SCULPTURE. By 1500 in Italy, the recovery of classical antiquity permeated all aspects of art and culture. In Padua, Mantua, and Florence, sculptors like Riccio, Antico, and Verrocchio revived the small bronze in exquisite tabletop figures of satyrs, gods, goddesses, emperors, and heroes of ancient Rome that evoked the ethos of antiquity. In Rome, however, the Renaissance manifested itself on a larger scale. Here, the young Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475–1564) carved a remarkable life-sized marble statue, Bacchus (1496). Not even in antiquity had the god of wine been shown like this: pudgy, tipsy, lascivious, mouth open and eyes glazed in Dionysiac abandon, the very embodiment of wine's intoxicating effects and the ancient world's appeal to the carnal senses. If Bacchus represented the epitome of worldly classical values, then Michelangelo's Pietà (1499) in St. Peter's was its Christian counterpart. The young Madonna looks down pensively at the nude, lifeless body of her crucified son. Carved to anatomical perfection and brought to a high polish, the body of Christ holds an irresistible appeal for the beholder. The Pietà was recognized both as a masterpiece and a powerful spiritual icon created in the new idealized vocabulary of classical antiquity, yet infused with Christian piety.
POWER AND THE FORMS OF SCULPTURE
Both sculptures were created in Rome, capital of the ancient Roman Empire, seat of the papacy, and center of humanistic literary and artistic study. Pope Julius II della Rovere (reigned 1503–1513) accelerated earlier campaigns of urban renewal in his strong desire to return the Eternal City to its ancient glory. During his reign, Julius II also ruthlessly reestablished the papacy as a major secular power by militarily reuniting far-flung papal territories. Yet consolidation of political power and association with the prestige of imperial Rome was the goal not only of Spanish, French, and English monarchs but that of the Holy Roman emperor as well. These rulers sought to express their power and garner prestige in major sculptural projects meant to glorify their persons and dynasties.
In Germany, Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I (ruled 1493–1519) gave sculptural form to his political, dynastic ambition with plans for a colossal, multi-figured bronze tomb begun in 1502. Despite its medieval style, its size and conception rivaled the tombs of the ancient Roman emperors. Maximilian planned to erect this monumental structure in a specially designed church in Innsbruck. It featured a bronze, life-sized kneeling effigy situated atop a large, high free-standing rectangular structure decorated around the sides with reliefs showing important events from his life. In it, forty life-sized bronze statues of Maximilian's ancestors (both men and women, beginning with Julius Caesar and ending with Ferdinand the Catholic of Spain), thirty-four bronze busts of Roman emperors beginning with Julius Caesar, and a hundred statuettes of Habsburg saints were to accompany the emperor. The ambitious program, only partially realized, genealogically linked the Holy Roman emperor, his ancestors, and his future heirs to the imperial legacy and glory of Emperor Julius Caesar.
However, Pope Julius II's commission for his tomb to Michelangelo (1505) unified in form and content the legacy of ancient art with the pope's dynastic, political, and spiritual needs. Designed as a huge, freestanding three-storied marble structure (roughly 23 by 36 feet), with niches for statues and terms on the first level in front of which were bound prisoners, the plan called for forty allegorical marble statues and numerous bronze reliefs celebrating the pontiff's achievements and virtues. Now only the statue of Moses on the much-reduced tomb in San Pietro in Vincoli provides a clue to its original splendor. Formally it evoked not so much the tombs of Julius's papal predecessors as ancient Roman imperial monuments. Although never realized on this scale, the Julius Tomb nonetheless set an ambitious standard for dynastic sepulchral monuments.
The return of the Medici to power in Florence in 1512 and the election of Giovanni de' Medici as Pope Leo X in 1513 (reigned 1513–1521) led to a Medici funerary chapel at San Lorenzo, Florence, designedbyMichelangelo(1519–1534).Thepope's dream of dynastic supremacy in Italy, and the end of foreign intervention, was shattered by the premature deaths of the young Lorenzo and Giuliano de' Medici (1519, 1516). In their marble effigies, seated pensively above sarcophagi upon which recline representations of the times of day, Michelangelo subtly transcended dynastic panegyric, creating a poetic meditation upon the meaning of life, fame, and art itself.
In 1529, Henry VIII of England commissioned from the Italian sculptor Benedetto da Rovezzano (1474–1554) a tomb with numerous bronze statues and statuettes, one of the most ambitious sculptural projects ever conceived (abandoned in 1536). Later, Henry II of France planned at St. Denis a great chapel and tomb dedicated to the Valois dynasty. However, Philip II of Spain erected the most majestic tomb of all by building the Escorial (1563–1584), thus fulfilling his father's request (Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, reigned 1519–1556). At the sides of the Capilla Mayor's high altar, Leone Leoni's (1509–1590) over-life-sized gilt bronze and enameled effigies of Charles V, Philip II, and family members kneel facing the chapel's majestic sacrament tabernacle in perpetual adoration. Here was an eternal demonstration of Habsburg piety, sacramental devotion, and divine dynastic favor.
Throughout the sixteenth century, sculpture embellished civic spaces throughout Italy. The first and most important example is Michelangelo's colossal marble David erected in 1504 outside the Palazzo Vecchio, Florence. The David represented not only an emblem of republican liberty but also a fundamental psychological shift that merged Christian spirituality with worldly, man-centered values of antiquity. After the return of the Medici to power in Florence, Baccio Bandinelli carved his muscular, marble giant Hercules and Cacus to flank the David, an authoritarian antidote to David 's republican sentiments. Cellini's bronze Perseus and Medusa soon rose on the Loggia dei Lanzi along with Giambologna's serpentine, three-figured group The Rape of the Sabines. Giambologna's elegant, mannered style was disseminated throughout Europe via exquisite small bronzes frequently presented as diplomatic gifts establishing him as the most influential artist of the last third of the sixteenth century. His legacy was carried forward by Antonio Susini and Adrien de Vries.
BERNINI AND ROME
Widespread political and religious conflicts generated by the Reformation and the Catholic Counter-Reformation wracked Europe, and Renaissance worldly values ebbed in favor of a purified Christian spirituality. In the arts, the Catholic Counter-Reformation spurred the reform of Italian painting toward the end of the sixteenth century. However, sculpture awaited the appearance of Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598–1680) who became the most renowned artist of the seventeenth century. During the course of his long and incredibly productive career, Bernini changed Rome through commissions for churches, palaces, fountains, statues, chapels, monuments, and tombs. Orchestrating a small army of artists and workmen, Bernini dominated the artistic scene. His combination of painting, sculpture, and architecture into one unified and dramatic whole was a major influence in the development of the baroque style that soon spread throughout Italy and Europe.
Like Michelangelo, the young Bernini immersed himself in the study of ancient sculpture. His first large-scale statues for Cardinal Scipione Borghese reflected years of intense analysis. These dramatic marbles stunned Bernini's contemporaries. Pluto and Proserpina (1621–1622, Galleria Borghese, Rome) presents an explosive combination of motion and emotion. The large, muscular Pluto, inspired by the ancient Roman Hercules and the Hydra (Museo Capitolino, Rome), hefts the distraught and struggling girl on his hip as he strides vigorously forward across the threshold of the underworld symbolized by the snarling, three-headed dog Cerberus. Proserpina's soft flesh yields to the god's violent grasp, her braids spin out into space, and marble tears course down her smooth cheeks. The over-life-sized group's startling impact and compelling naturalism is all the more remarkable as Bernini set it on a low pedestal against a wall, creating a commanding frontal view and strong physical presence directly to the viewer.
Apollo and Daphne (1622–1624, Galleria Borghese), inspired by a passage in Ovid's Metamorphoses, represents the instant that the fleeing Daphne's prayers are answered and she is turned into a laurel tree as she tries to escape the pursuing Apollo. The startled god (inspired by the Apollo Belvedere in the Vatican but in this instance running madly) appears as amazed as we are to witness the transmutation of Daphne's flesh (marble) into leaves, roots, bark, and cloth. This hallucinatory realism was made all the more shocking by the way that Bernini orchestrated the visitor's perception of the group. When in its original position in the villa, the approaching viewer saw only Apollo's back. As the visitor moved into the room, the drama unfolded in real time and space until reaching its crescendo. In this way, Bernini controlled the viewer's experience, as he did on a much larger scale in St. Peter's.
It is at St. Peter's that Bernini's mark is firmly implanted. The church is defined from beginning to end by Bernini. St. Peter's Square and the curved Colonnade's embracing arms greet the visitor; at the crossing, under the dome in four pier niches, colossal marble saints—Longinus, Andrew, Veronica, and Helen—activate the crossing by looking upward or seeming to move toward the immense bronze Baldachin, whose four spiral bronze columns and canopy mark the high altar and the tomb of the First Apostle. In the apse, the majestic bronze reliquary containing the throne of St. Peter—the Cathedra Petri —has descended from heaven accompanied by the Holy Spirit and its golden light burst. Cloud-borne and surrounded by a host of angels, the Cathedra Petri hovers miraculously above the apse altar, steadied by colossal bronze statues of the two Greek and two Latin church fathers. A shimmering apparition, the Cathedra Petri is a dramatic artistic culmination of the church's image and visible proof of the papacy's divinely endowed power.
The Triton Fountain, the Elephant Obelisk, and the stupendous Four Rivers Fountain at the center of Piazza Navona are but three of Bernini's best known sculptural landmarks, each offering novel interpretations of well-known types. However, it is the Cornaro Chapel (1647–1652, Santa Maria della Vittoria) that remains Bernini's most famous and potent symbol of seventeenth-century spirituality. Cardinal Federigo Cornaro commissioned a funerary chapel to commemorate seven other members of his family and to honor St. Teresa of Avila, the sixteenth-century Spanish mystic and reformer canonized in 1622. Into the existing architecture of the left transept chapel Bernini wove a related order of pilasters and entablature. Above the altar he placed a pedimented tabernacle framed by double columns into which the marble group of St. Teresa and the angel was set below a hidden window providing illumination. The altar frontal is decorated with a gilt bronze relief of the Last Supper; in choir boxes at each side, four members of the Cornaro family are engaged in discussion, or reading. Two skeletons in roundels on the floor look upward in prayer and wonder as they seemingly rise from their graves. At the apex of the vault is a fresco of the dove of the Holy Spirit, accompanied by a multitude of cloud-borne angels. The frescoed clouds cover a portion of the vault window and the actual architecture of the chapel, creating the illusion of an arriving heavenly host. This unity of painting, architecture, and sculpture focuses on the altarpiece, the Ecstasy of St. Teresa. Here Bernini depicted her rapture: the moment when an angel appeared with a golden spear with a point of fire. In her own words, ". . . With this he seemed to pierce my heart several times so that it penetrated to my entrails. When he drew it out, I thought he was drawing them out with it and he left me completely afire with a great love for God." In his sculpture, Bernini alluded to other mystical events described by Teresa (and others) in their writings: her levitation upon receiving the Eucharist, her mystic marriage to Christ, and her death when, though old, she became young and lovely.
Indeed, the entire program revolves around the action taking place at and above the altar. The dead rise ecstatically from their graves through the chapel floor; members of the Cornaro family bear fervent witness to the portentous significance of this proof of divine love; the Holy Spirit and angels descend into the chapel in celebration of Teresa's union with God. The banderole carried by angels at the apex of the chapel bears God's message: "If I had not created heaven, I would create it for you alone." Teresa appears as an example of faith, as intercessor and emblem of God's love for all mankind, and of his promise of eternal salvation through the Eucharist. Bernini's seamless visual logic gathers and unites the spiritual themes into an instant of stunning clarity focused on St. Teresa and the angel. This programmatic and aesthetic unity represents the culmination of Bernini's career, a perfect unity of form and content, and the artistic zenith of the Counter-Reformation.
Although Bernini's chief rival, Alessandro Algardi (1598–1654), labored in his shadow, he was an artist of immense talent. As a portraitist, Algardi was much admired for the sensitive handling of marble and the psychological depth he imparted to the sitters. The monumental marble relief in St. Peter's, The Encounter of St. Leo the Great and Attila (1646–1653), a sculptural tour-de-force, initiated a new genre for baroque art that would be emulated into the eighteenth century. The doubled life-sized marble group the Beheading of St. Paul (1634–1644, San Paolo Maggiore, Bologna) is set above the altar and seen in the round. The composition captures the moment before the executioner's raised sword strikes and displays Paul's peaceful, spiritual resignation in the face of imminent death.
The influence of Bernini's baroque style extended to the end of the seventeenth and well into the eighteenth century. The Altar of St. Ignatius Loyola at the Gesu in Rome (1695–1699) was designed by Andrea Pozzo and executed by a number of sculptors including Pierre Legros. A marble, gilt bronze, and frescoed confection on a truly monumental scale, it was designed to overwhelm by size, opulence, and the extravagant use of colored marbles. Herein lay the seeds of the decline of the baroque style, for the deep personal piety that vivified Bernini's art was not evident in that of his followers. With the advent of the Age of Reason in the eighteenth century and the concomitant decline in the status of the church, art theorists scorned baroque illusionism and its exuberant emotionalism as an affront to reason.
Slowly taste turned, favoring the restrained aesthetic of ancient Greek art for what Johann Joachim Winckelmann called its "noble simplicity and calm grandeur." Rome still attracted sculptors from all over Europe but they began to seek different ways of expressing the time's new ideas. The young Jean-Antoine Houdon's statue St. Bruno (1766–1767, Santa Maria degli Angeli) pointed the way with still, smooth vertical draperies, a closed profile, and placid, meditative calm. His portrait busts are a marvel of natural observation that ennobles the sitters' intellectual traits. Yet it was an Italian sculptor, Antonio Canova (1757–1822) who created what we now think of as the first neoclassical sculpture, Theseus and the Minotaur (1781, Victoria and Albert Museum, London). His subsequent works, such as Cupid and Psyche (1787–1793, Louvre, Paris), Perseus (1804–1806, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), Paolina Borghese as Venus Victorious (1804–1808, Galleria Borghese) and The Three Graces (1815–1817, London), recouped the artistic and ethical purity of Greek art and inspired artists on two continents, initiating the century-long reign of neoclassicism.
See also Baroque ; Bernini, Gian Lorenzo ; Michelangelo Buonarroti ; Rome ; Rome, Art in .
Avery, Charles. Giambologna: The Complete Sculpture. Mt. Kisco, N.Y., 1987.
Boucher, Bruce. Italian Baroque Sculpture. London, 1998.
Enggass, Robert. Early Eighteenth Century Sculpture in Rome: An Illustrated Catalogue Raisonné. 2 vols., University Park, Pa., and London, 1976.
Hibbard, Howard. Bernini. New York, 1990; 1st ed. 1965.
——. Michelangelo. 2nd ed. Cambridge, Mass., 1985.
Lavin, Irving. Bernini and the Unity of the Visual Arts. 2 vols., New York, 1980.
Licht, Fred. Canova. New York, 1983.
Pope-Hennessy, John. Donatello. New York, 1993.
——. Italian High Renaissance and Baroque Sculpture. 4th ed. London, 1996.
——. Italian Renaissance Sculpture. 4th ed. London, 1996.
Michael P. Mezzatesta
Late Uruk Period, circa 3300 - circa 2900 B.C.E. Large-scale sculpture in the round and relief carving appeared for the first time in the Late Uruk period. A new realism is apparent in the treatment of the human form. A frequent subject is the figure of the “priest-king.” He has a fillet (a narrow headband worn high on the forehead and above the ears), has his hair in a bun and a beard without a mustache; he is attired in a skirt (often crosshatched like a net) to the knee or ankle. From the city of Uruk (modern Warka) comes the Lion Hunt Stele, on which two priest-kings (or one man shown
twice) attack a lion, one with a bow and arrow and the second with a spear. This stele is the earliest example of the “royal lion hunt,” a frequent theme in Mesopotamian art. Several known statues in the round also portray the priest-king. Excavated examples come from Uruk, where some fragments belong to a more than life-size figure. Other images in the round represent nude and bound prisoners. Many of these statues are geometric in style, with heavy legs, but others are naturalistic, with an emphasis on the musculature of the chest and arms that continues as a tradition in Mesopotamian portrayals of kings. A beautiful alabaster mask of a woman is another important find from this period at Uruk. It was part of a composite statue (a work made of more than one material). Constructing statues from different materials was popular in Mesopotamia during the late fourth and third millennia b.c.e. and later as far east as Central Asia. This method was probably used regularly in making divine images that, according to later texts, were formed from precious stones and metals. Many carved stone bowls date to the Late Uruk period and the Jamdat Nasr period (circa 3300 - circa 2900 b.c.e.). Carved in relief on these vessels are processions of animals, usually cattle, with the heads often turned to face the viewer. The best-known vessel of the period is the so-called Warka Vase, which is more than one meter high. Like designs on cylinder seals of the period, it portrays an ordered world. The vase is divided into horizontal bands, or registers, showing (from the bottom up) waters, grain, a line of small cattle, a procession of naked men holding a variety of vessels and apparently moving toward the uppermost frieze, where a priest-king (whose image is largely broken away) presents offerings to a priestess of the Inana temple. These two figures may also represent the goddess Inana and her consort Dumuzi, whose union, acted out by the king and priestess, ensured the continued fertility of Sumer. Behind the female are the symbols of Inana and the interior furnishings of her temple. A similar use of registers is found later on such masterpieces as the Standard of Ur.
Early Dynastic I Period. Sculpture, like other art forms of much of the third millennium b.c.e., has usually been divided into three phases based on perceived changes. While such a tripartite art-historical division is questioned today, the system remains a useful way of dividing some six hundred years. Some finely carved stone sculpture probably belongs to the long Early Dynastic I phase (circa 2900 - circa 2750 b.c.e.). These works include two well-modeled representations of men with bison’s body and horns (bull-men) and statues from the Diyala River region (to the east of the Tigris) of naked bearded “heroes” wearing belts and grappling with lions and bulls. They demonstrate continuity with the naturalistic forms of the Late Uruk period and also
link with southeastern Iran, where similar images, particularly of composite human and animal creatures or animals acting as humans, were made.
Early Dynastic II—III Periods, circa 2750 - circa 2340 B.C.E. During Early Dynastic II (circa 2750 -circa 2600 b.c.e.) and III (circa 2600 - circa 2340 b.c.e.), statues of men and women, many identified by short cuneiform inscriptions, were set up in temples. They were dedicated to specific gods and may have been intended to represent either a donor who would receive the god’s blessing or a deceased person. One of the largest collections of such figures comes from a deposit in a temple at Tell Asmar in the Diyala region. They have angular bodies, enormous eyes inlaid with lapis lazuli and whitestone, large noses, and small mouths. Other more naturalistically carved votive statues suggest that both abstract and modeled forms of sculpture existed contemporaneously and may have been the styles of different temple workshops rather than a chronological development. Similar figures are also represented on stone plaques carved in relief, sometimes divided into registers, and pierced in the center so they can be fixed to a wall. The upper register often shows a seated couple drinking from cups with other humans playing music and serving drink. The humans wear skirts or cloaks, with tufts covering the entire garment or fringes hanging at the hem. Below these figures, various domesticated animals are sometimes shown, and in the bottom register may be wrestling men, or processions, or a chariot or boating image.
Eanatum’s Victory Stele. During the Early Dynastic III period, as the city-states apparently became stronger economically and politically, connections were established with other civilizations from the Aegean Sea in the West to Central Asia and the Indus Valley in the East. Exotic metals and stones not native to Mesopotamia were increasingly used in art. Temple and palace workshops, such as the one in the town of Girsu in the city-state of Lagash, produced astonishing works. The first known depiction of an historical event, king Eanatum of Lagash’s victory over the warriors of Umma, is shown on the so-called Stele of the Vultures. Eanatum is shown twice, once leading his army on foot and then in his chariot from which he brandishes a spear. A simple register system is used, with each register standing for a whole and not to be “read” as representing a sequence in time. On the other side of the stele the god Ningirsu holds a net full of the defeated enemy soldiers. In this way the divine world parallels the mortal world, and the actions and will of the gods are reflected on earth.
Third Millennium b.c.e. Syria. Exquisite sculpture in the round was also made in north Mesopotamia and Syria during the Early Dynastic III period. At Ebla in Syria composite statues were created from different colored stones (a tradition that can be traced back to the Late Uruk period). At Mari on the middle Euphrates such a masterpiece as the votive statue of the administrator Ebih-il was made. He is depicted as a bald man with a beard drilled to form rows of curls in the typical fashion of Mari, inlaid bitumen eyebrows, and eyes of shell and lapis lazuli. He sits on a wicker stool, with hands clasped. His skirt is realistically rendered with tufts of hair that contrast with his bare torso. The naturalistic modeling found in much of this northern sculpture is comparable with that in works of the later Akkadian period, in which modern scholars often locate the development of the style.
Akkadian Period, circa 2340 - circa 2200 b.c.e. The dynasty of Akkad, which came to control much of Mesopotamia through military force, displayed strong continuity with the Early Dynastic period, and the idea of a complete break with earlier artistic tradition is no longer accepted. On reliefs, the theme of royal victory was still developed in registers. However, under Naram-Sin (circa 2254 - circa 2218 b.c.e.), the formal registers were discarded. The royal victory was treated in a single composition of grand simplicity on a stele originally erected in Sippar, but discovered at Susa in southwestern Iran, where it was carried as booty in the twelfth century b.c.e. On Naram-Sin’s Victory Stele, columns of Akkadian warriors arrayed in ascending diagonals climb a hill toward the monumental image of the king, who is trampling his enemies underfoot. The figure of Naram-Sin is transformed, not only by the delicate and naturalistic modeling of his muscular body, but by his
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horned headdress, which was formerly the exclusive prerogative of the gods. Other stone sculptures from this period were made with the same concerns of naturalism and sensitivity.
Gudea of Lagash. With the collapse of the Akkadian Empire, circa 2100 b.c.e., some city-states, such as Lagash under the rule of Gudea, regained their independence. The many statues of Gudea from the site of Girsu (modern Tello) show the ruler with muscular arms symbolizing the strength of kingship. His hands are elegantly folded, and he stands or sits in the tradition of earlier votive figurines. He is either bareheaded and bald or wearing a straight-sided fur hat, his beardless face radiating a calm, otherworldly expression. Cuneiform inscriptions in Sumerian on the statues indicate that they were set up in temples that the ruler had refurbished. The diorite from which the statues were carved was imported from the region of modern Oman on the Persian Gulf.
Third Dynasty of Ur, circa 2112 - circa 2004 b.c.e.. Possibly contemporary with Gudea was Ur-Namma, who founded the Third Dynasty of Ur. Ur III imagery preserves many motifs developed in the Akkadian period, including, under Ur-Namma’s successors, the royal assumption of divine status. In contrast to Akkadian sculpture, however, there are no clear representations of warfare. Ur-Namma had a large stele carved. He is depicted in the upper register honoring the moon god Nanna and his consort. In the scenes below he—like earlier Mesopotamian rulers—officiates at the ceremonies for the building of a temple.
Isin-Larsa and Old Babylonian Periods, circa 2000 - circa 1595 B.C.E. With the fall of the Third Dynasty of Ur and the rise of rival dynasties at Isin and Larsa, the Amorite names of the rulers indicate the growing power of West Semitic Amorite tribes. Traditions in sculpture remained alive, with an emphasis on styles of the Ur III period. One of the best surviving examples of this period is a finely modeled black-granite head of a king that was excavated at Susa, where it had been brought as booty in the twelfth century b.c.e. Although damaged, the rugged yet world-weary face makes a contrast with the placid appearance of Gudea, and this black-granite image has been compared with roughly contemporary sculpture of Sesostris III from Egypt. During the eighteenth century b.c.e. the city-state of Babylon came to dominate much of Mesopotamia under king Hammurabi (circa 1792 - circa 1750 b.c.e.). Perhaps the best-known artwork of this time is a large diorite stele known as the Stele of Hammurabi, which originally stood in the temple of the sun god Shamash at Sippar. This stele was also part of the booty removed to Susa in the twelfth century b.c.e. The relief decorating the top of the stele shows the king wearing a royal hat—like that of Gudea—before the seated sun god. Both the king and Shamash are depicted for the first time with eyes in profile; thus a real gaze is established between god and ruler. From the north Mesopotamian city of Mari comes a beautiful life-size stone figure of a goddess holding a vase from which water must have poured; a channel drilled through the statue from the base to the vase no doubt had plumbing connected to an external water source.
Kassite and Middle Assyrian Periods. With the collapse of Babylonian power around 1595 b.c.e., southern Mesopotamia (Babylonia) was united under the rule of Kassite kings. The characteristic Kassite sculptures are the entitlement monuments (so-called kudurru) bearing the texts of royal donations placed under the protection of carved symbols of the gods. Further north in Assyria, an alabaster altar from the capital Ashur shows in relief two images of king Tukulti-Ninurta I (circa 1243 - circa 1207 b.c.e.) in two moments of worship, standing and
kneeling before the emblem of a god set on an altar identical in shape to the altar on which the relief is carved. It is one of the earliest depictions of an Assyrian ruler in characteristic poses of the Neo-Assyrian Empire (934-610 b.c.e.).
The Early Neo-Assyrian Period. The art of the Neo-Assyrian period, when Assyria emerged as a world power, consists mainly of architectural decoration in the form of reliefs. Almost without exception, they were made for the king, and most are wall reliefs in the form of stone slabs that lined the walls of important rooms in palaces and temples. The slabs, which bear images and texts recording the activities of the ruler, are carved in low relief, generally in soft alabaster. Figures are shown in the pose commonly used in Mesopotamian sculpture, with the head, arms, and legs in profile and the torso generally shown frontally. Obelisks and stelae, freestanding monuments depicting the king, were sometimes set up in public locations. In addition, rock reliefs were carved on natural rock surfaces to mark areas reached during royal campaigns or the location of royal construction projects.
The Palace at Nimrud. It is possible that the earliest known reliefs from the so-called North-West Palace of Ashurnasirpal II (883-859 b.c.e.) at Nimrud (ancient Kalhu) were inspired by local Syrian palace and temple decorations, which derived from earlier Hittite monuments. The dating of these Syrian decorations, however, is disputed, and the inspiration may have been the other way. Indeed, an earlier sequence of Assyrian wall decoration may have been copied and depicted in miniature on the so-called White Obelisk from Nineveh, possibly dating to the eleventh century b.c.e. The throne-room facade and several other major entrances were decorated with human-headed, winged bull and lion colossi. The largest were nearly six meters in length and height.
THE BLACK OBELISK
On one of twenty relief panels on the Black belisk of Shalmaneser III (858-82-1 b.c.e.), the caption ro;ui image of a foreign dignitary kneeling before the Assyrian king has occasioned much interest ever since its discovery at Nimrud in l846. The caption reads: “Tribute of Jehu ’son’ol Omri: I received from him silver, gold, a golden saplu-bowl, a bowl, a golden vase with pointed dudnm. golden tumblers, golden buckets, tin, a staff for a king, (and) wooden purihtu.” Jehu, accord ing to the I Icbrew Bible, was not literally the soon-to-be insubordinate, commander of the army of king Joram, who was Omri’s son. At the instigation of the prophet Elisha, Jehu overthrew the Omride dynasty in Israel, as well as the ruling dynasty in neighboring Judah, in a bloody coup d’état (II Kings 9:1-10:36). Nineteenth-century Londoners flocked to the British Museum to see the first indisputable evidence for the existence of two kings of ancient Israel. Later, in 1870, was published a fragment of an annalistic text in which Shalmaneser claimed that in his eighteenth regnal year he extracted tribute from Jehu; that year would have been 841 b.c.e., Jehu’s first year on the throne of Israel.
Sources: Mordechai Cogan and Hayim Tadmor, II Kings. A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, Anchor Bible, volume 11 (Garden City, N.Y,: Doubleday, 1988).
A Leo Oppenheim, “Babylonian and Assyrian Historical Texts”, in Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, edited by James Bennett Pritchard, third edition with supplement (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969), pp. 265–317.
When approached from the front the creatures appear unmoving and unmovable. From the side, however, they stride forward with four legs, metaphorically preventing any evil forces from entering the palace. The spaces between the legs and behind the tails were carved with a text that identifies the king and summarizes his achievements. Relief slabs depict figures standing against a blank background that sharply defines them. Themes include foreigners bringing tribute to the king, images of the monarch beside protective stylized palm trees (“sacred trees”), and winged genii that are intended to protect the ruler and, by association, the land of Assyria from malevolent supernatural forces. Carved across the middle of each slab is a cuneiform inscription, known as the “Standard Inscription,” recording the king’s name and a summary of his military and building accomplishments. Slabs running along the long walls are divided into three unequal registers. The wider upper and lower registers display a series of images that are often termed “narratives,” though they are more like snapshots of important moments. They depict royal hunts and military conquests. The narrower, central register is carved with the Standard Inscription. Sculpture in the round is rare, although one example (found in the Ishtar temple at Nimrud) shows Ashurnasirpal II standing in a formal attitude. Despite its small size (about 42 inches tall) the image is monumental in its presence. The king is also shown on a stele, where he is depicted facing left in a standard pose, pointing with his raised right hand and holding a mace in his left, with symbols of deities in front of his face. Inscriptions cover the back and sides. From the reign of Ashurnasirpal’s son, Shalmaneser III (858-824 B.CE.) comes the Black Obelisk. Found at Nimrud, it has twenty relief panels arranged around four sides in five registers, each labeled and showing the delivery of tribute to the king from a different part of the empire.
Khorsabad and Nineveh. The relief decoration of the palace of Sargon II (721-705 B.C.E.) in the later capital of Dur-Sharrukin (modern Khorsabad) was modeled on that of Ashurnasirpal II. The most spectacular reliefs come from the throne-room court, which is decorated with a scene depicting the transport of timber by water. It is shown as if viewed from above, with small figures dotted across the surface of the slabs, giving the impression of depth, which distinguishes it from earlier reliefs, where figures exist against a flat background. Sargon’s son Sennacherib (704-681 b.c.e.), who moved the capital to Nineveh, exploited this artistic innovation. At Nineveh the entrance colossi have four rather than five legs. Military campaigns were the theme of the reliefs in the majority of rooms. Other scenes show the collection of building materials, including the quarrying and transportation overland of human-headed bull colossi. Instead of a band of inscription dividing the slabs into registers, relief images are often carved over the entire surface, allowing the artist to play with space and time. A sense of depth is achieved when subjects are presented against a patterned background, such as mountains or water, or the slab is divided into registers by ground lines. Some of the finest reliefs come from the
palace of Ashurbanipal (668 - circa 627 b.c.e.) at Nineveh. Scenes of the king hunting lions, gazelle, and wild horses are beautifully carved in great detail, particularly the richly decorated dress of the king and the sensitively depicted animals. One relief, which portrays Ashurbanipal and his queen banqueting in a garden, is an extremely rare depiction of an Assyrian woman. The carving appears to have been undertaken by crews of artisans. On some of the reliefs depicting large-scale lions, some of the animals were originally carved with longer tails, which were shortened, perhaps on the orders of the master sculptor.
The Late Babylonian Empire. Few sculptural works of the Late Babylonian Empire survive. Two poorly preserved images of Nebuchadnezzar II (604-562 b.c.e.) carved on a rock wall at Wadi Brisa in Lebanon depict the king slaying a lion and felling a cedar tree. The last king, Nabonidus (555-539 b.c.e.), had himself portrayed in an attitude of prayer on stelae where he is depicted in the standard royal pose with thickly styled body.
Persian Imperial Art. The Persians, from southwest Iran, consciously adopted and adapted images of power and royalty from their predecessors. The sculptured imagery of the Persian Empire, like that of the earlier Neo-Assyrian Empire—aspects of whose art the Persians particularly emulated—addressed the king and an audience of courtiers, thereby reinforcing a sense of belonging. Among the few surviving sculptures at Pasargadae in Iran, the royal center created under Cyrus II, who came to power in Persia in 559 b.c.e. and became king of Babylon in 538 b.c.e., is a winged genius carved in relief on a doorjamb; the figure has four Assyrian-style wings and wears an Elamite fringed garment and an elaborate Egyptian-style divine crown. Column capitals take the form of the heads and necks of two animals, the lion or bull, back to back. A lion-like monster was also used as column capitals at the later Iranian centers of Susa and Persepolis. Supernatural creatures, royal figures, and attendants carved in relief, similar to those found in reliefs at Neo-Assyrian palaces, guard some of the doorways in Persian palaces. Some of the garments and shoes depicted were originally decorated with attachments of metal.
Darius the Great. At Behistun (Bisutun), a mountain in northwestern Iran, Darius I (521-486 b.c.e.) had a relief and inscription carved on the side of a cliff some five hundred feet above the adjacent plain. Rather than depicting a series of events, it is a symbolic representation of the king’s triumph over his enemies. This relief is the only Achaemenid royal image that depicts a specific historical episode rather than a standardized and repetitive ceremony or symbol. The relief is close in style to Neo-Assyrian imagery, particularly that of Ashurbanipal. Darius is also represented in a colossal statue (missing its head and shoulders) found at Susa but possibly originally from Egypt. He wears the Persian court robe rendered in a late Archaic Greek fashion, but he stands in the traditional Egyptian fashion with his left foot forward. The base is inscribed in Egyptian hieroglyphs with the names of the countries and regions under Achaemenid control. It also includes images of the various peoples of the empire. Similarly, the diverse population of the empire is represented with distinct costumes on reliefs decorating the royal tombs set in the cliffs above Persepolis.
Persepolis. The best-known sculptural works of the Achaemenid Empire come from the royal city of Persepolis, where many of the artistic traditions found at Pasargadae were continued. Massive, carved, six-foot-tall animal capitals were placed atop sixty-foot columns. Carved reliefs frequently depict a royal hero mastering or slaying powerful animals or monsters. Doorways are decorated with this image, so that the hero protects the interior rooms from the invading creature. Other reliefs show the king and attendants moving through doorways, having battled with monsters at the entrances to inner rooms. The king is also shown being held aloft on a dais supported by the people of his empire. As at Pasargadae, there are slots in the reliefs to insert metal ornaments, particularly on the king’s crown. Some of the most spectacular sculptural reliefs decorated staircases leading to the audience hall, or Apadana—the north and east stairways show the enthroned king with an official bowing before him. Behind the king are Persian nobles in alternating military and court clothing. In front of the king is a row of representatives bringing gifts to their emperor from twenty-three lands that make up the Persian Empire. A Persian courtier holds by hand the leader of each group—adopting a pose found in earlier Mesopota-mian works where a figure is brought into the presence of a god.
T. A. Madhloom, The Chronology of Neo-Assyrian Art (London: Athlone Press, 1970).
Julian Reade, Assyrian Sculpture (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1983).
Margaret Cool Root, “Art and Archaeology of the Achaemenid Empire,” in Civilizations of the Ancient Near East, 4 volumes, edited by Jack M. Sasson (New York: Scribners, 1995), IV: 2615-2637.
John Malcolm Russell, Sennacherib’s Palace without Rival at Nineveh (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991).
Agnès Spycket, La Statuaire du Proche-Orient ancien, Handbuch der Orientalistik (Leiden: Brill, 1981).
Late Geometric Period: 800-700 B.C.E. Human and animal figures are found in sculpture of the late Geometric period, often in either a funerary context or as dedications made at Panhellenic sanctuaries at Olympia and Delphi. Elegant ivory figures are known, such as an Attic model from the Kerameikos cemetery of about 720 b.c.e., which modifies rounder, fatter Eastern prototypes. Small bronze images have been found, which sometimes echo the style of Geometric vase painting in their elongation and stylized proportions, such as a horse dedications found at Olympia, or various warrior figures. As may be the case with Geometric painting, the impact of myth is felt in some of these figurines; encounters between male figures and monsters such as a centaur or the minotaur are known. Metalwork of a different kind also existed during this period, namely bronze tripods (three-legged cauldrons) dedicated at Olympia; and in Attica gold earrings, brooches, and decorative bands have been found in graves dating to the 800s b.c.e.
Early Archaic Period: 700-600 B.C.E. Of the changes that took place in Greek art during the seventh century, so many have been linked to the influence of areas like Assyria, the Levant, and Egypt that the first fifty years is known as the Orientalizing period. There were important developments such as the return of large-scale stone sculpture and architecture, and new, fantastical images in painting and metalwork in Greek art at this time. Corinth, which did not have a strong local tradition of Geometric painting, emerged as the leading innovator and exporter in pottery, and was only replaced by Attica towards the end of the century. Among the new images of Eastern origin is the griffin—a winged creature that has a bird-like head, serpent’s neck, and lion’s body.
Bronze griffin-heads, once connected to cauldrons dedicated at Olympia and made in the early 600s, have been discovered as well as griffin-headed pitchers from the Cyclades.
Bronze Statuettes. Innovations in sculpture are evident in three bronze statuettes from Dreros in Crete, found at the temple of Apollo. The tallest figure is the male, usually identified as the god, which stands eighty centimeters high, and is significantly larger than eighth-century figurines. Two female figures with him are understood to be the god’s mother, Leto, and his sister, Artemis. The figures were made by a method known as sphyrelaton, which means they were hammered from separate sheets of bronze that were then nailed to a wooden core that defined their shape. Here they contrast to other known figurines that were made from molten bronze poured into hollow casts. According to ancient sources, early cult statues of gods, called xoana, were made of wood and may have been life size as early as the eighth century b.c.e.; but none have survived. Early seventh-century sculpture, however, sometimes attained life-size dimensions in durable material like stone. The Nikandre statue is an early example from Delos from about 660 b.c.e., and it has a dedicatory inscription. Although her features are badly worn, she has characteristics known as “Daedalic”—named after the first human artist of Greek mythology, Daedalus. (Such features are clearer on a smaller statue of about 640 b.c.e., known as the Auxerre goddess after where she was found.) Daedalic characteristics include a frontal pose, a U-shaped face, low forehead, and heavy wiglike hair that often falls into four tresses or is lined horizontally. These statues were painted brightly (traces have been found on the Auxerre goddess), and many were relief statues—attached to a background such as a building or altar. Over time these features varied and led to the famous style of Archaic statues of youths and maidens.
When Athena rejuvenates and embellishes Odysseus for his first meeting with Nausicaa, the goddess’s handiwork is compared to that of a skilful artisan:
Then Athena, daughter of Zeus, made him seem taller for the eye to behold, and thicker, and on his head she arranged the curling locks that hung down like hyacinthine petals. And as when a master craftsman overlays gold on silver, and he is a clever one who was taught by Hephaestus and Pallas Athena in art complete, and grace is on every work he finishes, so Athena gilded with grace his head and shoulders, and he went a little aside and sat by himself on the seashore; and the girl looked on him in wonder.
Source: Homer, Odyssey6.229-237,
Middle and Later Archaic Periods: 600-480 b.c.e.. One of the most important legacies of Archaic Greek art is the development of free-standing sculptures of aristocratic youths and maidens, known as a kouros and kore respectively. Sometimes accompanied by inscriptions in poetic meters, these statues were often funeral markers, or else were public dedications made at a sanctuary to celebrate the subject’s achievements. The making of the kouros type in stone and marble was a slow and expensive business aimed at an aristocratic clientele. It begins around 600 b.c.e., one example being the so-called “New York kouros” from Attica, whose stiff frontal pose, with arms his hanging down at the sides sets the pattern for later kouroi; bronze was also used toward the end of the sixth century. This style clearly owes something to Egyptian models, but there are some important Greek innovations here. Firstly the Greek statue is free-standing and seems to suggest the potential for walking, while the Egyptian is still embedded in its block; second, the kouros is naked (although sometimes might wear a choker); and third, the kouros’s arms are usually carved free of his body, suggesting the potential for movement or variety of pose which eventually takes place in Greek sculpture. The musculature of the early kouros is initially not as naturalistic as that of his Egyptian predecessors, but becomes more so over time. Differences in rendering of the physique over time are clear when one compares the New York kouros with the Anavysos kouros (called Kroisos), made circa 530 b.c.e., and the kouros known as Aristodidos, made about 500 b.c.e., whose arms are partly raised. Proportions of the body are altered, and sometimes appear less schematic and more naturalistic in an idealized sense. As celebrations of aristocratic virtue these statues tended to stick to a formula in showing the youth in an idealized beauty and pose, with the typical “Archaic smile.” However, others show their subjects riding horses, such as the Rampin Horseman, dedicated on the Athenian Acropolis; made circa 540, this style introduces some action and breaks the strict frontality of the pose.
Maidens. Korai also had aristocratic associations, being made from similarly expensive materials such as marble. These maidens, however, wore clothes painted in bright colors, sometimes had head gear, stood with their feet together, and sometimes offered the viewer an object such as a pomegranate. Facial features become less schematic over time, although the Archaic smile is evident in many. Also figures sometimes become fuller, and sculptors show variation in the depiction of drapery and clothing, as evident when comparing the Berlin Korê of circa 570 with the Peplos Korê of circa 540 and the Euthydikos Korê of circa 490, whose pouting expression differs from the smile of other korai. Both kouroi and korai were widely produced in Attica; but, as democracy replaced the tyranny in the region in 509-508 b.c.e. and older aristocratic values were challenged, their production is rarer late in the sixth century, and seems to stop around 480 b.c.e.
Early and High Classical Periods: 480-400 B.C.E. In free-standing sculpture from the early fifth century the sense of movement and implied vitality is enhanced through the contrapposto pose where weight is shifted onto one leg in figures such as the Kritian Boy, a dedication of circa 480 b.c.e., which seems more rounded than earlier kouroi. Implied movement becomes more obvious in some early Classical sculptures such as the splendid bronze god (Zeus or Poseidon) hurling his weapon, dated circa 460 b.c.e. found off Artemisium. Although his sweeping arms and slightly bent legs convey a sense of motion, his musculature does not fully reflect the nature of his action; the same seems to apply to Myron’s famous “Discus Thrower,” and to some of the metopes on the temple of Zeus depicting Heracles at his labors. This new approach has led to such sculpture being known as part of the “Severe Style,” where there is some apparent attempt at restraint or idealism in depicting the figures. Some groups of sculptures from this time combine various attempts at such restraint with more realistic touches, such as the pedimental sculptures of the temple of Zeus at Olympia. In some instances one sees Lapiths grimacing in pain when attacked by centaurs, or remaining relatively unperturbed, while Apollo remains serenely in command at the center; on the other pediment one sees an old man, vexed with foreboding, as he gazes on Pelops and Oenomaus, who are about to embark on a deadly chariot race.
Famed Sculptor. Polyclitus of Argos is, after Pheidias, the most famous Greek sculptor active in the second half of the fifth century b.c.e. Some trends evident in the Severe Style are taken further by Polyclitus, most notably in his “Spear-bearer” or Doruphoros, known to us only in copies, but originally a bronze, of circa 445 b.c.e. The statue depicts a young man of toned, muscular physique in a fully balanced contrapposto pose in which his left leg and right arm are relaxed, and right leg and left arm tensed; this is further emphasized in diagonals formed by his knees, hips and shoulders. The details of this pose became enormously influential throughout antiquity. Polyclitus wrote a treatise called the Canon, probably in relation to the statue, which outlined a series of numerical proportions for the body so that each part related to the other (finger to palm, palm to wrist, these to forearm, etc.) as a way of attaining “perfection.” It is interesting to compare the Doruphoros to two original Greek bronzes of roughly the same period, known as the Riace bronzes, depicting two warriors, possibly from a victory monument; some even ascribe them to Pheidias. While there are similarities in pose, the more animated
facial gestures of the warriors and their thick beards give them a more forceful presence than the idealized Doruphoros; this description seems especially so for the tautly muscled Riace A, whose grimace and woolly hair make him comparable to a centaur. Idealization and serenity of expression were not necessarily universal aims in Greek sculpture of this time, and certain fifth-century writers speak of the emotive powers that large-scale artworks were perceived to have on the viewer.
Parthenon Sculptures. Variety of style is evident in the Parthenon metopes depicting the fight between Lapiths and centaurs that survive more abundantly than its other metopes. Some figures appear reminiscent of the Severe Style in the musculature and impassive facial expressions of Lapiths, while others show more advanced treatments of anatomy, and include flourishes such as elaborately carved drapery that gives certain figures an almost balletic appearance. The Parthenon frieze is special not only in spanning over 160 meters, but in showing humans in procession on the same level with gods, rather than mythological scenes. Interpretations remain conjectural, but the scene is usually read as some statement of civic pride, in which the Athenian citizenry is comprised of fine physical specimens, mostly in their youthful prime with uniformly solemn facial expressions; it again underscores the idealizing nature of the images. Of the pedimental sculptures the eastern figures are better preserved where the birth of Athena is depicted in the company of the Olympians. A sense of unity to this event is neatly achieved by having the heads of the horses and charioteer of the rising sun emerge in the left corner, while the moon and her horses sink in the right. The reclining figure at the left, usually identified as Dionysus or Herakles is rendered with greater naturalism and monumentality than, for instance, the old man on the temple of Zeus at Olympia; and in the female figures to the right spectacular effects in their drapery have been achieved by cutting more deeply into the marble than usual to suggest volume and complex folds. Such features further testify to the grand conception of the Parthenon, largely achieved through meticulous attention to detail. The influence of the style of the Parthenon sculptures is evident in parts of the frieze of the temple to Apollo at Bassai which depicts the centauromachy, and some relief-sculpture funerary monuments which appear late in the fifth century.
Later Classical Period: 400-323 B.C.E. Fourth-century sculpture is not radically different from High Classical in style, but tends to involve different subjects, such as personifications of “Peace” by Cephisodotus or “Opportunity” by Lysippus. Children are also rendered more naturally, and the gods appear less monumentally grand than before. One example is the marble “Hermes and Infant Dionysus” by Praxiteles (active circa 370-330), which may be an original by the master himself, or reworked in the Roman era, as the lower legs have been reconstructed. As an infant, the wine god is depicted with greater realism and not so much as a miniature adult; the folds in the robe beneath him are deeper and more complex than is usual in fifth-century sculpture, but clearly owe much to the deeply cut robes on some Parthenon pedimental figures. Hermes’ pose develops the contrapposto pose to be now more languid and relaxed, to involve what is known as the Praxitelean “S” curve, with head, torso, and legs inclined at different angles, as in another statue by him, called “Apollo the Lizard Slayer.” One of the most famous of all ancient statues was Praxiteles’ Aphrodite of Cnidus, which depicted the goddess nude, emerging from her bath, and was designed to be seen from all possible angles in a circular shrine; the “frontality” and even four-square views of earlier sculpture was
well and truly broken by this time. She is less languid than the Hermes but still shown almost as if in an unguarded moment. The statue made a great impact as one of the first monumental nude female sculptures, and, although the sensuality of the original is probably lost to us, it became the subject of many stories in antiquity about young men who became desperately besotted with it. A particularly emotive style in sculpture is associated with Scopas, who was architect of the temple of Athena Alea at Tegea, and one of the sculptors who worked on the Mausoleum. Pedimental sculptures of this temple have been found which seem to conform to the style attributed to Scopas by ancient writers, which often involved twisting torsoes and deep set eyes and agitated expressions. Many significant innovations were brought to fourth century sculpture by Lysippus (active circa 370-320 b.c.e.), whose works are mostly known to us through Roman copies. The proportions of the human figure and block-like features typical of Polyclitus’s sculpture, were varied by these innovations of Lysippus, as in his famous, originally bronze, “Apoxuomenos” (or “Athlete scraping oil from himself”) where the figure is taller and leaner and extends his arm out boldly into the viewer’s space. As Alexander’s official court sculptor, Lysippus’ style was distinctive for depicting the king gazing intently under a mane of leonine hair. A couple of fourth-century male bronzes have survived, which seem to parallel features of Lysippus’ and Praxiteles’ styles; for instance, “The Marathon Boy” in his languid pose, softly moulded physique, and in the action of his arms which adds to the three dimensionality of the figure. Grave monuments of the fourth century show noteworthy developments in being more deeply cut than fifth-century models, with emotive pathos suggested by various means. In the Ilissos relief of circa 340 the central figure gazes out directly at the viewer, accompanied by the young boy crouching and weeping behind him,
while he is contemplated by a mournful old man, perhaps his teacher or father.
The fifth-century Sophist Gorgias of Leontini, contemporary with many great developments in painting and sculpture, refers to the seductive power of artworks to explain Helen’s attraction to Paris:
But when painters perfectly complete out of many colours and many objects a single object and form, they delight the sight. The making of figures and the fashioning of statues provides something pleasant for the eyes. Thus some things naturally give distress and others pleasure to the sight. Many things create in many people love and desire of many actions and bodies. So, if Helen’s eye, pleased by Paris’ body, transmitted an eagerness and striving of love to her soul, what is surprising?
Source: Gorgias of Leontmi, Praise of Helen, pp. 18-19.
William R. Biers, The Archaeology of Greece: An Introduction (Ithaca, N.Y. & London: Cornell University Press, 1996).
John Boardman, Greek Art (London: Thames & Hudson, 1996).
Jeffrey M. Hurwit, The Art and Culture of Early Greece: 1100-480 B.C. (Ithaca, N.Y. & London: Cornell University Press, 1985).
Nigel Spivey, Greek Art (London: Phaidon, 1997).
The Biblical and Talmudic Periods
Within the general context of the problem of representational art among the Jews in antiquity, sculpture, together with *medals and *seals, was in a special category. The Bible (Ex. 20:4) forbade the "graven image" in the most explicit fashion, more categorically and comprehensively than the mere likeness. Hence, while the representation of human or animal figures on a plane surface was condoned or permitted most of the time during the periods in question, greater difficulties were constantly raised with regard to three-dimensional representations on medals and seals, and four-dimensional sculptures in the round. Indeed, in some Orthodox circles, even making an impression with a seal bearing the human or animal form was considered religiously objectionable, since by doing so a man actually "made" a graven image, even though not for worship or veneration. From a very early period, however, this was qualified in practice. The *Cherubim of the Tabernacle and in the Temple of Solomon were representations in the round. A fourth century Jewish scholar states (tj, Av. Zar, 3:1, 42c) that all manner of images (פרסופים, parsufim, mod. Heb. parẓufim; i.e., "visages," from the Greek πρόσωπον) were to be found in Jerusalem before its destruction in the year 70 c.e. Even if this information is not quite accurate, it is obvious that this scholar himself had no objection to graven images as such. R. *Gamaliel in the second century c.e. is said to have had a human head engraved on his seal. A statue of the ruling Parthian monarch stood as a patriotic symbol in the synagogue where *Abba Arikha and *Samuel worshiped in Nehardea (rh 24b). The talmudic statement (Av. Zar. 42b) that "all images are permissible except those of human beings" presumably refers to their retention when they were found rather than to their manufacture.
In the Middle Ages
The rabbis of northern France discussed and even permitted the representation of the human form in the round, provided that it was incomplete (Tos. to Av. Zar. 43a). Even *Maimonides (Yad, Avodat Kokhavim 3:10–11), while forbidding the human form in the round, apparently sanctioned three-dimensional animal figures. In the Renaissance period, carved lions flanked the steps leading up to the ark in the synagogue at Ascoli in Italy, although this eventually gave rise to objections. There are traces of Jewish sculptors in Spain in the Middle Ages, including the anonymous Jew who was said to have been responsible for the first recorded statue of Francis of Assisi (1214). There were also a number of metal workers whose work included the making of figures in gold and silver. Jaime Sanchez, the Aragonese court sculptor, was assisted in his work by a certain Samuel of Murcia, who is even designated as rabbi. Some scholars maintain that the eminent German sculptor Veit Stoss (Wit Stwosz, 1447–1542), creator of the altar of the church of St. Mary in the Polish city of Cracow, whose earlier life is wrapped in mystery, was in fact of Marrano birth, and even recorded the fact in Hebrew characters in one of his paintings.
The fashion of commissioning portrait medals was known among Italian Jews of the Renaissance period, such as Gracia *Nasi and members of the *Norsa and *Lattes families. The actual work was done by non-Jewish artists, but one Jew, Moses da *Castelazzo, was employed as a medalist at the court of Ferrara, though none of his productions can be identified. Biblical and other scenes in high relief appear on the tombstones in some of the cemeteries of the Sephardi communities of the Atlantic seaboard, especially Amsterdam. In the Jewish cemetery in Curaçao in the West Indies, the deathbed scene is sometimes shown on the tombstone with the likeness of the deceased in high relief. Nevertheless, there seems to have been some reluctance among the Jews to tolerate sculpture in the complete sense of the term. The earliest bust of a Jew is usually held to be that of Moses Mendelssohn by P.A. Tassaert (1727–88). The bust of Antonio Lopes *Suasso, Baron Avernas le Gras, attributed to Rombout Verhulst (1624–98), is, however, of an earlier date. But as late as the 20th century, there were Orthodox Jewish collectors in western Europe who refused to allow sculptured figures in their homes unless they were either defective or slightly mutilated. In the light of this attitude, Jewish medalists of some reputation came into evidence relatively early, while Jewish sculptors emerged only in the 19th century.
The 19th and 20th Centuries
Jews entered the field of sculpture about 1850, some years after the first Jewish painters appeared. Few of these 19th-century sculptors are remembered today, although some of their work survives on the facades or in the interior of public buildings, in the squares of large cities, in parks, or in the vaults of museums. Possibly the earliest to achieve a measure of fame was the Hungarian, Jacob *Guttmann, for whom Prince Metternich and Pope Pius ix sat, but whose name is not to be found in any history of modern art. Guttmann shares the fate of scores of non-Jewish sculptors of his time, who were famous in their day, obtained gold medals and held professorships, but fell into oblivion with the emergence of Auguste Rodin (1840–1917), who was to overturn the prevailing notions concerning the function and scope of sculpture.
These men were gifted enough to furnish Victorian society with statues of celebrated statesmen or generals, or with the knickknacks that adorned the tables and mantelpieces of upper-middle-class homes. Most of these pieces were conceived in a style that might be described as "sentimental naturalism." Often, tolerably good likenesses of individuals were created, yet they suffered largely from an excessive preoccupation with detail. Works on literary or religious themes were frequently burdened with an all too obvious and even trite "symbolism." Thus, of 19th-century Jewish sculptors, Samuel Friedrich *Beer is chiefly remembered for his association with Theodor Herzl and the Zionist movement rather than for his own work. Similarly, Boris *Schatz is revered today as the founder of the *Bezalel School of Art and the Bezalel Museum in Jerusalem, while his actual works are no longer held in high esteem.
After 1900, artists discarded the academic formula. Art is imitation of nature, and Jewish sculptors, like their non-Jewish confrères, stressed the emotional or expressionist element, abandoning mechanical accuracy or photographic likenesses. They were encouraged in this by the discovery and evaluation of aboriginal art from Africa and Oceania, which, nonnaturalistic in character, made a strong impact by its daring simplifications and exaggerations of forms. Among the authors of pioneering studies of African sculpture were Carl Einstein (1885–1940) and Paul Westheim (1886–1963). It is remarkable that almost all the Jewish sculptors whose careers began around 1910 came from east European communities, where the taboo against the making of three-dimensional objects was still strong. They included Enrico (Henoch) *Glicenstein;Elie *Nadelman;Chana *Orloff; Anton and Naum Nehemia *Pevsner (d. 1977) who were brothers; Ossip *Zadkine; and Moyse *Kogan. The best known of this group of sculptors is Jacques *Lipchitz, in whose work can be found figures and groups drawn from Jewish and biblical themes. Another well-known sculptor, Sir Jacob *Epstein, born in New York and living most of his life in England, was the son of Polish immigrants. The Italian painter Amadeo *Modigliani first worked as a sculptor and left more than 20 carvings as evidence of an unusual talent.
Although most of the modern sculpture belongs to the category of expressionism, Jews have also been pioneers in post-expressionist trends, among them Làszló Moholy-Nagy (1895–1946), and Naum Nehemia Pevsner. In the United States, two dentists who became sculptors, Herbert *Ferber and Seymour *Lipton, achieved wide acclaim, Ferber with lead and bronze pieces that, while abstract, were imbued with psychological or symbolic meaning, and Lipton with roughly textured metal works that, equally abstract, are vaguely reminiscent of plants or animals. The huge assemblages of scraps of wood of Louise Nevelson (1900–1988) create environments of their own. Of a later generation than these is George *Segal, whose white plaster figures are cast from living models and placed in pseudo-realistic settings such as shops or bedrooms. A naturalized Frenchman, Hungarian-born Nicolas Schoeffer (1912–1992), created complicated constructions making use of light, and even noise. In England, the pioneer of minimal sculpture was Anthony *Caro.
While the synagogue for a long time rejected any decoration in the round, in the 1950s and 1960s more and more Reform temples and, to a lesser degree, Conservative congregations, especially in the United States, commissioned the services of sculptors to fashion large menorot and other ritual objects, or to decorate walls with semi-abstract designs of such symbols as the Burning Bush or the Tablets of the Law.
Sculpture in Ereẓ Israel
In the same way as painting was continuous and intense in Palestine after 1906, sculpture also flourished as the result of the efforts of a few sculptors over a considerable period. Avraham Melnikoff (1892–1960) is known for his famous "Lion" at Tel Ḥai (1926), and Zeev *Ben Zvi, who taught sculpture at the Bezalel School from 1936, had a good knowledge of cubism and left some important works. It was the more academic school of sculpture, represented by Moshe Ziffer (1902–1989), Aharon Priver (1902–1979), and Batya Lishansky (1900–1990), which dominated the field prior to the establishment of the State of Israel. During this time there was hardly any open-air sculpture. In 1938, however, Yitzhak *Danziger executed his "Nimrod," which was in itself an attempt to create a synthesis between Middle Eastern sculpture and the modern concept of the human figure. Danziger's art underwent profound changes after World War ii, and he became the leader of the younger generation of sculptors. His style rapidly became more abstract. Not only did he work in new materials, such as iron, but he attacked the double problem of open-air sculpture and its integration into its surroundings and its relation to town planning. Yeḥiel *Shemi, Dov *Feigin, Moshe Sternschus (1905–1992), Kosso Eloul (1920–1995), and David *Palombo followed Danziger in developing abstract styles of their own. They were in turn copied by younger sculptors, such as Ezra Orion (1934– ), Menashe Kadishman (1932– ), and Buky (Moshe) Schwartz (1932– ). Two others who worked on monumental sculptures and integrated them into urban landscapes were Igael *Tumarkin and Shamai *Haber.
Yidisher Kultur Farband, One Hundred Contemporary American Jewish Painters and Sculptors (1947); B. Satt, AJewish Town in Sculpture (1958); C.S. Spencer, in: Ariel, 18 (1967), 19–24; B. Kirschner, Deutsche Spottmedaillen auf Juden (1968), incl. bibl.
Numbers of these early carvings have been found, and most employ an already sophisticated symbolic play of miniaturization and metonymy. The body is constructed on an intimate scale, like most early sculpture (these figures are usually about 15 cm high), rendering these female forms both literally graspable and psychologically non-threatening. Yet the symmetrically-arranged limbs and organs are often significantly abstracted — visually bisected with deep lines between breasts and thighs (and even running down the midsection), so that the entire miniature body can be viewed as a slightly larger-than-life-size equivalent for the female vulva. Whatever rituals they accompanied, and whatever practices gave them cultural meaning, have been lost. All that can be said with confidence of these first moments in cultic sculpture is that mimetic representation is far from the primary goal.
Authority figuresSculpture of the body in the African continent participated in these wide Paleolithic trends, but more salient for art historians has been the enduring canonical tradition emerging with dynastic rule in Upper Egypt at the beginning of the third millennium bce. As scholars have argued, the astonishing invariance of the dynastic Egyptian canon is a mark of its unremitting intentionality, as well as a sign of its social origins in systems that controlled representations and institutionalized their modes of transmission. Dynastic Egyptian sculpture of the body, based on an art of contour and shallow relief rather than sculpture in-the-round, presents different aspects of the human form as if each were seen from a different vantage point. Eye, shoulders, and one breast are shown as if viewed from the front; face, legs, feet, and the other breast are represented in profile. Junctures (such as the hip or neck) are non-anatomical transitions expressing sections of the contour.
The Egyptian canon was developed specifically to project a visual sign of one pre-eminent body, that of the ruler. The strong arm (its symbolic attributes fully preserved) is shown clenched, or in muscled extension (wielding a sceptre or other sign of authority); the (usually male) face is limned with its jaw jutting forward; the feet are stable on the ground line, yet one foot is shown striding forward in purposeful procession. Repeating this series of important attributes, the canon was a socially-enforced formula for achieving clarity in delineating power, not some ‘way of seeing’ or being-in-the-body that can be held to be innate in the distant Egyptian (or, for that matter, the ancient Mesopotamian or Mycenaean). As described by Whitney Davis, the canonized body of the Egyptian ruler stabilized only with the second period of pharaonic rule, ‘symbolically [stating] certain social achievements that society had recently recognized as significant, potentially unstable, and problematic for its continued reproduction — namely, the stability and validation of a centralized state’.
When cultures in ancient Greece emerged to revise the Egyptian canon in specific and self-conscious ways, they built on local traditions of sculpture that manipulated patterns of nakedness and ritual. Greek sculpture of the body was intended primarily for ritual use; those being depicted are participants in religious practices or objects of devotion, not (or not only) articulating signs of statehood. Votive figures in the form of women (viewed as ‘not-men’) are shown draped; only men are naked. But, as Andrew Stewart argues, in an earlier (pre-Geometric) tradition, both men and women were shown naked, their basic forms marked by slits or penile protuberances that reveal a paramount goal of gender differentiation in which women were not merely partial or canceled men. In this pre-canonical period in Greece, the body was a differentiated sign for the human in general, but also for the self in particular. Clothing or other social implements were mere distractions from the true self, revealed by, and in, the body.
The shift from this early phase of nakedness to a bifurcation in Greek sculpture and vase-painting between the clothed female and the naked male, appears in the late eighth century bce. Nakedness is the natural state of the human (male): clothing designates its socially constructed (and female) state. Not coincidentally, this is also the period of consolidation for male rule in the polis, and the moment when running naked during the (male) Olympic Games becomes the rule. It also marks the inaugural moment for what would later come to be called ‘classical’ Greek art, a powerful conflation of ambitions, for mimesis and a new body ideal — twin goals that would haunt sculpture, and culture, for millenia.
The sculpted body in this highly mimetic phase of classical Greek art was preferentially bronze, a metal which carried all the connotations of Hesiod's descriptions of the race of strong men that preceded the classical age of heroes. The literally ‘brazen’ warrior stood poised for aggressive and immediate action — breath drawn into a barrel chest through slightly parted lips (made of copper, with gleaming silver teeth), nipples taut (and inlaid in contrasting copper), hands flexed around weapons, and inlaid eyes (with copper eyelashes) staring implacably at their prey. The polychrome realism of such works was lost by the later dominance of the Roman marble copies that were the primary means of transmitting classical forms. The bleached white headless and armless ‘Venus’ came to represent the classical tradition for countless followers in later times — despite periodic archaeological revelations of the intense colours that once adorned Greek sculpture in marble and in bronze.
Corpus ChristianTied as it was to pagan religions, the Greek mimetic model was devalued by the early Christians (and, for that matter, by the Judaic traditions on which they built). The play between illusion and the materiality of sculptural form was but one aspect of the devilment Christianity perceived in these body images. Medieval sculpture, then, was a sculpture of the body in dialectic — either dematerialized into architectural form or rendered abjectly material, ridden with the wormholes of corporeal death or dripping with the gore of the Passion. Arguably, the privileged Christian signifier of the cross is the ultimate sculptural abstraction of the body. As floorplan of the cathedral, icon above the altar, and punctuating votive on the rosary, the cross is both reminder of the body's dross mortality, and vehicle for its divine transcendence. Depicted medieval bodies (such as the curving apostles who adapt themselves to the portals of a Romanesque cathedral) are only part of the story, for the medieval body also moved, in worship, through the abstract sculptural void of the cruciform (body-formed) church.
Quattrocento Neoplatonists struggled to reclaim the naturalistic body as a signifier of the sacred. The triumph of High Renaissance sculpture marked the success of this project, but not without dramatic struggles, such as the iconoclastic burnings of ‘pagan’ art under the fierce eye of the preacher Savonarola. Buttressed by the support of powerful patrons and his own humanist ambitions, Michelangelo Buonarroti was but one of the most gifted Renaissance artists who restored sculpture to the profoundly mimetic status it had possessed in classical times (indeed, in one famous story the young Michelangelo buried one of his marble torsos, fooling fellow Tuscans into believing it was ancient when it was finally unearthed). Whether painting sculpted androgynes on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, hewing the colossal David from the quarries at Carrara, or achieving the dreamy torsion of the half-liberated Slaves, Michelangelo forced sculpted bodies (preferably nude and male) to the forefront of visual culture and public space, where they would remain until well into the twentieth century.
The apotheosis of the body in stone must surely be Gianlorenzo Bernini's (1598–1680) Cornaro Chapel altar depicting The Ecstacy of Saint Teresa (Rome, 1645–52). This well-known work instantiates the emotional intensity, drama, and erotic mysticism of the baroque (by one of the style's inventors). From a tangle of surging drapery, an upturned head, and a few exposed appendages, the sculptor convinces us of Teresa's sublime jouissance, amplified by gilded rays of light and a smiling angel (or Eros) looking on. Such extreme emotional states, and such twists and turns of the body, were tamed during the Enlightenment. Neo-classicism was reconfigured in terms of an archaic Greek ideal (the Egyptianizing Kouros rather than the explosive movement of Hellenistic Greece). Bodies aligned themselves in military phalanxes ( Francois Rude's Marseillaise, 1833), or arranged themselves in tepid erotic displays ( Antonio Canova's Pauline Borghese as Venus, 1808). Only the pressures of a restless, industrializing modernity would threaten the long reign of these classical echoes. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, twin emphases on specularity and an inner-directed abstraction (its seeming obverse) rendered figural sculpture increasingly irrelevant. Bridged by the accomplishments of French Impressionist sculptor Auguste Rodin (1840–1917), the tenure of the classical body ended, and the twentieth-century body emerged — fragmented, pocked by light, insistently unfinished, and usually cast in industrial scale foundries rather than carved ‘by hand’ (even if they had often been the hands of skilled practiciens).
Modern disciplineThe multiple, serialized body characterized modern artists' production, with or without the artist's knowledge or consent. Rodin's sculptures still continue to be cast by the French government (with his blessing) and although Edgar Dega's Little Dancer of 14 Years (c.1881) was made in a single wax original (dressed in gauze tutu and silk, with real hair whose ratty realism repulsed contemporary critics), market pressures resulted in its replication in bronze, with only the tutu in cloth. The possibilities presented by such industrial casting methods, and by the concept of serialization itself, became themes for later artists. Drawing from the vibrant vernacular tradition of African wood carving, Pablo Picasso's odd little Cubist abstraction Glass of Absinthe (1914) was cast in bronze and issued in a series of six, each painted differently to play with the object's anthropomorphic status as both cup and besotted drinker of the lethal drug.
The history of twentieth-century art is a history of the ebb and flow of abstraction; the projected and empathetic presence of the body in the sculpture shifted in mid-century to a dialectic between the body and the sculpture. Phenomenology codified this shift, focusing on the relationship of the perceiving body to forms in an experiential space. This was particularly important for the group of artists called the Minimalists (New York, 1960–8). Their central canonical form was the cube, although the rectangle and the paralleliped were contenders. Such basic geometric forms, many built to the scale of a standing man, were held to have ‘presence’, to command a response from the viewer of the type normally reserved for other human beings — to function, in other words, as another body, confronting, but not replicating, the viewer's own.
The reductive austerities of Minimalism were followed by a wide range of art movements that brought the body forcefully back into art — although not by the standard mimetic means. Art of the last decades of the twentieth century can no longer be contained within the genre called ‘sculpture’: body art, performance, and occasionally even installation art inserted the living body into the arena of display. Visual artists commanded theatrical stages, but they also worked in stadiums, seashores, sidewalks, subways, and conventional gallery interiors. Repetitive actions of bodies in Ann Hamilton's installations surfaced concerns with labour and ritual; Laurie Anderson's technologically-mediated performance art questioned the stability of gender; Adrian Piper's Explorations of the abject body strained the social fabric of public space in New York City; absent bodies, signalled by female-shaped depressions in the earth, were presented in Ana Mendieta's Silueta Series, performing the negativity so often ascribed to ‘woman’ in a binary economy of signs. The source of much of this fin-de-millenia energy lay in feminist and multicultural critiques of a prevailing Western tradition, seemingly not yet fully exhausted — that tradition in which living bodies are emptied and mapped onto the fetish known as sculpture.
Caroline A. Jones
See also art and the body.
During the Renaissance, sculptors produced a remarkable range of works, from small carved figures and relief* images to massive public monuments and religious statues. In some parts of Europe, particularly Italy, the rise of humanism* led to an interest in the sculptural styles of ancient Greece and Rome. However, much of the sculpture produced in northern Europe during the Renaissance showed the influence of the Gothic* art of the Middle Ages.
Italy. The development of Italian Renaissance sculpture can be divided into three periods: 1250 to 1400, 1400 to 1500, and 1500 to 1600. During the first period Italian sculpture followed several different trends, such as the use of massive medieval* forms and the incorporation of Gothic realism. Another trend, which set the stage for the Renaissance, was the emerging awareness of ancient Roman art. In the 1200s the work of southern Italian sculptors such as Nicola Pisano showed some of these tendencies, reflecting both ancient Roman and French Gothic sources.
During the second period of Italian Renaissance sculpture—the 1400s—many outstanding sculptors worked in Italy, especially in Florence. The start of this period is generally associated with a competition held in 1402 for the creation of bronze doors for the baptistery in the city. Several prominent sculptors, including Donatello, Filippo Brunelleschi, and Lorenzo Ghiberti submitted entries. Ghiberti (ca. 1378–1455) won the contest with a relief that displays remarkably realistic human anatomy in a classical* style.
Donatello (ca. 1386–1466), the most outstanding Italian sculptor of the 1400s, also worked in Florence. His earliest pieces show the influence of ancient Roman sculpture. Over the course of his career, Donatello's artistry ranged from powerfully dramatic figures, such as Mary Magdalen, to captivating images of youth and beauty, such as David. He experimented with perspective* and with various decorative effects. To add a sense of drama to his work, he sometimes created vast scenes filled with agitated figures, such as the bronze reliefs in the sanctuary of St. Anthony at Padua.
During this second period, portraits of individuals became more realistic. Most sculptures of women were still idealized, with perfect, youthful faces and figures. Likenesses of men, however, followed the ancient Roman custom of including the details of aging and other unflattering physical elements. Antonio Pollaiuolo (ca. 1431–1498) took this approach in the tomb of Pope Sixtus IV in the Vatican, which plainly shows the elderly features of its subject.
In the 1500s Michelangelo (1475–1564) dominated Italian Renaissance sculpture. Some critics, including the art historian Giorgio Vasari (1511–1574), view Michelangelo's work as the climax of Renaissance art. In a career that spanned more than 60 years, the artist created numerous images of the human body to express his artistic ideas.
For many viewers Michelangelo's famous statue of David represents the ideal Renaissance male nude. Its pose, facial expression, and large scale suggest a tremendous sense of power. Two figures of Slaves that he created for the tomb of pope Julius II have tense muscular poses and emotionless faces that suggest inner struggle. Michelangelo also explored the use of allegory*. For the Medici tomb in Florence, he produced portraits of Giuliano and Lorenzo de' Medici that represent thought and action. Overall, Michelangelo's depiction of the human body went beyond traditional realism and introduced an exaggerated style that became known as Mannerism*.
As the 1500s progressed, powerful rulers often used sculpture to create impressive public monuments. Major works, such as massive fountains, featured images from classical allegory. In Florence, Cosimo I de' Medici hired the artist Benvenuto Cellini (1500–1571) to produce a triumphant statue of the mythological hero Perseus. Sculptural decoration of buildings also became increasing important. The Venetian sculptor Jacopo Sansovino (1486–1570), for example, freely integrated sculpture with his architecture, giving it a luxurious appearance. Many of these elements were further developed in the Baroque* style of the 1600s.
Northern European Sculpture. During the late 1300s and early 1400s, artists in northern Europe created realistic sculptures with intricate detail. Their work had little connection with the classical style that developed in Italy. Instead, northern sculptors continued to use many of the artistic techniques found in the great Gothic cathedrals. They worked in a variety of styles and media, from large figures in wood and stone to exquisite ivory carvings. The pieces offer a broad range of emotional expression, from dramatic to sensitive.
By the end of the 1300s, northern European sculptors had developed a form of realism that was highly detailed. Sculptors began creating precise portraits of particular individuals. This realism reached a climax with the work of Flemish* sculptor Claus Sluter (ca. 1340–1406), whose images of biblical figures have animated expressions, a sense of movement, and include details such as signs of aging. Another characteristic of northern European work during this period is the use of paint on sculptured surfaces. Indeed, in the Netherlands, the development of painting and sculpture were closely connected.
In the 1400s sculpture in the realistic style appeared in Germany and Austria. The Dutch artist Nicolaus Gerhaert, who died in the 1470s, brought the style of Claus Sluter to the region. Notable German sculptural works of the late 1400s and early 1500s include monumental wooden altarpieces to decorate churches. Some of these pieces combine sculpture with painting, such as the Isenheim Altarpiece (1515), which features work by Matthias Grünewald and Nicholas of Hagenau.
In the 1500s the influence of the Italian Renaissance arrived in northern Europe. Flemish and German artists, such as Albrecht DÜrer (1471–1528), traveled to Italy and brought back Renaissance ideas and practices. In France and Spain, the monarchs were largely responsible for introducing Renaissance art. The rulers of both countries commissioned works from leading Italian masters. For example, in the 1540s the Italian artist Francesco Primaticcio adorned the French royal residence at Fontainebleau with elegant stucco nudes. In turn, many French and Spanish artists adopted Italian artistic techniques.
The rise of the Protestant Reformation* in German-speaking lands temporarily put an end to new religious sculpture. The more radical Protestant reformers were strongly opposed to the religious use of images, and some removed art from churches in the early 1500s. The followers of Martin Luther took a more moderate position, and their acceptance contributed to the re-emergence of religious sculpture in Germany in the late 1500s.
(See alsoArchitecture; Art; Art in Britain; Art in Central Europe; Art in France; Art in Germany; Art in Italy; Art in the Netherlands; Art in Spain and Portugal; Baroque; Classical Antiquity; Decorative Arts; Tombs. )
- * relief
type of sculpture in which figures are raised slightly from a flat surface
- * humanism
Renaissance cultural movement promoting the study of the humanities (the languages, literature, and history of ancient Greece and Rome) as a guide to living
- * Gothic
style of architecture characterized by pointed arches and high, thin walls supported by flying buttresses; also artistic style marked by bright colors, elongated proportions, and intricate detail
- * medieval
referring to the Middle Ages, a period that began around a.d. 400 and ended around 1400 in Italy and 1500 in the rest of Europe
- * classical
in the tradition of ancient Greece and Rome
- * perspective
artistic technique for creating the illusion of three-dimensional space on a flat surface
- * allegory
literary or artistic device in which characters, events, and settings represent abstract qualities and in which the author intends a different meaning to be read beneath the surface
- * Mannerism
artistic style of the 1500s characterized by vivid colors and exaggeration, such as elongated figures in complex poses
- * Baroque
artistic style of the 1600s characterized by movement, drama, and grandness of scale
- * Flemish
relating to Flanders, a region along the coasts of present-day Belgium, France, and the Netherlands
- * Protestant Reformation
religious movement that began in the 1500s as a protest against certain practices of the Roman Catholic Church and eventually led to the establishment of a variety of Protestant churches
Places and Purposes for Sculpture. Much like painting, sculpture appeared primarily in churches and in the homes of great secular and ecclesiastical lords. It was possible, however, for less-wealthy individuals to enjoy small-scale sculptures, such as the wax models known as ex votos, or to whittle small wood carvings for their personal use. The majority of sculpture commissioned from professional artists had two interrelated purposes: pedagogical and decorative. The sculpture that adorned churches was intended to communicate Christian messages to the illiterate and to reinforce Christian doctrine among the literate and illiterate alike. In addition, stone carvings, metalwork, and other sculptural forms were increasingly used to decorate the houses of the noble and the wealthy during the Middle Ages. Sculpture could serve as an offering to God, a visible testimony of God’s favor and a gift of a grateful beneficiary. The twelfth-century leader of the Cistercian order, Bernard of Clairvaux, preferred a simple sculptural style, while Abbot Suger of St. Denis wanted to use all possibilities of stone to speak through art about the divine.
Large-Scale Figures. During the Middle Ages there seems to have been little demand for freestanding, life-size (or larger) sculpture. Medieval sculptors had not lost the ancient techniques that allowed for the production of such works. Instead, large medieval sculptures were generally designed as part of an entire sculptural program, generally decorating an important religious house or cathedral. For example, the entrance to Chartres Cathedral is flanked by larger-than-life sculptures of scriptural characters placed on small platforms carved into the supporting columns of the arches. The churches on the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela employed some of the first medieval workshops that concentrated on monumental sculpture. In fact, it has been argued that the same workshop carved the major sculptures all along the route, traveling from church to church over a period of decades. Initially these Romanesque figures had a distant and almost supernatural appearance, stressing their separation from the common sort. As with painting styles, however, sculptural styles changed during the Middle Ages, and this evolution followed a similar pattern. Beginning in the thirteenth century, large sculptural figures changed from the typical, early medieval stylized forms to more naturalistic, humanistic forms. This move from a more transcendent vision of the divinity and his closest allies to that of an appreciation of the humanity of the human being was also found in the image of Christ. Jesus was no longer depicted as a valiant warrior-hero dressed in kingly attire, but as a youthful bearded man with flowing hair.
Gateways and Portals. The gateways and portals of medieval churches include the greatest surviving concentration of medieval sculpture, generally emerging as part of the sculptural revival of the eleventh century. These gateways were usually composed of three primary scenes that arched over the three entrances on one side of a church (the tympanum) and a series of figures and other decorative motifs that lanked the three main compositions. Churches on pilgrimage routes and major cathedrals all over Europe often had elaborate sculptural gateways. For example, beginning in the 1270s, pilgrims entering the church of St. Sernin on the Compostela pilgrimage route walked through an entrance where Christ in Majesty flanked by his apostles looked down on them. One of the best-known and most-elaborate medieval sculptural programs for a portal was carved at the church in Vezelay. In the tympanum a huge, seated Christ sends energizing rays to his apostles, following a standard way of depicting the descent of the Holy Spirit. The interest in distant lands fostered by events such as the First Crusade (1096–1200) is apparent in the surrounding sculptures, where the reliefs (shallow sculptures carved into architectural structures) illustrate the exotic people and animals that filled medieval travel literature. There are dog-eared men, women in topless gowns, men clothed in leaves, and a child who wraps his enormous ears around himself as a clam does its shell. Almost any theme from medieval literature or Christianity could be carved into portals. Although scenes from the Apocalypse and Last Judgment were quite common, it is also possible to find figures such as King Arthur and Guinevere.
Reliefs and Decorative Carving. Surrounding portals and throughout medieval churches were relief carvings. Reliefs are shallow, smaller carvings that appear to emerge from the architectural elements of the building itself. They could also be carved onto stones that were several inches thick and then set into place, much as a painting is hung. In the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, as the European economy expanded, reliefs were more and more often carved in elaborate castles and noble residences. The subjects of reliefs were much like those of portals, but small reliefs tended to concentrate on fanciful animals, plants, and scrollwork. The names of artists who executed some of the larger relief compositions have survived. For example, a sculptor named Gilbertus carved his name in one of his reliefs depicting the Flight into Egypt, which he designed and presumably carved in the church of St. Lazare at Autun, France. Apparently Wiligelmo da Modena, Nicolo of Verona, and Benedetto Antelami dominated Italian relief sculpture in the twelfth and early thirteenth centuries. These sculptors also carved other stone structures for their patrons. One of the best-known sculptors of the late thirteenth century, Nicola Pisano, designed and executed a pulpit for the Pisa Baptistry. His work was so innovative that Renaissance artists pointed to it as an inspiration.
Woodwork and Altarpieces. Although wood was not as durable as stone and was, therefore, unsuitable for architectural sculpture, the relative ease with which it could be carved and its cheapness when compared to stone or metalwork meant that medieval churches and some prosperous secular homes included many wooden statues. Like stone sculptures, these statues generally depicted religious themes such as the Virgin Mary, Christ in Majesty, a patron saint, or scenes from saints’ lives or scriptures. Wood carvings also graced altars in the Middle Ages. At the time the carving was part of a painted altarpiece, a decoration that stood several feet high and was placed upright on the back of the altar. A common form of wood sculpture in eastern France and western Germany was the Black Virgin. Made in the tenth century or earlier out of a local hardwood, these rough statues usually depicted the Virgin Mary as a massive figure sitting on a throne and holding a regal baby Jesus in her lap. These figures were placed in shrines as a focus for worship, and over time the smoke from votive candles and the caresses of the devout darkened the wood, thus giving the statues their name. As focal points for veneration of the Virgin, these statues had great local appeal, and pious individuals donated elaborate and expensive costumes to dress the statue during feast days. By the fourteenth century, it is estimated that the Black Virgin of Dijon had at least a weekly change of clothes, far more than even the wealthiest urban residents.
Metallurgy as Sculpture. Also existing in churches were metal cases and figurines that shared many characteristics with stone and wood sculptures. These caskets often held relics—that is, physical remains of holy figures—so they became known as reliquaries. Because they held such precious contents, reliquaries represent one of the high points in medieval metalcraft. They could be several feet tall, made of gold, silver, or bronze, and embedded with precious stones. Along with the vessels used during religious services, they were some of the most valuable belongings of medieval churches. Metal-work also took other forms reminiscent of the stonework found in the churches. The first known freestanding bronze sculpture made since the fall of the Roman Empire was cast in tenth-century Metz. Approximately two feet tall, it depicted Charlemagne in triumph. Moreover, in the Meuse Valley region of Belgium the Mosan school of metalwork produced one of the earliest medieval bronze masterworks, a baptismal font designed for the church at Liège. Metalworkers and jewelry makers were also patronized by the laity. Belt buckles, clasps, knife sheaths, and other objects could be engraved and inlaid with several kinds of metal. Not only were these works beautiful, they were also quite valuable, and much medieval jewelry has not survived because its owners melted it down when they needed ready cash.
Leslie Ross, Medieval Art: A Topical Dictionary (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1996).
Roberto Salvini, Medieval Sculpture (Greenwich, Conn.: New York Graphic Society, 1970).
James Snyder, Medieval Art: Painting, Sculpture, Architecture, 4th-14th Century (New York: Abrams / Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1989).
Tang Stone Sculpture. The great economic power and social stability of the Tang dynasty (618-907) provided the necessary environment, manpower, and financing for the creation of large-scale stone carvings and sculptures, including those at the Mogao (Highest) Caves of Dunhuang in Gansu Province, the Longmen (Dragon Gate) Cave in Henan Province, the Tianlongshan (Mountain of the Heavenly Dragon) in Shanxi Province, the cave temple of Binglin near Lanzhou in Gansu Province, and the Qianling tomb in Qianxian County of Shanxi Province. Unlike Buddhist stone sculptures of earlier eras, Tang Buddhist figures are secular, emotional, and possessed of humanized characteristics. For instance, the large Buddha in the Mogao Caves has a full, round face, smiling and wide-spaced eyes, thick lips, and a kindly and affable expression, while in earlier Buddhist sculptures his facial expression is majestic, solemn, and awe inspiring. In addition to the large Buddha, the Mogao caves are filled with many other graceful and touching Buddhist sculptures with clear body lines and expressive facial features. Many are actually por-traits of male and female members of the Tang nobility. Among the more than ten caves at Longmen, the most notable sculpture is at the Fengxian (Ancestral Reverence) Temple, completed in 675. The colossal Buddha there is quite symmetrical, full-bodied, and solid. A few folds in his
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robe skillfully reveal the contours of his body, and his face is full and round. All the other figures at Fengxian also have varied facial expressions. Among them is the Lushena Buddha, a masterpiece of Chinese stone sculpture. His facial expression is vivid and emotional, dignified and kindly, sincere and wise. His right hand is raised to his chest, symbolizing power and stability. The large Buddha at Tianlongshan is magnificent. He looks calm and concerned, and the graceful folds of his clothing fully delineate the human beauty of his body. The best-known sculptor of the Tang era is Yang Huizhi.
Song and Yuan Sculpture. By the Song (960-1279) and Yuan (1279-1368) dynasties the mysterious element of stone sculptures had faded further and was replaced with realism. Stone carvings became more exquisite, more rigorous, and simpler. The Song sculptures in the Magao Caves have relatively slim bodies and graceful body lines. The forty-three statues of female servants in the Shengmudian (Goddess Hall), built in 1023-1032 at the Jinci (Jin Temple) in Taiyuan, Shanxi Province, are great works of Song sculpture. Each of the bright and life-like painted sculptures has a different posture and expression. The portrayal is subtle, and the body proportions are accurate. The forty statues of arhats (Buddhists who have reached the stage of enlightenment) in the Linyanshi (Spirit Rock Temple) in Changqing, Shandong Province, depict male beauty. Each of the forty arhats is an independent sculpture as well as an integral part of the whole group, with each echoing the others. The statues of arhats in the Baoshengshi (Temple of the Protecting God) in Luzhi, Wu County, Jiangsu Province, are more relaxed and realistic. The sculptor of the great stone carvings of Baoding and Beishan in Sichuan applied techniques borrowed from painters in an exquisite display of carving skill. The secularity of these sculptures far exceeds their religious spirit. The sixteen-
meter-high Guanyin in the Duleshi (Temple of Lonely Happiness) in Jixian County, Hebei Province, is the largest existing Song statue.
Ming Sculpture. The carving technique of sculptors during the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) was more skillful than that of earlier artists. They used precious materials such as brass and gold and worked in new styles. The Guanyin Buddha with a thousand hands and a thousand eyes at the Chongshanshi (Temple of Holy Goodness) in Taiyuan, Shanxi Province, has a warm and pleasant expression; his hands and eyes are ingeniously made; and his clothing is flowing. The style of Ming arhats is freer than the carving of earlier figures, but, generally speaking, most Ming sculptures are mediocre and lack sophistication.
Tang Imperial Tomb Sculpture. Departing from the style of earlier imperial tombs, Tang imperial tombs made use of existing topography. Fifteen of the eighteen Tang imperial tombs were built into hills. Completed in 637, the Zhaoling (Clarity Tomb) of Tang emperor Taizong (ruled 626-649), was constructed in Liquan County, Shanxi Province. Situated between three hills, it was built under the supervision of Yan Lide, elder brother of the poet Yan Liben (died 673), who designed the fourteen stone carvings of foreign noble-men that line the path to the tomb. These figures appear to be doing homage to the emperor, indicating the superior position of the Tang dynasty in the world of that time. The tomb includes the well-known Six Horses of the Clarity Tomb, which portrays the emperor’s favorite horses, which carried him through many victorious battles. Executed in high relief and half-round carving, the horses are vivid, powerful, and realistically individualized. The stone sculptures at the Qianling Tomb of Tang emperor Li Zhi (ruled 649-683) and his wife, Empress Wu (ruled 660-704), in the Qian County, Shanxi Province, are grand and noble. In front of the tomb and on the two sides of the path approaching the tomb are sculpted pairs of ornamental columns, lions, flying horses, phoenixes, human figures, tablets, and sixty foreign kings. These sculptures are three-dimensional and convey a sense of motion, demonstrating the clarity of Tang artists’ rationalistic concept of the universe.
Song Tomb Sculpture. The imperial tombs of the Northern Song dynasty (960-1125) were built in Gong County, Henan Province, at a site selected by geomancy, about 130 kilometers from the Song capital of Kaifeng. Their scale is smaller than that of Tang imperial tombs. Moreover, the scale of Tang tombs and the number and styles of Tang tomb sculptures varied, while those of the Song were quite consistent. Over time, carving of humans and animals at these tombs became increasingly refined, and the figures appear realistic rather than mythic. Expecting that their remains would later be moved back to central China and reburied with those of their ancestors, the emperors of the Southern Song dynasty (1279-1368) constructed temporary tombs without stone sculptures. While the tombs of Northern Song emperors and empresses are separated, those of Southern Song rulers and their wives are situated together on the same axis. The builders of Ming imperial tombs were influenced by this arrangement.
A tomb completed in 1099 at Baisha (White Sand), in Yu County, Henan Province, is a typical landlord or merchant’s tomb. It is built of brick and divided into two rooms. The front room, which was possibly a “living room,” forms a “T” shape with the entry path, and the back room, which was perhaps a “bedroom,” is hexagonal. The murals and carvings in the tomb depict the life of its resi-dent.
Ming Imperial Tomb Sculpture. The scale of Ming imperial tombs approaches that of Tang tombs. Thirteen Ming emperors are buried in Beijing in thirteen tombs built between the early fifteenth century and the mid seventeenth century. This enormous construction project employed huge quantities of manpower and material and followed contemporary Ming architectural designs for pal-aces, temples, and government buildings. The largest of the Ming tombs in Beijing is the Changling (Long Tomb) of Emperor Chengzu (ruled 1402-1424), completed in 1424. Like the Xiaoling (Filial Piety Tomb) of Emperor Taizu (ruled 1368-1398) in Nanjing, the Changling is approached by a long path with groups of sculptures arranged symmetrically on either side. These huge, simply carved statutes have great symbolic and political significance, but aesthetically they lack strength and vitality.
Pottery and Miniature Sculpture. The many pottery figurines made during the Tang dynasty are in the traditional style of earlier dynasties but tend to be more rounded and opulent. They are often humorous, and their colors are bright and beautiful. Most of them depict real life. Surviving Song pottery figures do not match those of the Tang in quality or quantity. They continued to be realistic, and—as folk arts began to influence their style—Song pottery figures became more exquisite and lively. Yuan pottery figures gradually lost realism and became more stereotypical. Miniature folk-art figurines of the Ming dynasty were carved from materials such as jade, ivory, wood, bamboo, tree roots, and cores of fruit. The Ming folk artist Xia Baiyan could carve sixteen playing children on a tiny olive pit, each vividly individualized. The “Three Pines”—Zhu Songlin, Zhu Xiaosong, and Zhu Sansong—of Jiading County, Jiangsu Province, were known for their bamboo figures.
Li Xixing, Chen Zhiqian, Han Wei, and Zhang Chongzin, Zhaoling wenwujinghua (Xian, China: Shanxi People’s Arts Press, 1991).
Liu Dunzhen, Zhongguo gudai jianzhushi (Taipei, Taiwan: Enlightening Literature Press, 1994).
Ru Jinghua and Peng Hualiang, Palace Architecture: Ancient Chinese Architecture, translated by Zang Erzhong and others (Vienna 8c New York: Springer, 1998).
Shi Yongnan and Wang Tianxing, Gugong: The Former Imperial Palace in Eeijng (Beijing: China Esperanto Press, 1995).
Laurence Sickman and Alexander Soper, The Art and Architecture of China (New York: Penguin, 1984).
Michael Sullivan, The Arts of China, fourth edition, expanded and revised (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999).
Wang Qisen, Zhongguo yishu tongshi (Jiangsu, China: Jiangsu Arts Press, 1999).
The Ideal Form. “Not a nude figure, I hope,” com-ments a character in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Marble Faun (1860). Hawthorne’s novel, set in Rome, tracks a band of American artists abroad. As Hawthorne’s sculp-tor, Kenyon, prepares to unveil a “figure,” his friend Miriam observes, “Every young sculptor seems to think that he must give the world some specimen of indecorous womanhood, and call it Ève, Venus, a Nymph, or any name that may apologize for a lack of decent clothing.” Miriam’s teasing remarks shed light on the state of nineteenth-century American sculpture. At midcentury a marble nude titled The Greek Slave (circa 1843) enchanted the American art world. Hiram Powers (1805-1873), creator of The Greek Slave, had recently immigrated—like so many sculptors of his generation—to Italy, where he and compatriots such as Horatio Greenough (1805-1852) developed a taste for grandeur, classicism, and what Greenough called “colossal nudity”—ideals foisted, with varying degrees of success, on the American public. Powers’s Greek Slave, lacking clothes but retaining a measure of chastity, found an adoring audience: “It is not her person but her spirit that stands exposed,” Powers declared. Mid-nineteenth-century nudes idealized the female body, even as patriotic monuments— Andrew Jackson (1853), by Clark Mills (1815-1883) in Washington, D.C.; Washington (1856), by Henry Kirke Brown (1814-1886) in New York City; Thomas Hart Benton (1868), by Harriet Hosmer (1830-1908) in Saint Louis—idealized the male statesman. These ideals were modified, but seldom challenged outright, by the sculpture of succeeding generations.
Augustus Saint-Gaudens. Hosmer, Chauncey B. Ives (1810-1894), William Rimmer (1816-1879), Erastus Dow Palmer (1817-1904), and John Quincy Adams Ward (1830-1910) were among the prominent American sculptors of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The two dominant figures of the period, however, were younger artists: Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848-1907) and Daniel Chester French (1850-1931). The historian Henry Adams (1838-1918) described his friend Saint-Gaudens as a cautious, observant, and oddly cairn artist. “He never laid down the law, or affected the despot, or became brutalized . . . by the brutalities of his world,” observed Adams. “He required no incense; he was no egoist; his simplicity of thought was excessive.” Saint-Gaudens received a cosmopolitan education in New York, Paris, Florence, and Rome; early on he won the respect and patronage of older artists such as the painter John La Farge (1835-1910) and the sculptor J. Q. A. Ward. With his Farragut (1881) and Sherman (1903) monuments in New York, his Lincoln (1887) in Chicago, and his Robert Gould Shaw (1897) in Boston, Saint-Gaudens upheld the ideal of the American hero. Saint-Gaudens’s work combines grace and vitality—quali ties that harmonized with the spirit of the con-temporary Beaux-Arts revival. The prestigious architectural
firm of McKim, Mead and White placed Saint-Gaudens’s nude Diana atop their Madison Square Garden in 1892. The following year they transported Diana to Chicago to stand guard over the White City of the World’s Columbian Exposition.
Daniel Chester French. French possessed neither the sophisticated gloss nor the cosmopolitan training of Saint-Gaudens. Born in Exeter, New Hampshire, French was largely self-trained as a sculptor. He received his first significant commission in 1873: the Minute Man in Concord, Massachusetts, designed to commemorate the centennial of the “shot heard ‘round the world.” President Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885) attended the 1875 installation ceremony at the old North Bridge in Concord; Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) unveiled the statue. The Minute Man commission opened doors for the young New Englander. French sculpted a founder’s statue— John Harvard (1884)—for the campus of Harvard University and a seventy-five-foot Statue of the Republic (1893) for the World’s Columbian Exposition. French is best remembered for the pensive, thirty-foot-tall statue of Abraham Lincoln enshrined in 1922 in the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. Although neither Saint-Gaudens nor French revolutionized American sculpture, each created monuments to the raw power of the sculpted form.
Charles H. Caffin, American Masters of Sculpture (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, Page, 1913);
Sylvia E. Crane, White Silence: Greenough, Powers, and Crawford. American Sculptors in Nineteenth-Century Italy (Coral Gables, Fla.: University of Miami Press, 1972);
Richard McLanathan, The American Tradition in the Arts (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1968).
Commemoration. Sculpture in the United States began as a craft rather than as an art. Most early-nineteenth-century American sculptors were stonecutters who specialized in tombstone production or wood-carvers who specialized in furniture decoration. Since local sculptors lacked classical training, Americans who wanted to commemorate Revolutionary heroes and founding fathers had to offer commissions for monuments and statues to European sculptors. In 1784 the Virginia State Assembly awarded the commission for a statue of George Washington to French sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon. For the U.S. capital, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Latrobe arranged in 1805 to have two Italian sculptors brought to America to complete the detailed work required. The desire to honor and memorialize great Americans through sculpture eventually helped to legitimize sculpture as a form of high art in the United States.
European Training. By 1825 Americans were beginning to travel to Europe to study sculpture under masters such as Albert Bertel Thorwaldsen and the great Antonio Canova. Horatio Greenough, a Harvard graduate who had been introduced to artistic theory by the painter Washington Allston, traveled to Rome in 1825 to study under the Danish sculptor Thorwaldsen. Greenough, who had studied anatomy and the classics at Harvard, was introduced to nude drawing at the Roman Academy, a common practice in Rome but shocking to an American. Greenough also went to Florence to work with Lorenzo Bartolini, whose belief that nature was the best teacher and model contrasted with Thorwaldsen’s neoclassical emphasis on symmetry and principle rather than naturalism. Several of Greenough’s best-known and most controversial statues, including Chaunting Cherubs (1830), Medora (1833), and George Washington (1832–1841), revealed this tension between neoclassicism and naturalism as well as showing Greenough’s willingness to use nude or seminude men and women as a means of conveying higher sentiments.
Naturalism. Perhaps as the result of the failure of his neoclassically-influenced George Washington, Gree-nough’s later work tended toward more-naturalistic imagery and echoed his emerging interest in using ideal sculpture to portray distinctively American themes. This change can be seen in The Rescue, a complex sculpture showing a white settler in a hunting shirt and cap rescuing a woman and child from a murderous Indian. The Rescue was installed in the U.S. capital in 1853, a day after Greenough’s death. Like Greenough, sculptor Henry Kirke Brown turned away from his European neoclassical training to produce sculptures featuring more-naturalistic human figures and treating American Indian subjects. Brown’s sculptures Aboriginal Hunter (1846), Dying Tecumseh (1848), and Indian Panther (1849–1850) portrayed Native Americans as subjects and suggested that white Americans’ encounters with Native Americans provided material for a distinctively American art.
Powers. Another nineteenth-century sculptor, Hiram Powers, worked his way up from stonecutting to sculpting. Powers’s bust of Andrew Jackson (1835) established his reputation as a sculptor; his naturalistic reproduction of Old Hickory’s weather-beaten features brought him commissions for the busts of John Marshall, John C. Calhoun, Daniel Webster, Martin Van Buren, and John Quincy Adams. In 1837 Powers traveled to Italy, where, like Greenough, he began to work on “ideal” sculptures (sculptures which used human forms to portray fictional characters or ideas, as opposed to the portrait busts that had given Powers his reputation). In Italy, Powers produced his best-known sculpture, The Greek Slave (1843), which portrayed a nude girl in shackles. In 1847 the first showing of The Greek Slave in the United States caused
considerable controversy. Meant to illustrate Greece’s plight during its war of independence from Turkey, the girl’s nudity was intended to reflect the extreme vulnerability of the Greeks, but audiences who were used to associating nudity with immorality were shocked by Powers’s willingness to exhibit the figure of an undressed female. As American audiences came to understand alternative ways to interpret nudity, they became more receptive to statues of nude figures. The exhibition of The Greek Slave eventually made a total of $23, 000 and marked an important moment in the history of American art and its appreciation.
Ideal Sculpture. Because it was best able to carry morally instructive ideas, ideal sculpture was considered to be a higher form of art than portrait sculpture. Yet in the United States sculpture first achieved artistic legitimacy as a means of commemorating great moments in American history, for when used to portray the great men (and women) of the new nation portrait sculpture could also be a means of carrying instruction. Debates over whether sculpture should follow neoclassical lines, drawing on Greek and Roman ideals of symmetry and beauty, or more-naturalistic lines also shaped beliefs about ideal and portrait sculpture. As Greenough would discover to his disappointment, American audiences would increasingly resist sculpture that drew too strongly on neoclassical imagery. Even as Americans accustomed themselves to ideal sculpture that portrayed nude men and women to express higher ideas, they increasingly wanted their human figures, real or imaginary, to resemble natural men and women rather than artificial neoclassical models.
Wayne Craven, Sculpture in America, new revised edition (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1984);