Glossary of sculpture terms
Sketchy version of a piece, done quickly and without much detail at the design stage, but already showing its final visual appearance.
Abstractionism is defined as art that has no reference to any figurative reality. In its wider definition, abstract art is what depicts real forms in a simplified or rather reduced way keeping only an allusion to the original natural subject.
A French word meaning "studio" and referring precisely to the place where an artist works. The "atéliers libres" (free ateliers or open studios), which offered young artists learning opportunities on highly concessional terms, but without any formal control on art education stance, flourished in France during the nineteenth century. The most famous one, the Atelier Suisse (Swiss studio), was founded in Paris in the early 1820s and was attended by Courbet, Delacroix and a number of Impressionist painters.
A small, preliminary model of a work of sculpture created by the artist in a quick and approximate fashion, with forms barely outlined, before developing the final composition. The maquette can be a mock-up sculpture, a painting or a small-scale model and it is obviously quite revealing of the artist's thinking process between the preparatory steps and the conclusive stage.
An alloy consisting of copper and tin, containing sometimes small quantities of other elements, such as zinc, silicon and phosphorus, in varying proportions. Harder and more durable than brass, bronze has been widely used since antiquity to cast sculptures. Bronze alloys vary in color, from silvery hues to coppery red. Mixes, and therefore color, may also vary from one foundry to another.
An impression of a relief or statue, produced by coating the model with a ductile material (wax, clay, plaster) which is subsequently removed to obtain a die, giving the most faithful or mechanically objective copy (usually through plaster casting) of the original sculpture.
Conceptual art is a contemporary form of artistic representation, in which the concept or idea that the artwork represents is considered more important than, and takes precedence over, traditional aesthetic and material concerns.
Figurative art describes artwork which portrays mainly the human or animal figure.
The lost-wax technique, for casting large, hollow bronze statues, has been known since ancient times. Among the best-preserved ancient pieces produced with this method are the Riace Bronzes (Bronzi di Riace), dating back to the Classical period. The technique fell into disuse during the Middle Ages, surviving only in the Byzantine Empire. Bronze casting of small-sized objects was still employed, but these were "solid" castings, unfeasible on a larger scale. With the Renaissance, and the general rediscovery of the culture of classical antiquity, the technique was revived. The first, large-sized statue of the modern era cast with the lost-wax technique is the St. John the Baptist by Lorenzo Ghiberti (1412-1416), wisely made in several separate parts joined together at a later stage. The bronze casting technique offered undeniable advantages over stone carving, as the greater cohesion of the material allowed the artist to explore more freely the expressive possibilities of posture and pose of its subject into space, without risking any damage and thus achieving a more lifelike and natural result.
This term is commonly used when two or more different media are used in a single work of art, e.g. metal and wood or metal, wood and stone. Mixed media include plastics, fibers, as well as any artificial or natural element that can be used to shape or otherwise create a sculpture.
The "additive" artistic process whereby the sculptor combines materials, such as wet clay or other soft matter like moist plaster, cement or other media, to build or create his or her original artwork, often using an armature. This is essentially an "additive" and not a "subtractive" process, since it implies the addition of material as opposed to its removal, as is the case with carving, although subtraction can be, and is actually often used, as a means to achieve the desired shapes.
The first, hastily executed drawing done by the artist, a form of "pictorial" note-taking aimed at capturing an inspiration, an initial idea of the artwork to come. Different from the rough, the sketch is the very first act of creation (even though, frequently enough, it is not followed by a development process translating the initial impression) and reveals clearly the peculiar instinct of its author. That is why a sketch can become a work of art in its own right, and sometimes of great worth.
The patina coating ("patination") enhances the bronze surface through chemical application of color. Three water-soluble compounds form the basis for most patinas: ferric nitrate produces a purplish-blue color, cupric nitrate creates greens and blues, while potassium sulfate produces black. Each foundry develops its own proprietary patinas that result from a carefully balanced mixture of different chemicals, pigments and application technique. Wide ranges of colors, both transparent and opaque, are accessible to the experienced "patineur". Finally, a thin coat of clear wax is applied over the bronze to enhance and preserve the patina.
A bas-relief is a sculpture cut into a flat surface and slightly sticking out. A haut-relief is a more protruding sculpture, almost three-dimensional, thus achieving a much greater plastic effect, even if it remains attached to the background. Basically, the difference between bas-relief and haut-relief is given by the degree of volume projection of the sculpted figures from the background. A free-standing or "in the round sculpture", instead, is carved on all sides and can be observed from all angles of view. Unlike bas-relief and haut-relief sculptures, it is not attached to a background plane. Typical examples of this type of sculpture are statues, which can be viewed from every perspective, even if they have a "main" side that defines positioning.
Welding is a widely used technique in contemporary sculpture, although examples can be seen in the most ancient statuary. Obviously, with this term we do not refer exclusively to the specific group of modern "fusion and soldering" techniques whereby, through the application of high temperatures (obtained with an oxyacetylene welding torch, various kinds of burners, electric arc, etc.), two metal pieces sometimes of different nature are "welded" together, but to the whole set of "assembling" techniques used to join the different components of an artwork. These include for instance the use of slip (mixture of clay and water for joining clay), glazers (for joining ceramics and porcelain), adhesives and putties of various kinds (thermosetting, epoxy, vinyl, cyanoacrylate, polyester, etc.), wax rods (wax sculpture or preforms made with the lost-wax method) and finally metallic welding (electric arc, MIG welding, etc.) for joining metallic material of different types (steel, iron, aluminum, brass, copper and bronze).
Sculpture is the art of creating forms by working a rough material or by assembling different materials. The term sculpture also refers to the finished product, i.e. any three-dimensional object created as a medium of artistic expression.
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