How to Appreciate
Sculpture Made Simple spans The Archaic Period (c.750-500 BCE), The
Classical Period (c.500-323 BCE), and The Hellenistic Period (c.323-100
BCE). Explaining how to evaluate Greek Sculpture would consume a whole
website, so here are a few selected comments about how this unique art
form developed, and what therefore to watch for.
Greek sculptors learned many of the basics
during the Geometric era, although their figurative statues remained quite
rigid. Figures were typically depicted in the nude (the male kouros),
or semi-clothed (the female kore). During the era of Archaic
sculpture , as the country opened up to influences from the Black Sea,
the Levant and Egypt, they learned how to infuse their human figures with
greater fluidity and a greater sense of life. In addition, they began
to develop the "archaic smile", along with a more realistic
articulation of the body. Then came a truly extraordinary climax.
During the era of Greek
Classical Sculpture , notably the fifth century BCE, Greek sculpture
experienced an unparalleled surge in creativity, exemplified by the
works on the Parthenon (447-422
BCE). These Classical innovations shaped the stylistic evolution of
sculpture for thousands of years to come. The posture of the standing
figure became more subtle, more lifelike and, overall, much more naturalistic.
Other features of Classical Greek statues include, an air of supreme
calmness, coupled with a noticeable dynamic equilibrium of movement,
producing a great sense of harmony and proportion. The leading Classical
sculptors of Ancient Greece included Polykleitos
(5th century BCE), Phidias (488-431)
and Myron (Active 480-444).
During the fourth century BCE, the second
part of the Classical era, sculptors like Praxiteles
and Lysippos softened the human form,
while imbuing it with an aura of nonchalant grace. The Greek Gods of mythology
were humanized, while their movements and expressions were made more elegant.
Composition and layout became more complex: limbs protrude into the viewer’s
space, sculptural groups are arranged more dynamically, while spectators
are able to walk around them and obtain a variety of views.
The Hellenistic era witnessed the development
of two basic styles: the "severe" style – typified by the Venus
de Milo (c.100 BCE) or the more dramatic "Baroque" style,
exemplified by the Pergamon Zeus
Altar (c.166-56 BCE) and Laocoon and
His Sons (150-50 BCE). For more, please see the Pergamene
School of Hellenistic Sculpture (241-133 BCE). In most cases, details
were rendered with extreme realism. Sculptors from the High Renaissance
era (Michelangelo) and Baroque era (Bernini) would be strongly influenced
Greek sculpture , as would neoclassicist art critics like the German
historian Johann Joachim Winckelmann
For more about professional critics,
such as John Ruskin and others,
see: Art Critics: Criticism of Visual Arts
Greek Sculptures to Evaluate
Discobolus (c.450 BCE) Museo
Nazionale Romano, Rome. By Myron.
The Farnese Heracles (5th Century) Museo Archeologico Nazionale,
Zeus or Poseidon (c.460 BCE) National Archaeological
Wounded Amazon (440-30 BCE) Musei Capitolini, Rome. By Polykleitos.
Youth of Antikythera (4th Century) National Archaeological
Apollo Sauroktonos (4th Century) Museo Pio Clementino. By
Capitoline Colonna Venus (350-40 BCE) Musei Capitolini,
Rome. By Praxiteles.
The Barberini Faun (c.220 BCE) Marble, Glyptothek, Munich.
Dying Gaul (c.240 BCE) Marble copy, Musei Capitolini, Rome.
Nike of Samothrace (c.190 BCE) Marble, Louvre, Paris.
Laocoon and His Sons
(150-50 BCE) By Hagesandrus/Athenodoros/Polydorus.
The Farnese Bull (150 BCE) By Apollonius of Tralles.
The Three Graces (2nd Century BCE) Marble copy, Louvre Paris.
Venus de Milo
(Aphrodite of Melos) (c.100 BCE) By Alexandros of Antioch.
How to Appreciate
Roman Sculpture (c.200 BCE – c.200 CE)
Roman artists remained very intimidated
by their Greek counterparts, and sought to imitate them at every opportunity.
Greek master craftsmen were encouraged to leave Greece and work in Rome.
Even so, Roman sculpture did
develop its own modes of expression. During the period 200-50 BCE, when
Republican government held sway, artists developed a particularly "Roman"
look in their statues and portrait
busts – a look of great moral character, accompanied by a sense of
wisdom and determination. During the reign of Augustus (31 BCE to 14 CE)
a new form of idealisation appeared in Roman art, exemplified in the harmonious
proportions of the marble relief sculptures on the Ara
Pacis Augustae . The marble statue of Augustus – the Augustus
Prima Porta – is another such example: the standing figure has the
Greek-style contrapposto (weight-shift) pose and youthful idealism,
but its armoured breastplate and cloak drapery displays a strictly Roman
realism. Indeed, for the duration of the Roman empire, sculptors were
torn between idealism and realism, which according to many art historians
was the critical aesthetic struggle of the time. However, it’s worth pointing
out that by far the bulk of all sculpture produced in Ancient Rome was
portrait busts of the Emperor, and that the principal rationale for almost
all art was to glorify the majesty of Rome. So idealism may have been
an important theoretical option, but in practice realism ruled, both in
motive and medium.
Perhaps the greatest single contribution
of Roman sculptors to the art of sculpture, and certainly the medium of
the public monument, was the historical relief. Trajan’s
Column , for instance, located north of the Roman Forum, is renowned
for its magnificent, detailed spiral bas relief
sculpture , which winds around the shaft of the monument 23 times,
narrating Emperor Trajan’s victory in the Dacian Wars. The shaft itself
is 30 metres tall and 4 metres wide, and is constructed from 20 massive
blocks of carrara marble, each weighing 40 tons. The Arch of Titus
is another wonderful example of the historical relief genre.
Finally, no appreciation of Roman sculpture
would be complete without mentioning the role of Roman artists in the
replication of original Greek statues, most of which have disappeared.
Without these copies, Greek art would hardly
have received the appreciation it deserved, and the Italian Renaissance
(and thus the history of Western art along with it) would have been very
Roman Sculptures to Evaluate
Augustus Prima Porta (50
BCE), Marble, Vatican Museums.
Altar of Peace (Ara Pacis) (9 BCE) Marble, Ara Pacis Museum,
Emperor Claudius as Jupiter (41-54 CE) Marble, Museo Pio
The Tiber (90-140 CE) Marble, Louvre, Paris.
Trajan’s Column (113 CE) Marble, Rome.
The Lansdowne Heracles (c.125 CE) Marble, J Paul Getty Museum,
Centaur being Ridden by Cupid (c.150 CE) Marble, Louvre.
"The Borghese Dancers" (2nd Century CE) Marble,
Atalanta (2nd Century CE) Marble, Louvre.
Ludovisi Battle Sarcophagus (251 CE) Museo Nazionale, Rome.
The San Marco Basilica (300 CE) Venice.
Colossal Head of Emperor Constantine the Great (324 CE)
How to Appreciate
Gothic Sculpture (c.1150-1300) (to c.1500 Germany)
art was the first style to integrate the arts of sculpture, stained
glass and architecture – notably, in the great cathedrals of Chartres,
Amiens, Reims and Notre Dame de Paris. The solidity of the previous Romanesque
art was replaced by a new focus on line, and Gothic’s soaring arches
and buttresses enabled the opening up of walls for unprecedently huge
windows filled with beautifully translucent pictures, far surpassing anything
yet seen. And indeed, the development of Gothic
scupture was inextricably linked to the rise of new forms in architecture .
Christian Church authorities were building lots of Gothic
cathedrals , all of which needed to be decorated with appropriate Christian
art . Externally, this involved sculptural reliefs and column statues;
internally, it meant carved fonts, pulpits, statues, relief sculptures).
Around portals and doorways, sculptors chiseled clusters of Apostles,
Prophets and Saints, along with members of the Holy Family. Stylistically,
figurative Gothic sculpture was softer, more realistic and overall more
human than the stiff Romanesque sculpture .
For example, the body of Christ over the main doorway at Chartres cathedral
is incredibly supple and real, making him seem sensitive and forgiving.
The High Gothic
style of sculpture also began in France from where it radiated to
Italy, Germany, the Low Countries and elsewhere. Using a more florid style,
most Late Gothic sculptors applied themselves not to architectural sculptures
but to private tombs and monuments. See for instance the range of funerary
sculpture in Westminster Abbey, where monuments (in purbeck, bronze, alabaster,
and freestone) are enhanced by the floors and tombs executed by Italian
mosaic craftsmen recruited by King Henry III. The Late Gothic idiom was
given a classical emphasis in Italy, where sculptors used Greek/Roman
models, and a more emotional emphasis in Germany, where sculptors like
Veit Stoss and Tilman
Riemenschneider focused on the suffering of Christ rather than conventions
of form (see for instance, the Rottgen Pieta, 1300, Rheinisches
Landesmuseum, Bonn). In addition, it’s worth noting that it was during
the Gothic era that sculptors managed to achieve individual recognition.
Important Gothic sculpture can be seen
at Chartres Cathedral
(1194-1250); Notre-Dame Cathedral
Paris (1163-1345); Reims Cathedral (1211-1275); Amiens Cathedral (1220-1270);
Burgos Cathedral Spain, begun around 1221; Cologne
Cathedral begun in 1248 but not completed until 1880; as well as the
cathedrals at Santiago de Compostela, Magdeburg, Trier, Strasbourg, Freiburg,
Naumburg, Canterbury, Salisbury, Exeter, Winchester and Westminster Abbey,
among many others.
Gothic Sculptures to Evaluate
In addition to studying the vast amount
of cathedral architectural sculpture, the following items may also be
The Last Judgment (c.1210)
South Trancept, Notre Dame (Paris).
Western Facade of Wells Cathedral (c.1230) Wells, UK.
Beam of Glory (after 1242) Dom St Stephanus und Sixtus,
Portal of the Western Jube (c.1250) Naumburg Cathedral,
Marble Pulpit (1265-8) Duomo, Siena. By Nicola Pisano.
Triptych of the Glorious Virgin (c.1290) Museum of the Middle
Virgin of Jeanne d’Evreux (1324-39) Silver, enamel, gold
and pearls, Louvre.
St Mary Altarpiece (1477-89) St Mary’s Church, Krakow, Poland.
Holy Blood Altar (1504) St Jakob’s Church, Rothenburg. By
Famous Gothic Sculptors
Nicola Pisano (c.1206-1278); Giovanni Pisano
(c.1250-1314); Arnolfo di Cambio (c.12401310); Giovanni di Balduccio
(c.12901339); Andrea Pisano (1295-1348); Filippo Calendario (pre-1315-1355);
Andre Beauneveu (c.1335-1400); Claus Sluter (c.1340-1406); Veit Stoss
(c.1447-1533); Tilman Riemenschneider (1460-1531). For biographies of
important Gothic sculptors, see: Greatest