of penises from the Vatican collection of Greek sculpture and the addition of a fig leaf to a plaster cast of Michelangelo's sculpture of David for Queen Victoria's visit to the British Museum.