A Short Story of the Long Arc of Figurative Sculpture


The earliest figurative sculptures date back seventy seven thousand years. More than twice as old as the oldest cave paintings. Ancient cultures all over the world carved stones as soon as they could figure out how to get, make and hold a tool strong enough to carve into another stone. Most of these early carvings were small figurines, Venus's and fertility symbols.

The Egyptians created their sculptures standing tall, with head up, feet together, arms at their sides like stiff toy soldiers. The early Greeks took this pose and moved the left foot slightly forward, thus breaking the vertical plane of figurative sculpture for the first time, and forever. The later Greeks strode the left foot forward and rocked the hips with it to place most of the figures weight on the left foot.

From there, arm movements, twisting torsos help create contraposto. The counter pose allowed for greater movement and made possible the amazing sculptures of the renaissance from Donatello, Michelangelo and others. From there, paths diverted. Canova chose an incredibly beautiful feminine stillness. Rodin forced greater movement and created the walking man, the kiss, and many more. And Umberto Boccioni set the figure loose in space with an enthusiastic stride into the future, in Unique Forms of Continuity in Space. The futurist vision of having the figure break through from three dimensions to four and more, died on the battlefields of WWI.

From there, most of figurative sculpture dissolved into a thousand modern interpretations. Today the figure is rarely seen as beauty, but as an object, a social construct of intellectual thought. Eventually the pendulum will swing back. 

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