Classical sculpture

Leochares: Belvedere Apollo. Roman copy of 130–140 AD after a Greek bronze original of 330–320 BC. Vatican Museums

Classical sculpture refers to the forms of sculpture from Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome, as well as the Hellenized and Romanized civilizations under their rule or influence from about 500 BC to fall of Rome in AD 476. It also refers stylistically to modern sculptures done in a classical style. Classical sculptures have been popular since the Renaissance. Only those works that closely follow the canon of classical forms would fall under the term.

In addition to free standing statues, the term classical sculpture incorporates relief work (such as the famous Elgin marbles of the Parthenon) and the flatter bas-relief style. Whereas sculptural works emphasized the human form, reliefs were employed to create elaborate decorative scenes.

There are several periods:


Archaic period

The most important sculptural form of the Archaic Period was the kouros (plural kouroi), the standing male nude (See for example Biton and Kleobis). Reflecting Egyptian influence, kouros stand upright with their left leg slightly forward and their arms at their sides. Archaic Greek sculptors seem to have been influenced stylistically by the Egyptians, although divergences appeared early on. In particular, the male figures of Archaic Greece tended to be represented in the nude, while this was uncommon during all periods of ancient Egyptian art (except when slaves or enemies were depicted). As in Egyptian art, female subjects were always portrayed clothed; female nudity would not appear until much later on.

In this period, the later emphasis on naturalistic bone and muscle anatomy had not yet developed, which can be seen in observing details such as the knees and other critical joints. Some details seem to be "incised" rather than fully modeled, a relic of more ancient traditions. Nor did figures stand or move naturally. However, as the Archaic style gradually transformed into what is known as the Classical style, a clear progression displaying more and more technical knowledge and skill can be detected.

Classical period

The Classical period saw changes in both the style and function of sculpture. Poses became more naturalistic (see the Charioteer of Delphi for an example of the transition to more naturalistic sculpture), and the technical skill of Greek sculptors in depicting the human form in a variety of poses greatly increased. From about 500 BC statues began to depict real people. The statues of Harmodius and Aristogeiton set up in Athens to mark the overthrow of the tyranny were said to be the first public monuments to actual people.

As Greek artists began to study human movement and anatomy, they discovered that living humans tend to display a "weight shift" or contraposition when standing.

The first Greek statue to exhibit contrapposto is the famed Kritios Boy, dating circa 480 BC. Contrapposto soon became a defining element of Greek sculptural technique, culminating in the Canon of the Doryphoros ("spear-bearer"), which adopted extremely dynamic and sophisticated contrapposto in its cross-balance of rigid and loose limbs.

Most of the sculptures made at this time were created to show appreciation to the gods for showing them good fortune, and also to help bring good fortune in the future, and to also gain favor from the gods. Greek temples were specially made to fit the large cult statues. They believed that placing shrines around the areas that were said to be holy would please the gods. Because Greek gods were mostly myths based on real people's lives mixed feelings were created about the sculptures, and therefore more man-like sculptures were created. Most sculptures created can be understood to represent myth, archetype or purpose in life.

During the classical period sculptors were not only creating works for temples, but also mortuary statues to show tribute to deceased loved ones. The sculptures would often show the deceased person in a relaxed pose. Successful athletes and rich families would commission statues of themselves for temples to show respect to the gods. In the 5th century BC portraits became popular and busts featuring generals, philosophers and political leaders appeared.

The high quality of Greek work attracted Italian interest, and greatly influenced both Etruscan, and later, Roman art. The enthusiasm with which Rome greeted Greek art has proven[says who?] important not merely because of the transmission of classical Greek style, but also because most of the extant classical Greek works survive mainly in the form of Roman marble copies of Greek bronze originals. As bronze has always been a valuable metal, most of the originals were likely long ago melted down, and the few genuine survivals have been mostly found in the context of shipwrecks.

However, Greeks did carve marble, and a number of classical Greek marbles have come down to us;[who?] the famed Parthenon Marbles (also known as the Elgin Marbles), lasted in situ until the beginning of the 19th Century. In fact, many of the surviving classical Greek marbles are from an architectural context.

Hellenistic period

The transition from the Classical to the Hellenistic period occurred during the 4th century. Sculpture became more and more naturalistic. Common people, women, children, animals and domestic scenes became acceptable subjects for sculpture, which was commissioned by wealthy families for the adornment of their homes and gardens. Realistic portraits of men and women of all ages were produced, and sculptors no longer felt obliged to depict people as ideals of beauty or physical perfection. Most Greek men were sculpted standing with their hips slightly to the side. When human beings stand this way it uses more muscles.

Roman period

Augustus of Prima Porta, statue of the emperor Augustus, 1st century. Vatican Museums

Roman sculpture began with the copying of Greek sculpture, but then evolved into a form of sculpture which more emphasised the individual. There are many surviving sculptures of Roman emperors.


Greeco-Roman sculpture had a profound influence on Western art. With it, the Greco-Roman style established the possibility and potential of realism in art. Because of the relative durability of sculpture, it has managed to survive and continue to influence and inform artists in varying cultures and eras, from Europe to Asia, and today, the whole world.

While classical art gradually fell into disfavor in Europe after the fall of the Western Roman Empire, its rediscovery during the early Italian Renaissance proved decisive. One of the most important sculptors in the classical revival was Donatello. Many other sculptors such as Michelangelo also made works which can be considered classical. Modern Classicism contrasted in many ways with the classical sculpture of the 19th Century which was characterized by commitments to naturalism (Antoine-Louis Barye) -- the melodramatic (François Rude) sentimentality (Jean Baptiste Carpeaux) -- or a kind of stately grandiosity (Lord Leighton) Several different directions in the classical tradition were taken as the century turned, but the study of the live model and the post-Renaissance tradition was still fundamental to them.

See also

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Sculpture — Sculptor redirects here. For the constellation, see Sculptor (constellation). For other uses, see Sculpture (disambiguation). The Dying Gaul, a Roman marble copy of a Hellenistic work of the late 3rd century BCE Capitoline Museums, Rome …   Wikipedia

  • Sculpture classique — Apollon du Belvédère, attribué à Léocharès, copie romaine datant de 130–140 av. J.C. d après un bronze grec orignial de 330–320 av. J.C., musée Pio Clementino (musées du Vatican) Le terme de sculpture classique désigne une forme et un style… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Classical Realism — For Classical Realism in International Relations, see Realism (international relations) Cast Studio. Academy of Classical Design, Southern Pines, NC. Classical Realism refers to an artistic movement in late 20th century painting that places a… …   Wikipedia

  • Sculpture — • In the widest sense of the term, sculpture is the art of representing in bodily form men, animals, and other objects in stone, bronze, ivory, clay and similar materials Catholic Encyclopedia. Kevin Knight. 2006. Sculpture     Sculpture …   Catholic encyclopedia

  • Classical antiquity — Classical era redirects here. For the Classical period in music, see Classical period (music). The works of Homer mark the beginning of classical antiquity and were revered throughout the period …   Wikipedia

  • Classical Baby — Series DVD Cover Format Children s television series Country of origin USA …   Wikipedia

  • Sculpture in the National Archaeological Museum, Athens — ist der Titel eines gedruckten Kataloges aller Skulpturen in der Dauerausstellung des Archäologischen Nationalmuseums in Athen. Sculpture in the National Archaeological Museum, Athens ist der englische Titel eines zunächst auf neugriechisch (Ta… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • sculpture — sculptural, adj. sculpturally, adv. /skulp cheuhr/, n., v., sculptured, sculpturing. n. 1. the art of carving, modeling, welding, or otherwise producing figurative or abstract works of art in three dimensions, as in relief, intaglio, or in the… …   Universalium

  • Sculpture of the United States — The history of sculpture in the United States reflects the country s 18th century foundation in Roman republican civic values as well as Protestant Christianity.Decorative artThe art of the silversmith reflected the spiritual values of the… …   Wikipedia

  • classical scholarship — Introduction       the study, in all its aspects, of ancient Greece (ancient Greek civilization) and Rome (ancient Rome). In continental Europe the field is known as “classical philology,” but the use, in some circles, of “philology” to denote… …   Universalium

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.