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FORVM`s Classical Numismatics Discussion Board  |  Numismatic and History Discussions  |  History and Archeology (Moderator: David Atherton)  |  Topic: "Sculpture in the round" 0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic. « previous next »
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gallienus1
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« on: June 20, 2008, 07:58:57 am »

I’ve just been thinking about sculpture. Unlike painting it is very much 3D art but when a work of sculpture is reproduced as an illustration it is often only shown from one angle. How many times have you seen a famous work in a book or magazine always photographed from the same angle? Wouldn’t it be interesting to see what it looks like from the other side?
I had been net surfing and came across the famous ancient sculpture of the so called priest-king from Mohenjo-daro at http://www.harappa.com/index.html For years I have only seen this work from the one angle and was delighted this site shows a bit more of it.
I thought I might be interesting to start thread “ancient sculpture in the round” (Or at least from more than one angle)

Steve
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slokind
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« Reply #1 on: June 20, 2008, 11:32:40 pm »

It was this way: photoreproduction (and engravings before photographs) was initially very expensive.  Usually, something close to a front view was chosen.  That was economically inevitable but it only reinforced a primitive (because, I think, it goes back to looking into one's parents' eyes and one's parents' looking into each other's eyes, face to face, and even to our being bipedal and bilaterally symmetrical) disposition to frontality.  Also, when like Narcissus you look into a pool or when today you look into the mirror, you see yourself frontally.  When children about five years old first draw pictures of themselves or of their parents, they may leave out parts, but they almost always draw frontal images.  In teaching I have known students to object to having to know "more than one picture"--and they mean recognizing a statue from more than one vantage point, even when it's a statue designed to be walked around.  This is partly conditioning but even more it is inability to follow and imagine around something (that is why rotated shapes are part of non-verbal, non-language-specific IQ tests).  Some cognitive scientists have found that seeing spatially is stronger among males, and, I admit, I have found males generally stronger in seeing architecturally rather than seeing buildings as travel posters, though, I have noticed, a smaller proportion of my female students do see and think architecture architecturally.  I also can testify that the generation that was conditioned to see sculpture as Space Modifiers was much better at seeing, say, Bernini or Lysippos in the same way.
If anyone reads this, someone is sure to say, but those most ancient Egyptians made conceptual images of the human figure with each part in its least ambiguous view: profile head, frontal chest, profile pelvis and legs.  Ah, but you forget: their statues in the round had faces to be looked at frontally and the statue as a whole may have been somewhat four-sided but the greatest ones were wonderful 'space modifiers'.  Egyptian Dynastic art of the highest order certainly was very ancient, but it was not child-like, it was not primitive.  It is true that the paintings and painted reliefs are drawn conceptually, but then this art is mostly funerary and serves the afterlife and is conceptual partly because for that reason, to be 'complete'.  That is why Egyptian representations of animals are far more visual and often not formulaic at all.
Pat L.
Many students would have trouble with the oblique views of the Augustus.  Kay from Saqqara has paint!
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gallienus1
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« Reply #2 on: June 21, 2008, 03:08:46 am »

Thank you Pat, for the information and your very interesting photographs showing a comparison between Egyptian and Roman works. I am kicking myself for not seeing the obvious now! I know the revolution of natural form that was pioneered in Greek art is something that has been discussed for centuries, but I never before fully realized that to achieve that natural form in sculpture meant being able to visualize your subject from every point. Ancient Indian and Chinese sculpture, wonderful as it is, does not seem to be intended to be "walked around" in the sense that the equestrian statue of the Divine Marcus was. How much of that was a cultural understanding of art and how much was due to the fact that most Indian and Chinese sculpture was backed up against a temple wall so making a "walk around" impossible I am not sure. An Egyptian King was also a God and therefore associated with temples. It is true that Classical Greek temples contained a free standing God or Goddess inside, but the likelihood is that you were intended to see it from a respectful distance from the front. (I doubt you would be encouraged to walk around behind Athena and check out her bum!) So what came first? The fact that the Greeks started making statues of people, such as politicians and generals that were not attached to religious worship, and therefore a temple. If a person was important enough to have a statue made of them the work would have to reflect the reality of their humanity. Making a statue that is free standing and to some extent independent of the architecture around it would be a natural step. Was this that then forced the Greek artist to construct the work "in the round"? Or was it an artistic inspiration that compelled an artist to pull a God or Goddess out from the wall so that the divine could be given a human reality?

Steve
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« Reply #3 on: June 21, 2008, 03:50:33 pm »

Oops!   I tried to keep it short.  But:
(1) Cult images don't count.  The view from the cella doorway remained the principal one, even when the evolution of the artists' own ideas meant that the statue was made to be interesting from other angles.
(2) You have let yourself lapse into unrealistic thinking about the Chinese.  Buddhist images are strictly governed and frontal in exactly the same way as just described, but they're hardly native Chinese!  Indeed cult-image religion is not Chinese.  If I can find my set of Chinese University Prints, I'll scan something that IS native to China.
(3) The kind of four-sided three-dimensionality that IS characteristic of both Egyptian and Greek substantive sculpture is due to their starting out with a quarried block; the natural formation of the stone augmented by the ancient techniques of freeing the blocks (rows of holes drilled, swollen wet wooden pegs, > straight fracture, still used in many quarries) produced the four-sided blocks ideal for transport and for building--and many of the sculptures themselves were addorsed and part of the building.  They drew on the front and sides (the back was left as a slab for strength) and worked inwards.  Greeks learned this from Egyptians, and, though they rebelled from it within a couple of centuries, something of this workshop-conditioned bias remained.
(4) For all their pervasive influence, both Chinese and Greek are highly exceptional.  In their different ways, the 'classic' ages of both are grounded in empirical observation: not just imitation, but deeply empirical thought.  These two traditions both make an art form of Space as such (though in both, too, mannered defiances of it occur from time to time), each in its own way.  Both make an art form of kinetics, too.  This is not something that can be developed in an explanatory essay or, perhaps, even in a single book.  I also have omitted Indian, especially Hindu, sculpture, because my whole life long I never have been able to relate it, except speciously, to the other great traditions; similarly, the cultural traditions that are not image-centered exist in their own terms.  By 'image centered' in the last sentence, I mean centered on our experiences of seeing as such.  Empirical.  The experience of seeing and of being in space, whether its Fan Kuan or an Italian Renaissance painting grounded in perspective.  Our science, too, is based on the empirical (even half of our metaphysics is).
Well, you can spend the rest of your life thinking about how we think and how we see.  Somewhere in all this is a place for why we make figural art (sometimes masterpieces) on our money--not at all an obvious choice to others.
Pat L.
H. W. F. Saggs quoted, and attributed to G. K. Chesterton (who, as I'm sure you know, was a Roman Catholic) the statuemt, "Perspective is the Comic element in everything and, as such, is always left out of Tragic and Religious art".  Or did he say "...official art"?  I tried to remember this from decades ago, and I don't know where Saggs got it.  I understood it to mean that Comedy is detached, while Tragedy is 'involved'; in comedy, it's the relationships that take priority: Comedy is objective, Tragedy is subjective.  And you can't be detached when you're a pompous despot--nor yet when you are worshiping.  Just like Chesterton to say something that way (similarly, the late Wm. Buckley).
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FORVM`s Classical Numismatics Discussion Board  |  Numismatic and History Discussions  |  History and Archeology (Moderator: David Atherton)  |  Topic: "Sculpture in the round" « previous next »
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