4 Types of Sculpture: Stone Sculpture, Wood Sculpture, Bronze Sculpture, Clay Sculpture
Almost any material capable of being shaped in three dimensions can be used in sculpting. But some materials like stone – especially hard limestone (marble) – wood, clay, metal (eg. bronze), ivory and plaster have exceptional “plastic” attributes and have therefore proved most popular to sculptors from prehistoric times onward. As a result, for most of its history, sculpture has been created using four basic methods: stone carving, wood carving, bronze casting and clay firing.
Stone sculpture, probably the earliest form of monumental sculpture as well as the best medium for monumental works, was common to many eras of the Paleolithic Stone Age. Prototype works of prehistoric stone sculpture include the basaltic figurine known as The Venus of Berekhat Ram (c.230,000 BCE or earlier) and quartzite figurine known as The Venus of Tan-Tan (c.200,000 BCE or earlier). Since then, probably the largest body of stone sculpture was the series of column statues and reliefs produced for the great European Gothic cathedrals of Chartres, Notre Dame de Paris, Amiens, Reims, Cologne, among many others, during the period 1150-1300.
Stones from all three principal categories of rock formation have been sculpted, including igneous (eg. granite), sedimentary (eg. limestones and sandstones) and metamorphic (eg. marble). Pure white Italian Carrara marble was used in Roman art and in Italian Renaissance Sculpture by artists like Donatello and Michelangelo, while Greek artists preferred Pentelic marble to make the Parthenon sculptures. (See also: Marble Sculpture.) Irish sculpture in the late medieval era was principally confined to Celtic High Crosses, made from granite.
Supreme examples of marble sculpture are Venus de Milo (c.130-100 BCE) by Alexandros of Antioch; Laocoon and His Sons (c.42-20 BCE) by Hagesander, Athenodoros and Polydorus; Pieta (1497-99) and David by Michelangelo; The Ecstasy of St Teresa (1647) by the Baroque genius Bernini; Cupid and Psyche (1796-7) by the Neo-classicist Antonio Canova; and The Kiss (1889) by the French genius Auguste Rodin.
Wood carving is the oldest and most continuous type of sculpture. Especially convenient for small works, wood carving was widely practised during the Prehistoric age, and later during the era of Early Christian sculpture – see, for instance, the gilded oak carving known as the Gero Cross (965-70, Cologne Cathedral) – and had its Golden Age in the West, especially in Germany, during the era of late Medieval art: witness the exquisite religious limewood carvings of the German wood-carvers Veit Stoss (1445-1533) and Tilman Riemenschneider (1460-1531). Later, in the Baroque era, wood was often coated in plaster stucco and painted, in the manner of ancient Egyptian art. Great modern wood-sculptors include Henry Moore (1898-1986) known for his elmwood Reclining Figure (1936), and Barbara Hepworth (1903-75).
Sculpting in bronze is a complicated process which was developed independently in China, South America and Egypt. Bronze casting requires the modelling of a form in clay, plaster or wax, which is later removed after the molten bronze has been poured. The lost-wax method was a common technique during the Renaissance era. It was also a widely used technique in African sculpture from Benin and Yoruba.
Famous pieces include The Dancing Girl of Mohenjo-Daro (c.2,500 BCE), a masterpiece of early Indian sculpture from the Harappan Culture or Indus Valley Civilization in India, and the large hoard of bronze plaques and sculptures (made using piece-mold casting) with jade decoration found in the Yellow River Basin of Henan Province, Central China, dating from the Xia Realm and later Shang Dynasty Period (from c.1,750 BCE).
Later bronze masterpieces include the Gates of Paradise, by Lorenzo Ghiberti (1378-1455), David by Donatello (1386-1466), and by Michelangelo, Rape of the Sabines (c.1583) by Giambologna, The Burghers of Calais (1884-9) and the Gates of Hell (1880-1917) by Auguste Rodin, Unique Forms of Continuity in Space (1913) by Umberto Boccioni (1882-1916), Bird in Space (1923) by the Romanian abstract sculptor Constantin Brancusi (1876-1957), Woman with her Throat Cut (1932) and Walking Man I (1960) by Alberto Giacometti (1901-66), and The Destroyed City (1953) by Ossip Zadkine (1890-1967).
Sculpting in clay dates from the Paleolithic era of the Stone Age. Known (when fired) as terracotta sculpture, it is the most plastic of all sculpting methods, versatile, light, inexpensive and durable. Although clay mainly used for preliminary models, later cast in bronze or carved in stone, it has also been used to produce full-scale sculpture. The earliest known clay sculpture is the Venus of Dolni Vestonice (c.26,000 – 24,000 BCE), a ceramic figurine dating to the Gravettian Period, discovered in the Czech Republic. Another Paleolithic masterpiece is the Tuc d’Audoubert Bison of the Magdalenian period (c.13,500 BCE), an unfired relief of two bison, found in the Tuc d’Audoubert Cave, Ariege, France. A third prehistoric masterpiece is the Thinker of Cernavoda (c.5,000 BCE), the iconic terracotta figurine created during the mesolithic Hamangia Culture in Romania.
However, the most famous example of clay sculpture must be the Chinese Qin Dynasty Terracotta Army (the ‘Terracotta Warriors’), a collection of 8,000 clay warriors and horses unearthed in 1974 in Shaanxi province, China. Dating to 246-208 BCE, each of the 8,000 clay soldiers is unique, with a different facial expression and hairstyle.