Sculpture: In the round – what a relief!

An example of sculpture in the round.

An example of sculpture in the round.

Throughout history, sculpture has been used primarily as a monument art form. The earliest sculptures were thought to be made to supply “magic” to help hunters in their quests. Later, as civilization unfolded, sculpture took the form of gods or ancient kings; likenesses carved to honor greatness. In 15th C. Italy, sculpture of biblical heroes adorned the streets. Military victories were depicted by the ancient Sumerian sculptors. Even today, great writers or politicians are honored with likenesses in parks or government buildings.  It’s all around, but what do we really know about the art form?

Sculpture is a branch of visual arts depicted in three-dimension. It is the carving (removal of) or modeling (addition of) of material to depict an image or scene. Typical materials used include stone, metal, ceramics, wood, glass and in more recent times, other materials, since Modernism took the sculptural process to an almost complete freedom of material use and process. Where sculptors used to carve or model, now they can cast or weld together found objects or materials that were not available in ancient times. The sky’s the limit in today’s sculptural world.

An example of relief sculpture.

An example of relief sculpture.

There are two basic types of sculpture. Sculpture in the round; a free-standing sculpture that is not connected to anything except at the base, and relief sculpture; sculpture which is attached to a background and can’t be viewed from all angles. Relief sculpture is typically classified by the amount of projection it has from the wall; bas-relief, mid-relief, and high-relief. Bas-relief having the lowest depth of carving and then moving up to high-relief or that which is carved more deeply into the object. Much of relief sculpture is seen on architecture or decorating objects such as pottery. The term sculpture also includes many types of smaller works, including medals, coins, or hardstone carvings.

Sculpture was often decorated with gemstones or paint, but often lost their adornment to time, thieves or restorers. Environmental conditions such as light exposure, weather or acid rain caused damage to certain materials used in sculpture. Contemporary sculptures were once stolen and melted for their metal when the metal values rose; creating a loss of highly valued art for a mere pittance in metal pricing.

Sculptural art history is divided into the same periods as other visual arts; each individual period containing a unique style to that period. Pre-historic, Egyptian, Hellenistic, Romanesque, Baroque… so many styles; one could write for days on each period. For today, I’ll just keep to writing about the form and the process and if this article intrigues you, let you search for more information about the various periods and style on the internet. Sculpture is a fascinating medium.