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A sculpture a is three-dimensional, man-made object selected for special recognition as art, although some sculpture is considered an artistic expression whether or not it was ever intended as such; one example is Marcel Duchamp's so-called "ready-mades": common objects such as a shovel or a coat rack that Duchamp signed and presented as art.

The artist who sculpts is called a sculptor. A sculpted object or material has been worked to resemble sculpture either by human hands or by nature.

Sculpture has often been called on to manifest ideals seen as valuable to society. Sometimes the result is propoganda, but at other times it can be a true embodiment of the public mood. Sculptures have often been used to manifest ideal human qualities, both masculine and feminine. A figure or person can be described as sculpturesque if it shares qualities with classical figurative sculpture or statue. Human-like sculptures, often with exaggerated or supernatural charateristics, have often been worshiped as instances and representations of the divine; see idol.

Since a sculpture is three-dimensional, it is primarily concerned with space: occupying it, relating to it, and altering one's perception of it. Some practitioners of contemporary sculpture often use these concerns with space as formal methods of conveying content or meaning. While others develop upon previous traditions seeking to express content through figurative forms, symbolism or narrative, sometimes following a more classical tradition.

The creation of sculpture often involves changing one or more of the physical or contextual attributes of an object, such as its mass, colour, texture, context, location, form, scale, implication, association, temperature or smell. Much contemporary sculpture transmits expression through arrangement and juxtaposition or by the simple designation of an object or even an act as sculpture.

In the mid-20th century American led democratic/capitalist society, a kind of sculpture education entered the university system where it became one of many arts used to critique/understand the human condition. But many other kinds of sculpture continued to be practiced outside that system.


Traditional materials

Traditionaly the materials used for the manufacture of sculpture in Europe and the west were materials that were permanent. High forms of sculpture and large public works were often produced in expensive durable materials, primarily bronze and stone such as marble, limestone, porphyry, and granite. More rarely precious materials such as gold and ivory were used for chryselephantine works. More common and less expensive materials were used for sculpture for wider consumption, including wood such as oak, box and lime; terracotta and other ceramics; spelter; and metals such as pewter.

Although rarely used for final works, the sculptor would make use of ephemeral materials such as plaster of paris, wax, clay and even plasticene in the case of the victorian Alfred Gilberts maquettes for 'Eros' at Piccadilly Circus, London.

Perhaps the least elitist of these media is sand, as it is used by young and old to create sand castles, some of which can be amazingly large and complex.

Contemporary materials

A tree sculpture at Bristol Zoo, Bristol, England. This was sculpted with a chain saw from a standing tree, which was diseased and due to be felled
A tree sculpture at Bristol Zoo, Bristol, England. This was sculpted with a chain saw from a standing tree, which was diseased and due to be felled

Most traditional sculpture materials are still in wide use today. However, advancements in technology and changes ihave broadened the range of materials scupltors can choose to use, including glass and sand, aluminum, polymers and many other synthetic materials, and liquid crystals.

Some sculptures are multimedia, for example sound sculptures which, as their name implies, produce sound. Many artists use video and computers in their sculptures as well. Computers and motors can also be used in sculptures, leading to works that may be classified as robotic.

Sculptors are constantly searching for new ways to make art and for new materials to make it with, including blood, feces, dead animals. See also body fluids in art. Andy Goldsworthy is notable at a sculptor for his use of almost entirely natural materials in natural settings.

In his late writings, Joan Miró even proposed that some day sculptures might be made of gases; see gas sculpture.


The Emperor Tiberius enamelled terracotta bust at the Victoria and Albert Museum, 19th century.
The Emperor Tiberius enamelled terracotta bust at the Victoria and Albert Museum, 19th century.

Some common forms of sculpture are:

  • The bust, a representation of a person from the chest up.
  • Equestrian (horse) sculpture
  • Free-standing sculpture, not intended to be displayed on a pedestal or shelf
  • Fountain
  • "In the round": designed by the sculptor to be viewed from any angle.
  • Jewellery
  • Mobile (See also Calder's Stabiles.)
  • Relief: sculpture still attached to a background, standing out from that ground in "High Relief" or "Low Relief" (bas relief)
  • Site-Specific Art
  • Statue
Lady with kittens - at Delapre Abbey
Lady with kittens - at Delapre Abbey

Perhaps the majority of public art is sculpture. See also sculpture garden.


Sculptors include the Classical Greek masters, through Michelangelo Buonarroti, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance masters, to modern sculptors such as Henry Moore, Felix de Weldon, and Alexander Ney.

See also: List of sculptors


Prometheus, by Nicolas-Sébastien Adam, 1737 (Louvre)
Prometheus, by Nicolas-Sébastien Adam, 1737 (Louvre)

A Nude or 'unadorned' figure in Greek classical sculpture was a reference to the status or role of the depicted person, deity or other being. Athletes, priestesses and gods could be identified by their adornment or lack of it.

The Renaissance preoccupation with Greek classical imagery, such as the 4th century B.C. Doryphoros of Polykleitos, led to nude figurative statues being seen as the 'perfect form' of representation for the human body. Subsequently, nudity in sculpture and painting has represented a form of ideal, be it innocence, openness or purity. Nude sculptures are still common. As in painting, they are often made as exercises in efforts to understand the anatomical structure of the human body and develop skills that will provide a foundation for making clothed figurative work.

Nude statues are usually widely accepted by most societies, largely due to the length of tradition that supports this form. Occasionally, the nude form draws objections, often by fundamentalist moral or religious groups. Classic examples of this are the removal of penises from the Vatican collection of Greek sculpture and the addition of a fig leaf to a plaster cast of Michaelangelo's sculpture of David for Queen Victoria's visit to the British Museum.

Greenfield Products Pty Ltd v. Rover-Scott Bonnar Ltd

The Australian copyright case of Greenfield Products Pty Ltd v. Rover-Scott Bonnar Ltd (1990) 17 IPR 417 is authority for the proposition that a thing not intended to be a sculpture is not a sculpture. This seems contrary to some famous examples of sculpture, including Marcel Duchamp's 1917 sculpture consisting of a porcelain urinal lying on its back, titled Fountain, and Carl Andre's sculpture Equivalent III exhibited in the Tate Gallery in 1978, consisting of bricks stacked in a rectangle.

See also

Wikimedia Commons has media related to:

See the category Sculpture for full listing of sculpture topics.

Sculpture genres

External links

Sculpture on the Discoveries Age and Portuguese navigators in Lisbon, Portugal
Sculpture on the Discoveries Age and Portuguese navigators in Lisbon, Portugal
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