Sculpture is a form of art and a mode of production using solid materials to create three-dimensional pieces of art work. They are traditionally produced using strong, lasting materials such as stone, marble, bronze or iron, and as such are the most common form of public art due to their construction and durability against the elements.
They are commonly seen as statues representing significant cultural and historical figures, which are displayed in outdoor public spaces such as town squares and city centres.
Sculptures can also be constructed with ‘found objects’, such as Pablo Picasso’s ‘Bull’s Head’ sculpture made from the seat and handlebars of a bicycle, or simply ‘be’ found objects such as Marcel Duchamp’s ceramic urinal entitled ‘Fountain’ from 1917.
They can range in size and style from the monumental sculptures of ancient Egypt and the tribal carving of Native American totem poles to Greek-Roman classical nudes, Henry Moore’s abstract bronze figures and Damien Hirst’s modern day shark-in-formaldehyde.
Sculptures are often collected as part of a wider art collection, but there are many art collectors who specialise purely in sculptures.
They are less common than other works in different mediums such as painting, and therefore the market for sculpture is considered a specific niche with a smaller number of dealers and collectors.
Every movement in art history is represented in one form or another by sculptures of the period, and just as in all other areas of the art world there are those considered masters from each period whose work is valued above others.
Some collectors will specialise in the work of a single artist, whereas others will concentrate on collecting sculptures of a particular period or style.
Carvings and sculptures from early civilisations are often collected by antique or tribal art collectors (although important pieces are predominantly owned and displayed by museums).
Sculpture is one of the earliest forms of human creative expression.
The earliest sculptures were human models, often in the form of small female figures known as ‘venus figurines’ thought to signify fertility.
The most famous of these is the Venus of Willendorf, an 11 cm high limestone statuette of a female figure, discovered in Austria in 1908 and estimated to have been made between 22,000 and 21,000 BCE.
Sculptures from ancient civilisations such as Mesopatamia, Babylonia and Egypt often depicted religious iconography such as gods, and leaders such as kings or Pharaohs.
The ancient Egyptians built enormous monumental statues such as the Great Sphinx of Giza, and other large statues were built to guard the entrances to temples and tombs.
The civilisations of Ancient Rome and Greece created sculptures in numerous forms which were often displayed in public areas such as the city forums or public baths.
The Roman style of portrait sculpture set the standard for European and American public portrait sculpture ever since, and commemorated notable patricians and emperors.
Medieval artworks from the Byzantine period were concentrated on religious depictions, and intricate architectural stone reliefs were created to decorate cathedrals and churches.
The later period of Gothic art began to feature more realistic depictions of the human form, and the style was hugely influential on the artists of the Renaissance period that followed.
During this period there was a renewed interest in classical artworks and the Medici family, one of the most influential forces in Renaissance art and architecture, built a collection of classical Roman and Greek sculpture.
Under their patronage great artists such as Michelangelo and Donatello created some of the most famous sculpted works of art that remain today.
The Baroque period that followed grew from the demands of the Roman Catholic Church saw religious iconography that connected to people on a strong emotional level, and the architecture and sculpture of the period is dominated by scale and drama.
Many sculptures featured dynamic groups of figures, and for the first time had multiple ideal viewing angles.
The period of Neo-Classicism saw artists paying tribute to the Hellenistic works of Ancient Greece, and was one of the great periods for public sculpture.
Modern Classicism showed a lesser interest in naturalism and a greater interest in formal stylization.
Greater attention was paid to the rhythms of volumes and spaces, the technical form, composition and surfaces than storytelling or physical realism.
These periods were followed by Modernism, which encapsulated a wide range of movements from Cubism and Constructivism to Dadaism, Surrealism and Minimalism.
During this period Picasso revolutionised the concept of sculpture with his constructions, fashioned from a combination of disparate objects and materials into one constructed piece of sculpture.
The Abstract movement was seen as a revolt against the naturalism of 19th century Modern Classicism.
Since the 1950s Modernist trends in sculpture both abstract and figurative have dominated the public imagination and the popularity of Modernist sculpture had sidelined the traditional approach.
Types of sculpture and notable sculptors
Main article: List of notable sculptors
The world’s most expensive sculpture
The most expensive sculpture ever sold at auction is also the most expensive artwork sold at auction. ‘The Walking Man’, by Swiss sculptor Alberto Giacometti, was sold by Sotheby’s in London on February 3 2010 to an anonymous collector for a world record price of £65,001,250.
Other notable sculptures
Main article: List of sculptures
Notable sculpture collections and collectors
Main article: List of notable sculpture collections
Main article: List of Art dealers
Sculpture clubs and societies
Main article: List of sculpture collectors' clubs and societies
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