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Sculpture

Historical notes

The art of sculpting means creating three-dimensional forms and figures, working on hard materials (such as marble, stone and wood) by excavation or engraving, or by shaping the desired form out of plastic masses (clay, wax, plaster, stucco, plasticine and so forth).

The techniques used in sculpture have a close relationship to the material used; with plastic materials (full-relief sculpture, bas or high relief sculptures and so forth), there is a gradual shaping until the desired form is achieved; with sculpture in marble or other stones, the mass is roughly-hewn, excavating it with specific tools. Sculpture in bronze or other metal requires a casting process. In Egypt and Asia, the techniques of sculpture were all already known; the most common material was stone (granite, basalt, porphyry and others). In Greece, first limestone and then sandstone were used; later the preference was for Pario marble, whose use had a long tradition. The Etruscans used terracotta, which was brightly painted for architectural sculptures of temples, and local stone (peperino, nenfro, and alabaster) for tomb sculptures. In the age of the Roman Empire, polychrome marble of various origins was widely used. The technique used for large statues was the point system, from a small wax model or a terracotta model, the measures were carried over to the stone, using a kind of pantograph. Terracotta was also a very widely use in the ancient world. The reliefs were made with a mould from a die. In the early Middle Ages and the Dark Ages, there was no true stone sculpture, other than basic expressions like graffito and engraving. However, there were very interesting instances of ivory sculpting (in the Carolingian Age, and in the Ottonian Age). In the Romanesque age, there was a rise of large, plastic sculpture, such as reliefs and full-relief figures set in entry doors, pulpits, and on the capitals of churches and baptisteries. The first makers were skilled stonecutters, travelling from construction site to construction site and working everywhere. In the gothic age, sculpture was seen as an ornament and complement to architecture as well as an individual, self-standing artistic expression. Wood sculpture (statues, furniture, engraved architectural decorations, polychrome and gilt) developed in tandem. The technique of casting was brought back. In the Renaissance, hard stone made a return and greater skill was gained in the art of casting. There were many treatises written about the technique (L. B. Alberti, B. Cellini and others). The Renaissance also saw the rise of terracotta and glazed ceramics (Della Robbia). Without any preparation, Michelangelo sculpted homogenous blocks of marble. In the following century, Bernini adorned spectacular churches and buildings with his Baroque forms. The contemporary age added nothing original to the traditional processes, though the variety of artistic expression led to experimenting with different methods and materials.



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