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Sculpture is as old as human culture and has appeared in almost every culture throughout the world. Clay engravings have been found on the walls of caves inhabited by prehistoric peoples of the Gravettian period (c.21,000 BC; Dordogne, France).

Carving, a direct subtractive process, is one of the two ancient SCULPTURE TECHNIQUES. Carved or glyptic sculptures were fashioned from such durable materials as stone, ivory, and wood. The other technique is modeling, a direct additive process in which a pliable material is built up around an armature or skeletal framework. Casting, either by the LOST-WAX PROCESS or in sand, is an indirect process (see BRONZES); a carved or a modeled sculpture is its starting point. Sculpture may be created in two dimensions--relief sculpture--or in three--in the round. Relief may be of varying degrees--low (called BAS-RELIEF), middle, or high--depending on how far the figures emerge from the background plane; or forms may be recessed beneath the background plane, a method favored by the ancient Egyptians.


Alongside the pharaonic tradition in sculpture stood another tradition, equally old but more naturalistic. It has survived for the most part in painted wood and limestone images of scribes, stewards, and other dignitaries, rendered to reveal their human qualities, as in the Seated Scribe (2750-2625 BC; Louvre, Paris), a painted limestone statuette with eyes of inlaid rock crystal.


Until the 20th century, Greek and Roman sculpture was the most important and, except during the early Middle Ages, the most continuous influence on sculptors in the West. The Greco-Roman blend of realistically observed detail and ideally conceived form has profoundly affected the whole course of sculptural styles in the West.

Aegean and Greek Sculpture

In the Hellenistic period (330-100 BC), sculptors showed a growing interest in the depiction of violent motion and emotion, as in the Borghese Warrior (1st century BC; Louvre, Paris).


After the shift of the empire's administrative center (AD 330) from Rome to Constantinople, official interest in monumental sculpture declined. Large sculptures in the round were viewed as idolatrous by the early Christians. On a small scale, carving in relief continued on diptychs (portable ivory panels), such as the Diptych of Justinian (527; Louvre, Paris).


In the West stone carving gradually revived and first appeared in the form of religious narratives on the piers and tympana, semicircular spaces above the main church portals. The models for these large sculptures seem to have been figures from ivory diptychs and manuscript illuminations, treasures that were slowly disseminated westward and northward from Byzantium and its colonial outposts in the Mediterranean. A well-preserved example is the tympanum The Second Coming of Christ (1110-20; south portal) at the Church of Saint Pierre in Moissac, France. One of the most classicistic works to have survived from this period is the large brass baptismal font (1107-18) attributed to Reiner de Huy at the Church of Saint Barthelemy, Liege, France.


The great Royal Portal (c.1150-70) at Chartres Cathedral in France, whose tympana depict, from left to right, the Ascension, the Apocalypse, and the Incarnation of Christ, with columnar figures forming the door jambs below, is a transitional monument, with Romanesque features in an emphatic Gothic framework. Regional and national differences made themselves felt as sculpture became less unbendingly columnar and more supple and expressive, as in the two groups, the Annunciation (c.1220) and the Visitation (c.1230-40), on the west facade of Reims Cathedral in France.


The Italian Renaissance style in sculpture was carried to France by Cellini, who worked in the court of Francis I. The Italian master strongly influenced an entire generation of French artists, including Jean GOUJON, who was notable as a sculptor of elegant Mannerist reliefs with strong classical tendencies. Goujon's elongated and smoothly curved nymphs in fluid poses survive in five relief panels on his Parisian Fontaine des Innocents (1547-49); altered subsequently.


Rococo sculpture and architecture developed in France after the death (1715) of LOUIS XIV. Sculptors in the ROCOCO STYLE abandoned the strong architectonic balances of the baroque in favor of asymmetrical detail. The greatest triumphs of the rococo were in architectural decoration and ornamental carving.


The neoclassical style (see NEOCLASSICISM, art) began in Rome in the 1750s with the archaeological researches of Johann Joachim WINCKELMANN, who sharply distinguished Greek classical art, which he praised, from Roman classical art, which he denounced. Antonio CANOVA, whose foremost patrons were Napoleon Bonaparte and his family, was one of several influential sculptors who dominated the neoclassical movement, which became international in scope from the 1790s to the end of the Victorian era. Jean Antoine HOUDON produced many popular sculptures in the neoclassical style. The French 19th-century sculptors Francois RUDE, Antoine Louis BARYE, and Jean Baptiste CARPEAUX, working in a romantic style, created sculpture of surpassing quality in an age that preferred empty academic or cloying sentimental sculptural wares.

Eve - bronze sculptureAuguste Rodin

The late-19th-century French sculptor Auguste RODIN exploited all aspects of classical sculpture. In his art, Rodin was not so much a shaper of 20th-century developments as he was a sculptor who shred neoclassicism of its sentimentality and its disguised eroticism. His carved marble sculptures are imbued with sexual intensity; his bronze busts project the strong personalities of many famous contemporaries; and his monumental sculptures are overwhelming in their balance of mass and form. This concern for monumentality is reflected in the work of his gifted pupil Emile Antoine BOURDELLE.


During the 20th century, sculpture underwent the most radical changes in its history. The emergence of CUBISM and ABSTRACT ART brought down the dominance of Greek and Roman principles of ideal form and realistic detail. Representational sculpture, continuing under the influence of such late-19th-century artists as Rodin, Augustus SAINT-GAUDENS, and Medardo ROSSO, remained the primary mode of expression for numerous sculptors. Aristide MAILLOL and Henri MATISSE continued figural representation within their national and stylistic traditions, many of them variants of EXPRESSIONISM.

Georges BRAQUE and Pablo PICASSO applied to sculpture the cubist theories they had invented, with such sculptors as Aleksandr ARCHIPENKO, Raymond DUCHAMP-VILLON, and Jacques LIPCHITZ following their lead. Other revolutionary movements followed: Italian FUTURISM, exemplified by the work of Umberto BOCCIONI; Russian CONSTRUCTIVISM, established by Vladimir TATLIN and perpetuated by the brothers Naum GABO (Pevsner) and Antoine PEVSNER; DADA, with "found objects" by Marcel DUCHAMP; SURREALISM, as in the disparate works of Max ERNST, Alberto GIACOMETTI, and Man RAY; and the biomorphic abstractions of Jean ARP and Constantin BRANCUSI.

Source: The New Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia, Release #8, © 1996.
Bibliography: Bazin, Germain, The History of World Sculpture, trans. by Madeline Jay (1968); Busch, Harald, and Lohse, Bernd, eds., Baroque Sculpture (1965) and Gothic Sculpture (1963); Ceysson, Bernard, et al., Sculpture (1987); Cheney, Sheldon, Sculpture of the World: A History (1968); Conner, Janis C., and Rosencranz, Joel, Rediscoveries in American Sculpture (1989); Elsen, Albert E., Origins of Modern Sculpture (1989); Gilbert, Creighton, History of Renaissance Art (1973); Hammacher, A. M., The Evolution of Modern Sculpture (1969) and Modern Sculpture: Tradition and Innovation (1988); Janson, H. W., 19th Century Sculpture (1990); Kasson, Joy S., Marble Queens and Captives: Women in 19th Century American Sculpture (1990); Koepf, Hans, Masterpieces of Sculpture (1966); Lange, Kurt, and Hirmer, Max, Egypt: Architecture, Sculpture, Painting in Three Thousand Years, 4th ed. (1968); Langland, Harold, Practical Sculpture (1988); Montagu, Jennifer, Roman Baroque Sculpture: The Industry of Art (1989); Padovano, A., The Process of Sculpture (1986); Paris, Pierre, Manual of Ancient Sculpture (1984); Pope-Hennessy, John, Italian Renaissance Sculpture, 2d ed. (1971) and The Study and Criticism of Italian Sculpture (1981); Rice, D. Talbot, Art of the Byzantine Era (1963); Richter, Gisela M., A Handbook of Greek Art, 2d ed. (1977); Selz, Jean, Modern Sculpture (1963); Speight, Charlotte F., Images in Clay Sculpture (1983); Stewart, A., Greek Sculpture, 2 vols. (1990); Strong, Donald, Roman Art (1976); Swarzenski, H. P., Monuments of Romanesque Art, 2d ed. (1967); Williams, Arthur, Sculpture (1989); Whinney, Margaret, Sculpture in Britain, 1530-1830, rev. ed. (1988); Williamson, Paul, Medieval Sculpture and Works of Art (1989); Wittkower, Rudolf, Sculpture: Processes and Principles (1977; repr. 1990).

Introduction to French Art & Architecture

Pre-Historic, Celtic & Roman Periods

Merovingian and Carolingian Periods

Romanesque Period || Gothic Period

Renaissance Period || Baroque Period

18th Century || 19th Century || 20th Century


Pierre Bonnard, Georges Braque, Gustave Caillebotte

Paul Cézanne, Marc Chagall, Gustave Courbet

Edgar Degas, Eugène Delacroix, Paul Gauguin

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Le Corbusier

Fernand Leger, Edouard Manet, Henri Matisse

Jean François Millet, Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso

Camille Pissarro, Pierre Auguste Renoir, Auguste Rodin

Henri Rousseau, Georges Pierre Seurat

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Vincent van Gogh


Art Deco, Art Nouveau, Cubism, Fauvism

French Sculpture, Impressionism, Museums

Neoimpressionism, Postimpressionism

Realism, Rococo Style, Romanticism

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