Samples Architecture History of Monumental Sculpture

History of Monumental Sculpture

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The term “monumental sculpture” generally refers to very large sculptures which are monuments or from parts of monuments or buildings (for example, building reliefs, tomb monuments, or funerary sculptures). The history of monumental sculpture began long time ago, with totem poles carved on pillars or poles believed to be some of the first monumental sculptures in the human history. In those pre-historic times, the monumental sculptures were used either for religious and ritualistic purposes or for the purposes of communicating various messages (legends, for example).

The first known civilization that created multiple monumental sculptures was that of the Ancient Egypt. Around 2,700 BC the characteristic for Egypt style of monumental sculpture in stone was established, which survived for over 2,500 years to the Ptolemaic period, and retained its basic features: symmetry and regularity of figures, solid and four-square, either standing or seated. During the Ancient Empire, the naturalistic tendency prevailed. One example of a monumental sculpture created by the Egyptian civilization at that time was the Great Sphinx of Gaza, whose erection dates back to the 3d millennium BC. During the Middle Empire, large-scale pharaoh sculptures were the tendency alongside wall-sculptures, which came in the form of bas-relief (figures projected from the background), outline-relief (chiseled figure outlines), sunken-relief (the background protruded in front of the carved figures), and high-relief (figures projected some distance from their backgrounds). The monumental statues portrayed gods, deceased pharaohs, or civic officials. During the New Empire, tall, embellished statues were erected, and during the Greco-Roman period the royal sculpture developed which had idealized and effeminate looks.

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The Greco-Roman civilization took its inspiration in creating sculptures from the Egyptian monumental sculpture. Greek sculptors began developing monumental marble sculptures during the Archaic period (circa 6 BC). During the Classical period (circa 6-4 BC), monumental sculptures were often made of marble, bronze, or in goldsmithery (for example, the statue of Athena Parthenos by Phidias (5 BC) or Discobolus by Miron (circa 450). The statues were used to decorate temples and were created on religious themes. During the Hellenistic period, the monumental sculpture started to depict a broader range of personalities (children, animals, hunters, old women, etc). From serene beauty of the earlier, Classical period, the sculpture moved on to more emotional and realistic portrayals; bigger and more sophisticated sculptures started being erected (for example, Colossus of Rhodes in 3 BC by Chares of Lindos).

During the period of the Dark Ages the monumental sculpture ceased to be produced. The use and quality of monumental sculptures sharply declined during the early Middle Ages and began to flourish only after the 2nd half of the eleventh century. Those few regions where the monumental sculpture was practiced in the Western Europe in early Middle Ages were Visigothic Spain, Celtic Ireland, Anglo-Saxon England, and some parts of Ottonian and Carolingian empires. The monumental sculpture was used on capitals mostly, and relief sculpture was the only type of monumental sculpture that developed during those times. Its features were: depiction of Biblical events, carving with shallow incised lines on low reliefs, and naturalism.

From the late tenth century onwards, the monumental sculpture started flourishing in the Western Europe, and it was a rebirth of the monumental sculpture. Sculptures were parts of architectural ensembles and were all dedicated to religious subject matters. In the early twelfth century, the focus of the sculptors was on the doorway. During the Gothic period, the monumental sculptures came in form of column-figures on every side of a doorway (Amiens Cathedral, the thirteenth century), were characterized by a high degree of relief of the carved figures (the cycle of Mary’s death in Strasbourg Cathedral, the thirteenth century), extensive use at the buildings’ exteriors, exclusively religious motifs, and pained sculptures. Overall, the Gothic period was the time when the monumental sculpture was thriving.

  • Kemp, Martin. The Oxford History of Western Art. Oxford University Press, 2000. Print.

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