The art of our species

If Neanderthal man created any form of art, no traces of it have yet been found. But with the arrival of modern man, or Homo sapiens sapiens, the human genius for image-making becomes abundantly clear. In the recesses of caves, people begin to decorate the rock face with an important theme in their daily lives, the bison and reindeer which are their prey as Ice Age hunters. And sculptors carve portable images of another predominant interest of mankind - the swelling curves of the female form, emphasizing the fertility on which the survival of the tribe depends.

Perhaps the most famous of early sculptures is the so-called Venus of Willendorf. Found at Willendorf in Austria, and dating from more than 25,000 years ago, she is only about four inches high. More than 100 fertility figures of this kind have been found in an area reaching from France to southern Russia.

The sculptor of the Willendorf Venus, scraping away with a flint tool at his fragment of limestone, is not engaging in what we would call art. His tiny but profoundly convincing fertility goddess is a religious object. An encampment of mammoth hunters at Gagarino, in the Ukraine, has yielded many such figures. The huts of the Gagarino hunters even have niches in the walls, or little shrines, to accomodate them.

Since the development of civilization and of the first literate societies, about 5000 years ago, the primitive tradition has continued to have a vibrant but essentially conservative existence in tribal societies all over the world. Ritual sculptures and masks are recreated to unchanging patterns for generation after generation, precisely because their sacred power in this form is well established.

There is no element here of the originality which has often been treasured in more sophisticated societies.

Early civilizations

The Egyptian style: from 3100 BC

The first civilization to establish a recognizable artistic style is Egypt. This style follows a strange but remarkably consistent convention, by which the feet, legs and head of each human figure are shown in profile but the torso, shoulders, arms and eye are depicted as if from the front.

By this means, it has to be admitted, the artist is able to tackle each separate feature from the easiest angle. It is a convenient convention, and it is used both in paintings and in low-relief sculptures. Often the two are combined, with paint applied to the lightly sculpted figures.

The paintings in Egyptian tombs and temples usually depict the incidents which will occur during the journey of the dead into the next world. The practical purpose is to provide the sacred details required for this journey, in the form of images and Hieroglyphs.

In the great temple of Ramses II at Thebes, for example, one image shows his queen, Nefertari, being gently taken by the hand by the goddess Isis. The inscription says: 'Words spoken by Isis - Come, great king's wife Nefertari, beloved of Mut, without fault, that I may show thee thy place in the sacred world'. Similarly helpful paintings are later buried with rich Egyptians in the standard form of Papyrus scroll known as the Book of the Dead - introduced in the New Kingdom, from the 16th century BC..

The Egyptian style can be seen fully fledged in one of the earliest sculptures to survive - a relief, on a slate slab, which the pharaoh Narmer commissions in about 3100 BC to celebrate a victory.

The king holds his defeated enemy by the hair and threatens to strike him. The smaller figure on the left carries the king's sandals. He is smaller not because he is further away, but because he is inferior. Egyptian Perspective is essentially hierarchical.

Figures in the round: 3rd - 2nd millennium BC

Some time after 3000 BC it becomes the practice in Egypt for seated statues of royal people and distinguished officials to be placed in their tombs. Prince Rahotep and his wife Nofret are entombed in about 2500 BC. He has held a high government post and Nofret, apparently a favourite with the pharaoh, also had an official position in the palace.

Their painted images and their glittering eyes of quartz are so realistic that the people who eventually unearth them - in 1871 - are reported to have fled in terror.

More humble figures are also placed in Egyptian royal tombs, to provide familiar services in the next world. They often have an astonishingly life-like quality. Women kneel to grind corn for the royal bread. Among the male servants a scribe is a regular attendant.

These scribes provide a fascinating insight into the clerical methods of the time. Seated with crossed legs, the writer's brief skirt is stretched tight between his thighs. On this surface he rests his Papyrus, holding the rolled up part of the scroll in his left hand. His right hand, with pen between finger and thumb, is poised to jot down the next instruction.

The sphinx: c.2500 BC

The most colossal sculpture of the ancient world is the Egyptian sphinx. The great lion with a human face is carved from the centre of a limestone quarry, after the tons of stone which once surrounded it have been hacked and dragged away to form the greatest of the three nearby pyramids, that of the pharaoh Khufu.

The sphinx lies guarding the pyramids at Giza. Its face is believed to bear the features of Khafre, son of Khufu, whose own pyramid is only slightly more modest than that of his father.

Akhenaten and Nefertiti: c.1340 BC

The sculptures found in the house of Thutmose, court sculptor at Tell el Amarna, reveal the level of realism achieved in 14th-century Egypt - inspired by the instruction of the pharaoh, Akhenaten, that the artists should aim for truthfulness.

The best known are the various heads of Akhenaten's wife, Nefertiti. One in particular (now in Berlin) has become perhaps the most famous of ancient Egyptian sculptures.

Our knowledge of Egyptian sculpture and decorative art has been greatly increased by a lucky accident. In about 1324 BC a young pharaoh dies. His reign, lasting some nine years, has been insignificant. The main event under his rule has been the reversal of the religious Reforms of akhenaten, his predecessor. So his name would be little known but for one unusual detail. His tomb escapes, almost entirely, the attention of the grave robbers.

As a result he is now, more than 3000 years later, the best known of the pharaohs. The tomb, when finally opened, proves to be an astonishing treasure trove of Egyptian artefacts. The young man is Tutankhamen (see the Tomb of Tutankhamen).

The most evocative single object in the tomb of Tutankahamen is the gilded throne, with its apparently intimate scene set into the back; Tutankhamen's queen, Ankhesenamen, tenderly anoints him on the shoulder, as if perhaps for his coronation.

But the jumble of goods in this treasure trove also includes solid gold heads of the king inlaid with precious stones, full-length figures of him in various guises, dramatic and life-like animals, detailed alabaster boats and spectacular reliefs on a gilt shrine, together with countless other objects which demonstrate both the artistry and the technical skill of Egyptian sculpture.

Abu Simbel: c.1250 BC

When the pharaoh Ramses ii decides to create a great monument to himself at the first cataract of the Nile (as if to dominate the defeated southern province of Cush), he conceives the earliest and probably the most impressive of all Rock-cut shrines adorned with statuary.

At Abu Simbel a sloping sandstone rock rises high above the Nile. Ramses' sculptors and labourers are given the task of hacking into the rock face - to expose first four colossal seated statues of the pharaoh himself (each some 65 ft high), to be followed, as they cut further back, by the flat facade against which these great sculptures are to be seen.

With the imposing front of the temple thus achieved, the next stage is even more remarkable. A tall rectangular cavity is cut into the centre of the facade at ground level. As the work of excavation continues, this space will become the massive doorway to an interior chamber (yet the imitation lintel of the door does not even reach to the knees of the four seated statues).

When the work is finally done, three connecting chambers recede behind this door - together stretching 185 ft into the hillside. A corridor through the first great hall is formed by four pairs of pillars, left in place to support the rock above. Each pillar, 30 ft high, is carved as a standing image of Ramses in Nubian dress.

The walls behind the pillars are carved and painted with scenes of Ramses in triumph. He is represented in several military campaigns, with special emphasis on his gallant behaviour in his chariot at the battle of Kadesh. He and his sons are seen offering Nubian, Hittite and Syrian prisoners as sacrifices to Amen-re.

A second chamber leads on into the third and inner sanctuary where Ramses sits as a god beside Amen-re. On two days of the year, February 22 and October 22, the rays of the rising sun penetrate to the very back of the temple to fall upon these two central figures.

In the 1960s this extraordinary temple is threatened by Egypt's construction of the Aswan dam. The waters of the Nile, rising behind the dam, will completely submerge Ramses' spectacular piece of self-promotion.

A major international effort organized by UNESCO saves the situation. The temple is cut from the rock and is sliced into pieces to be reassembled on the hillside above the intended level of the water. In an extraordinarily reversal of techniques, a space originally achieved by a process of scooping out is now preserved as a free-standing structure.

The marble figures of the Cyclades: 3000 BC

The most surprising early tradition in sculpture, coinciding with the beginnings of art in Egypt, is that of the Cyclades - a group of islands in the northern Mediterranean, scattered across the entrance to the Aegean sea.

Here, from about 3000 BC, large numbers of marble figures are carved. Most of them are of women, and they are designed to lie flat - perhaps suggesting death, for they have been found mainly in graves. In one sense they are in the primitive tradition which begins with the Venus of willendorf. But they also develop an abstract quality which has seemed particularly attractive in our own time.

A Cycladic figure of about 2800 BC has the massive hips of a fertility goddess. Another, of some 300 years later, is visibly in the same tradition but the form has now evolved into something which seems (to our eyes) extraordinarily modern - even sharing Picasso's free-thinking approach to the human nose. Figures like this are made in large numbers in the Cyclades at this time. Most of them are small, about ten inches in length.

This distinctive style fades away after about 2000 BC, as the islands come under the influence of the stronger Minoan culture. But the Cyclades provide a fascinating glimpse of a primitive tradition developing into one of great sophistication - without losing its primitive conservatism.

The first American sculpture: 1200 BC

The sculpture of the American continent makes a powerful start. The style is primitive but the scale is monumental.

Figures of this kind, introduced by America's first civilization (that of the Olmecs at San Lorenzo and La Venta) will have a lasting influence through 2000 years of central American culture.

The most characteristic sculptures of San Lorenzo and La Venta are astonishing creations. They are massive stone heads, more than two metres in height, of square-jawed and fat-lipped warriors, usually wearing helmets with ear flaps.

The chunky and uncompromising quality of these images will remain typical of much of the religious art of Mesoamerica, particularly in the region around Mexico City. It can be seen in the rain-god masks of Teotihuacan (about 2000 years ago), in the vast standing warriors at Tula (about 1000 years ago) and in the brutally severe monumental sculpture of the Aztecs (500 years ago).

At the peak of the Olmec culture, in central America, there is also a significant step towards naturalism in sculpture. It is relatively isolated, leading to no lasting tradition, but it is no less impressive for that. It even prefigures, in a sense, the more heroic naturalism which will be the great achievement of classical Greek sculpture.

One of the best-known Olmec figures in this style is the Wrestler. The man's movements may suggest morning exercises rather than anything more pugnacious, but he is an entirely believable human being.

Assyrian reliefs: 7th century BC

Egyptian sculpture, both in relief and in the round, has achieved an exquisite stillness. The marble figures of the Cyclades seem eternally patient. The Olmec civilization in America provides some rare examples of naturalistic figures in the round. But much more is possible.

Mesopotamia takes the next step. Assyrian sculptors of the 7th century BC demonstrate with great conviction how a complex sense of drama and movement can be captured in stone.

In about 645 BC Ashurbanipal, king of Assyria, commissions a series of carved reliefs for his new palace at Nineveh. They include several scenes of a lion hunt - a sport reserved for the king himself.

Many details of this famous relief are charged with high drama. Grooms struggle to harness the king's horses, a dog strains at the leash, a lion races out of the cage opened by an attendant and another leaps at the king's chariot, to be warded off just in time by men with javelins. But the most expressive details, and perhaps the most astonishing of all images in the early history of sculpture, are the wounded lions - in particular a dying lioness.

Greece and Rome

Rival masterpieces: 5th century BC

By one of the strange coincidences of history, the 5th century BC produces the first masterpieces in two incompatible styles of sculpture. Nearly 2500 years later, these styles become bitter rivals in the studios of our own time.

One is the classical realism which will prevail from the Renaissance to the end of the 19th century. The other is the sculpture of Africa, distorting human features and limbs in a dramatically expressive manner. African figures in this long and vibrant tradition inspire Picasso's experiments with Cubism, which launch the mainstream of modern art.

The characteristic sculpture of Africa, which forms the largest part of what is usually considered primitive art, can be seen as early as 500 BC in the Nok culture - named from the village in Nigeria where pottery figures of this kind were first found.

The Nok statuettes are mainly of human subjects. Made of terracotta, they combine strong formal elements with a complete disregard for precise anatomy. Their expressive quality places them unmistakably at the start of the African sculptural tradition.

The Greek classical ideal: 5th - 4th century BC

Greece in the classical period makes the innovations which underlie the mainstream western tradition in art. This is true of both painting and sculpture.

The essential characteristic of classical Greek art is a heroic realism. Painters and sculptors attempt to reveal the human body, in movement or repose, exactly as it appears to the eye. The emphasis will be on people of unusual beauty, or moments of high and noble drama. But the technical ability to capture the familiar appearance of things is an innovation which can later be adapted to any subject.

Ancient Greek authors consider the paintings on the walls of public buildings, particularly temples, to be works of art as magnificent and important as anything created by the sculptors. But the fragility of the medium means that hardly any painting of this kind has survived (the murals unearthed at Vergina in 1977 provide one sensational exception).

We can acquire obliquely some idea of what has been lost. One method is through the designs on Greek vases, which survive in great numbers from the classical period. They represent a skilful and cartoon-like style of Greek drawing, and give some idea of the subjects chosen by Greek painters. But in their own time they are considered the work of craftsmen rather than artists.

The scale and ambition of classical Greek sculpture can be seen in a fragment of an early masterpiece. The famous Charioteer of Delphi, a life-size bronze, is the only surviving figure of a major group consisting of the chariot and its horses, a royal passenger on board with the charioteer, and an attendant slave boy.

This large work is presented to the temple of Apollo at Delphi by the ruler of a Greek colony in Sicily, to commemorate victory in the chariot race at the Pythian games in 477 BC.

The charioteer is shown in his chariot during the victory parade. The slight twist of the body, from bare feet to head, suggests an entirely natural stance - just as the arm seems to imply a light pressure on the reins. In an equally subtle way the face shows the quiet exultation of a man who has just won great honour in a solemn competition. Athletic contests in Greece have an almost religious status.

A boy jockey, of three centuries later, suggests how well the new naturalism of the Greek sculptors will cope with movement. This bronze distillation of human vitality, in the excitement of the race, is one of the most enchanting images to survive from the ancient world.

It is possible to have a glimpse of early Greek art through Greece's influence on the Etruscans, in central Italy. The style of the pre-classical period in Greece can be seen in the many murals which have survived in Etruscan tombs. These are extremely lively in a stylized manner, very different from the realism of classical Greek art.

A splendid example from the 6th century BC is the inebriated pair of dancers from the Tomb of the Lionesses, in Tarquinia.

The nude in Greek sculpture: from the 5th century BC

In athletics, as opposed to chariot racing, the competitors are naked. The male body is an acknowledged object of beauty in ancient Greece; and the male nude is perhaps the greatest achievement of Greek sculpture.

The earliest surviving masterpiece of this kind dates from about 480 BC. Attributed to the sculptor Kritios, it shows a young man in a completely natural stance. His weight is on one leg and hip, with the other knee flexed. The effect on the muscles under the skin, through knees and buttocks up to the gentle curve of the back, is miraculously suggested in the marble. (The same pose is later adopted by Greek sculptors for the female nude, in full-size figures of Aphrodite, the goddess of love - see Aphrodite in sculpture).

The most famous Greek sculpture of an athlete in action dates from about forty years after the first surviving naturalistic male nude. It is the Discus Thrower by Myron, in which the coiled body of the naked athlete seems for ever about to spin the disc away into the distance.

The sculpture is known only in Roman copies. Carved in marble, they need ungainly supports - such as the awkward tree trunk against which the athlete seems to lean. The lost original, cast in Bronze, needs no such encumbrances. Like the Charioteer of Delphi, this image makes heavy demands on the skills of the Greek Bronze-casters.

Sculpture as a public statement: from the 5th century BC

The mid-5th century represents a peak of Greek sculpture, in quantity as well as quality. At exactly the period when Myron is creating the Discus Thrower, the Athenians are building the Parthenon. The sculptures and reliefs which decorate the temple are completed within about ten years, from 447 BC. The inner frieze, showing a great Athenian procession, stretches for more than 150 metres, while the sculptures on the outer wall occupy almost as much space and are far more elaborately carved.

An army of sculptors is clearly now available for public works. The use of sculpture to adorn a community's central building will become a powerful European tradition - seen particularly in the Church sculpture of the Middle Ages.

The Romans develop very skilfully this Greek theme of a narrative frieze, using it particularly - since this is a militaristic society - for the important matter of publicizing Rome's victories. The outstanding example is the continuous strip, nearly 200 metres long, which circles its way up the marble column of Trajan in Rome. Dating from AD 113, it recounts in minute and realistic detail the emperor's successful campaign in Dacia (the region of modern Romania).

But the type of sculpture which the Romans make particularly their own is the portrait bust. Here, too, Trajan can serve as an example.

Roman portraits and Christian ivories: 1st - 6th century AD

Greek sculptors sometimes carve heads which appear to be portraits. But they are invariably of good-looking people, whose attractive faces shine with the light of reason. They seem idealized.

A bust of Trajan provides a powerful contrast. Here is a dangerous and apparently unpleasant man, depicted by the sculptor with nothing approaching normal flattery - though this may well be how a successful conqueror likes to see himself. In their portrait busts Rome's emperors seem a bunch of unscrupulous thugs (as they do also in the historical record). Nowhere in the ancient world do we feel so close to real people. Rarely has the art of sculpture been used to such devastatingly honest effect.

One Roman triumphal portrait achieves, by contrast, a heroic quality which will make it extremely influential in later times. It is the equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius, originally standing on the Capitol in Rome. Made of gilded bronze (and a superb achievement of Bronze casting), it is probably created to celebrate victories in the east in AD 162-4.

Its mood will greatly appeal to European princes and generals from the Renaissance onwards. But in the intervening centuries sculpture is mainly used by Christian artists for more tormented themes, whether the pain of the Crucifixion or the imagined agonies of Hell.

A notable exception, in the years before the final collapse of the Roman empire in the west, is the early tradition of Christian ivories. The best of them are carved in Rome in the 5th century and in Constantinople slightly later. These beautiful little panels of Gospel scenes, in a miniature version of the naturalism of Greece and Rome, often achieve a profound serenity. They are like a gentle farewell to the classical tradition of the Mediterranean, before the emergence of a new and vigorous style of Sculpture in northern europe.

Meanwhile Asia has been offering great opportunities to the sculptors, in the development of Hindu and Buddhist art.

Asia and Africa

Indian sculpture: from the 3rd century BC

The lively traditions of Indian sculpture date back to the first Indian empire, that of the Maurya dynasty. Sculptors begin to carve characters and scenes from the stories of India's three interconnected religions - Hinduism, Buddhism and to a lesser extent Jainism.

The presentation tends to be frontal, as though the figures are posing for the camera. From the start, among other themes, there are examples of Hindu art's most abiding image - magnificent young women, nude, full-breasted, and often in some strikingly athletic pose (as in the famous temples of Khajuraho, of about the 11th century AD). Occasionally these are just female attendants, but more often they are characters of legend.

In the early centuries, Hindu and Buddhist art falls within the same tradition (the magnificent Buddhist carvings on the Great Stupa at Sanchi seem entirely Hindu). But Buddhist sculpture acquires a character of its own when the religion moves outwards from India to the northwest.

From the 1st century AD there is a strong school of Buddhist sculpture in what is now northwest Pakistan. Known by the ancient name of Gandhara, this region is open to foreign influences arriving along the newly opened Silk road. One such influence from the west is the Roman and Greek realism in art. In Gandhara sculpture this realism is subtly combined with the local traditions of India to produce Buddhist images of an elegantly classical kind.

Buddhist sculpture: 5th - 6th century AD

Buddhism moves out of India and into Afghanistan (where the two great rock-carved Buddhas of Bamiyan, from the 6th century, reveal the influence of Gandhara until destroyed by the Taliban in 2001). It then continues east along the Silk road towards China.

Mahayana Buddhism, the variety progressing along this route, offers a range of legendary figures which provide ample opportunity for the imagination of the sculptors. Some of the settlements which develop along the road, at places such as Yün-kang (lying safely just south of the Great Wall of China), have caves which can be adorned with sculpture carved in the rock. Encouraged by the stream of pilgrims and merchants (visiting, marvelling, contributing funds), Chinese sculptors rise magnificently to the occasion.

In sheer quantity, if in nothing else, Buddhist carving in China would be a phemonenon in the history of sculpture. One site near the ancient capital of Loyang, at the eastern end of the Silk road, makes the point very effectively. Any visitor to Long-men will be struck by the profusion of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas and Arhats and their guardians. But exactly how many statues are there?

In 1916 a local magistrate attempts to count them. He arrives at a total of 97,306 separate figures. A more recent study suggests that 142,289 may be nearer the mark.

Ife and Benin: from the 12th century AD

An unusual tradition within African sculpture is the cast-metal work done from about the 12th century in what is now southern Nigeria. It reaches a peak of perfection among the Yoruba people of Ife. Between the 12th and the 15th century life-size heads and masks, and smaller full-length figures - all of astonishing realism - are cast in brass and sometimes in pure copper (technically much more difficult). These figures have an extraordinary quiet intensity.

This craft, perfected by the Yoruba people, is continued from the 15th century in Benin - still today a great centre of metal casting. The Benin heads, delightful but less powerful in their impact than those of Ife, are commonly known as Benin bronzes.

In fact they are made of brass, melted down from vessels and ornaments arriving on the trade routes (in 1505-7 alone, the Portuguese agent delivers 12,750 brass bracelets to Benin). The arrival of the Portuguese prompts the Benin sculptors to undertake a new style of work - brass plaques with scenes in relief, in which the Portuguese themselves sometimes feature. These plaques are nailed as decoration to the wooden pillars of the royal palace.


Romanesque: 9th - 12th century AD

Romanesque, a word not coined until the 18th century, is first used to describe the architecture of western Europe from about the 9th to 12th century. It has become applied by extension to other arts, in particular sculpture. But the term remains most appropriate to architecture, where the round arches of Romanesque can easily be seen as what the name implies - a continuation of the Roman tradition.

The round arch is characteristic of much in Roman building - whether in their great Aqueducts and Bridges, in emperors' triumphal arches, or astride classical columns (as, for example, in the churches of Ravenna).

The capitals of columns, carved with nothing more exotic than acanthus leaves in the classical tradition, provide one area in which the Romanesque sculptor lets his imagination run wild. In abbey cloisters of the period (and abbots are among the main patrons of art in the Romanesque centuries) the tops of the pillars are often alive with vivid biblical scenes or endearingly grotesque monsters, cunningly carved to make the most of the available shape.

This tradition of sculpture, reaching its peak in the 11th and 12th century, is a delight to any but the most stern. But a very strict voice of the time, that of St Bernard, expresses outrage at these lively frivolities.

A perfect example of this continuity is the tiny baptistery at Fréjus in the south of France. This warmly reassuring little building, with its round-topped windows and striped interior arches on top of classical pillars, has the informal charm of many a small Romanesque church of the 10th or 11th century.

But it dates from the late 5th century - a period when the Germanic tribes are already in France, but far too early for there to be any architectural influence other than Roman in this region. This apparently Romanesque gem is pure Roman.

The other space regularly made available to Romanesque sculptors, offering a much richer field than the capital of a pillar, is the tympanum - the semicircular expanse of wall between the west door of a church and the arch above it.

A favourite subject for the tympanum is the Last Judgement, particularly in churches such as Moissac or Conques on the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela. The theme vividly reminds the Pilgrims of the need for pious devotion; and the numerous characters (particularly the damned and their tormenting devils) provide fine opportunities for the sculptors.

By the time of the period properly considered Romanesque, many variations of its Roman origins have evolved. Seeking out the sources of Romanesque is a complex academic exercise. One well-established line of influence comes through Ravenna to Aachen; Justinian's 6th-century church of San vitale inspires Charlemagne's early 9th-century chapel.

Charlemagne's Chapel in aachen, with its classical columns and round striped arches, also recalls the little baptistery at Fréjus. And both are echoed in the full flowering of the Romanesque style, as seen in the 12th-century nave at Vézelay.

Vézelay is a pilgrimage church (the monks here have on show the bones of Mary Magdalene), and many of the Romanesque churches of France are on the great pilgrimage routes which develop at this period - particularly those leading to Pilgrims in northern Spain.

An innovation of architectural significance in French Romanesque relates to the Pilgrims. The ambulatory, a passage behind the altar following the curve of the apse, makes possible the addition of several small chapels to contain relics. The Pilgrims can progress in their devotions from one to another. The cluster of little curved roofs at the east end, seen from outside, becomes a characteristic feature of many a Romanesque church.

Gothic: 12th - 15th century AD

Gothic, descriptive now of some of the most sublime creations of the European imagination, begins as a term of abuse. It is used by theorists in the Renaissance to blame the Goths for 1000 years of non-classical architecture - from410 (when Rome is sacked by the Visigoths) to 1419 (when Brunelleschi uses classical motifs on the façade of a foundling hospital in Florence). The term is applied also to sculpture of the same period, much of it found on buildings.

Art historians later recognize a major stylistic division within this long period. The early part becomes known as Romanesque. Gothic, losing any pejorative sense, is reserved for a style which emerges in the 12th century.

The Gothic style, though also used in secular buildings, is most associated with the great cathedrals of Europe. There are certain immediately recognizable characteristics in any Gothic cathedral.

The interior gives an impression of lightness and height, with slender columns framing large tall windows and reaching up to support a delicately ribbed stone roof. The exterior is encrusted with a filigree of delicate ornament, again essentially slender and vertical, made up of a blend of elegant statues, bobbly pinnacles, the skeletal patterns of the stone tracery in the windows, and the open fretwork of Flying buttresses.

There is much argument about exactly where the most characteristic ingredients of Gothic first appear. A pointed arch is one of its distinguishing characteristics, as opposed to the Romanesque round arch, but this shape is not in itself a Gothic innovation - it can occasionally be found earlier in Muslim architecture. Equally rib vaulting over the nave, a feature of every Gothic church with a stone roof, is seen in the Romanesque cathedral at Durham.

Neverthless these two features are intrinsic elements in the Gothic style. They make it possible for the building to become a lightweight skeleton of stone, into which decorative features may be inserted.

As with architecture, a sense of lightness and height distinguishes Gothic sculpture from the preceding Romanesque style. Romanesque figures tend to be squat, chunky, angular - particularly when confined to the restricting spaces at the top of a pillar or in the semicircle of a St denis.

By contrast Gothic sculptures are tall and thin, reflecting the soaring vertical lines of the new style. Alcoves to each side of high cathedral porches are the favourite location for these figures. The abbey church of Romanesque is again the pioneer, but the wise and foolish virgins either side of the porch there have been much damaged and restored. Chartres offers the earliest surviving examples of Gothic sculpture.

The features characteristic of a Gothic church include large windows, bringing in colour as well as light through the medium of stained glass. On the end walls of transept or nave there is now space for a particularly glorious innovation - the great circular openings known (from the petal-like arrangement of their stonework) as rose windows.

The two most striking exterior details of Gothic cathedrals are the tall recessed porches, rising to a high peak and providing ample surfaces for sculpture; and the so-called Flying buttresses, in which the sideways thrust of a wall is contained by delicate filaments of stone (as if some masonic spider has been at work on the building).

The Gothic style first appears in France in the mid-12th century. It soon becomes a much wider phenomenon. All the great medieval cities of Europe have Gothic buildings, unless destroyed by war or other disaster. Nevertheless the earliest and greatest achievements are in France, during a relatively short period from the mid-12th to mid-13th century. It makes sense to describe the movement through the best French examples. (English Gothic, though known for its three distinct periods, is closely related to the French.)

The one great exception within the tradition is Tympanum, which needs a section of its own - for the colourful flamboyance of its churches, and the exceptional beauty of its secular buildings.

The sculptures of Chartres: AD 1150-1220

The earliest porch of Chartres cathedral - the triple entrance in the west façade - introduces Gothic sculpture in its most extreme form. Each of the biblical kings and queens stands on a tiny platform projecting from a tall, thin pillar. To suit their circumstance, their bodies are impossibly elongated within the tumbling pleats of their full-length robes. Yet their faces, by contrast, are realistic and benign.

The result is an effect of ethereal calm, entirely in keeping with Gothic architecture. One of the Chartres sculptors is believed to have undertaken these figures after completing the virgins for the Porch of st denis. So the Gothic style may have been introduced almost in its entirety by Abbot suger.

The figures in the north porch of Chartres are added half a century later, from about 1195 to 1220. Recognizably in the same style, they are still unusually tall and thin. But instead of being ethereal figures, they are beginning to stir themselves as human beings. Their predecessors in the west porch are aligned with their pillars, as if pinned to them like rare butterflies. The new figures stand more naturally between the pillars. And they look about. They make gestures.

Their creators are beginning to discover a natural way of treating the human figure. Later Gothic sculptors build on that achievement.

From Gothic to Renaissance: 13th - 14th century AD

An important element of the Renaissance is the rediscovery of the realistic free-standing human figure as sculpted in Greece and Rome. But the emergence of Renaissance sculpture is not nearly as sudden a process as the change involved in Renaissance architecture.

From the time of the north porch of Chartres, in the early 13th century, sculptors create entirely believable people in stone - though attached, invariably, to the walls of buildings. Gradually these figures begin to detach themselves, as if moving towards a more independent existence. The statues liberated in this way are among the masterpieces of Gothic sculpture. But they are also the harbingers of the Renaissance.

The examples usually quoted are mainly from northern Europe. Four figures in the west porch of Reims cathedral, carved between 1225 and 1245, break out of their isolation to relate to a partner. In the right pair the Virgin turns to St Elizabeth in the Visitation; in the left pair she turns to the archangel in the Annunciation.

A secular sculpture from the same period stands high on a platform against one of the walls of Bamberg cathedral. It depicts, in life size, an unknown emperor or king on horseback. This proud horseman is a link (or half-link, being attached on one side) between the free-standing equestrian statues of Rome and of the Renaissance.

The examples usually quoted are mainly from northern Europe. Four figures in the west porch of Reims cathedral, carved between 1225 and 1245, break out of their isolation to relate to a partner. In the right pair the Virgin turns to St Elizabeth in the Visitation; in the left pair she turns to the archangel in the Annunciation.

In the following century another major step is taken in France (or more precisely the duchy of Burgundy) in the liberation of the sculpted human form.

Later in the 13th century, from about 1260, stone figures at Naumberg achieve a new degree of humanity. Standing against the wall of the choir, they supposedly depict the founders of the cathedral - dim figures from a distant past. But Ekkehart and Uta stare at the viewer as boldly and believably as if they had only this moment been fixed in stone.

This progression reaches its magnificent conclusion, more than a century later, in a group of Old Testament prophets carved to decorate a well in France.

In 1395 the duke of Burgundy commissions a work from Claus Sluter. He is to provide a scene of Calvary, set on a carved base, to surmount the well of a Charterhouse near Dijon. The Calvary has been destroyed, but the base survives - surrounded by six sturdy Old Testament prophets. These figures, carved in 1400-1405, stand as free and as convincing as anyone possibly could whose eternal task is to stand guard round a well (the Well of Moses). With these prophets the naturalistic side of the Renaissance makes its appearance in the north, several years ahead of Donatello in Florence.

Conversely, Florence exerts considerable influence on the first great French painter of the Renaissance.

In 1395 the duke of Burgundy commissions a work from Claus Sluter. He is to provide a scene of Calvary, set on a carved base, to surmount the well of a Charterhouse near Dijon. The Calvary has been destroyed, but the base survives - surrounded by six sturdy Old Testament prophets. These figures, carved in 1400-1405, stand as free and as convincing as anyone possibly could whose eternal task is to stand guard round a well (the Well of Moses). With these prophets the naturalistic side of the Renaissance makes its appearance in the north, several years ahead of Donatello in Florence.

The classical theme of the Renaissance is more specifically Italian. But that too is anticipated a good century and a half before Donatello.

Nicola and his pulpit for Pisa: AD 1259

In the mid-13th century the cathedral authorities in Pisa commission a pulpit for their baptistery. The sculptor is Nicola, from southern Italy but now living in Pisa and so known as Pisano. In his youth he may have been influenced by the classicizing ideas of the emperor Frederick ii, who encourages architects and artists in his realms to look to antique models.

Certainly this is what Nicola does when designing the reliefs for his Pisa pulpit, completed in 1259. There are plenty of ancient sarcophagi around to inspire him. His Virgin Mary, in scenes such as the Nativity or the Adoration of the Magi, is a powerfully sculpted figure. But she looks for all the world like a Roman matron.

Nicola follows his success in Pisa with another pulpit in a similar style for the cathedral in Siena, completed in 1268. And his son, Giovanni Pisano, later produces a magnificent pulpit for the cathedral in Pisa, more than rivalling his father's in the baptistery.

These later pulpits of father and son have a more expressive quality. They avoid the direct, even blunt, borrowing of antique forms seen in the Pisa baptistery pulpit. Such an evident interest in the classical past will not reappear until Brunelleschi. But Nicola demonstrates that in this matter the early masters of the Renaissance cannot claim absolute priority.

Renaissance in Europe

Art and architecture in Florence: AD 1411-1430

Three Florentine friends, an architect, a sculptor and a painter, are recognized in their own time as being the founders of a new direction in art - subsequently known as the Renaissance. In the preface to an influential book on painting, published in 1436, Alberti says that the work of these three has convinced him that the ancient arts can be revived.

They differ considerably in age. The architect, Brunelleschi, is the oldest. The sculptor, Donatello, is about ten years younger. The painter, Masaccio, is about fifteen years younger again, though he is by a wide margin the first to die.

Brunelleschi is the pioneer who first consciously applies a Renaissance curiosity to the arts. Where the Humanists visit Rome and other ancient cities to copy inscriptions, he notes the dimensions and sketches the details of the ruins and surviving buildings of classical antiquity. These include the columns and arches of Rome, but also the domes of Byzantine Ravenna and even of the baptistery in Florence - a Romanesque building of the 11th or 12th century which Brunelleschi and his contemporaries believe to be a temple of Mars adapted for Christian worship.

His aim is to abandon entirely the medieval heritage, even if lack of historical knowledge makes the break less absolute than he intends.

Brunelleschi's first biographer (Antonio Manetti, writing in the 1480s) states that Donatello accompanies the older man on trips to Rome to study the style of the ancients. Whether true or not - and scholars tend to doubt the story - it is undeniable that between 1411 and 1417 Donatello carves two free-standing figures in a more purely classical style (and with much greater artistry) than anything attempted by predecessors such as Nicola pisano.

These figures, profoundly significant in the story of sculpture, are commissioned by two of Florence's guilds. The linen drapers and the armourers need statues of their patron saints.

Brunelleschi is a painter and sculptor, as well as architect, and his interest in classical buildings leads him into pioneering work of another kind. He is the first to evolve a scientific theory of perspective, which he is said to have used to startling effect in murals in the Baptistery and the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence (none have survived).

This newly discovered skill is adopted by Masaccio and becomes of absorbing interests to Renaissance artists after Alberti has described the techique in detail in his book of 1436, crediting Brunelleschi as its originator.

Donatello: AD 1411-1450

In 1406 the authorities in Florence order the guilds to commission statues for the niches already allotted to each of them in the outer wall of Orsanmichele, a building erected in the mid-14th century as a combination of trading place and shrine (in honour of a miracle-working image of the Virgin Mary which is housed here). Any guild which has not provided a statue within ten years will lose all claim to its desirable and prestigious niche.

In 1411 the linen drapers commission the young Donatello, in his mid-twenties, to provide a marble statue of St Mark. In about 1415 he delivers to them the first free-standing Renaissance sculpture.

The larger-than-lifesize St Mark stands in a completely relaxed pose, with his weight on one foot. Folds of loose drapery vividly suggest a projecting knee and jutting hip. The figure has the solid and uncompromising quality of Roman portrait sculpture, even though the beard and long robes seem to echo the saints on the façades of Gothic cathedrals.

Donatello's next work for Orsanmichele, probably completed in 1417, has much more openly a classical quality. St George, a clean-shaven young man scantily clad in Roman armour, confronts the viewer with a direct look closer to the heroic quality of Greek sculpture than to the Brutal realism of Rome.

The same openness, amounting now to a positively provocative sense of physical confidence, is characteristic of Donatello's most famous statue - the astonishing bronze David, a boy in a saucy hat with the head of Goliath at his feet.

Done in about 1430, to stand in a courtyard of the Medici palace, this is the first life-size Nude sculpture since classical times. It reintroduces one of the great themes of Greek sculpture in a burst of glorious confidence, and with a new mood of wit and playfulness.

Donatello revives yet another ancient tradition, in a work of lasting influence, when he is commissioned in 1443 to provide an equestrian portrait for Padua of the Venetian condottiere Erasmo da Narni, known as Gattamelata. The work is completed in about 1450 and is set up in Padua in 1453.

The massive composition (horse and rider together stand more than 11 feet high) harks back to the mounted statue of Marcus aurelius in Rome. This is the predecessor of every dignitary riding in bronze through the streets of modern cities, but few have the stern severity of this uncompromising soldier of fortune.

Renaissance man: 15th - 16th century AD

The term Renaissance Man has come to mean someone with exceptional skills in a wide range of fields. The description applies to many people during the Renaissance (a period when it is assumed that artistic talent can be easily adapted to differing crafts), but there are two outstanding candidates for the title.

They are Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo. The older man, Leonardo, is exceptional in that he excels in two entirely different disciplines - experimental science and the visual arts. But on the artistic side alone, Michelangelo must be the man. He creates works, all of the highest quality, in the four distinct fields of sculpture, painting, architecture and poetry.

Michelangelo the sculptor: AD 1499-1516

Early in 1499 a sculpture of the Virgin Mary, holding on her lap the dead Christ, is placed in one of the chapels of old St Peter's in Rome. This Pietà is still one of the most beautiful works of art in the mighty new St Peter's, completed a century later. It is by a sculptor who has just turned twenty-four - Michelangelo.

The precocious genius receives a commission two years later in his home city of Florence. The authorities want a marble statue of David. Michelangelo, using a vast slab of marble abandoned by another sculptor, presents the biblical hero (more than twice lifesize, about 13 feet high) as a naked youth standing with petulant confidence, sling thrown over his shoulder, before the encounter with Goliath.

Michelangelo works on David from September 1501 until January 1504. In 1505 the pope, Julius ii, summons him to Rome with a commission to provide a sculpted tomb, with many figures, for the pope's own memorial. The vast project hangs over Michelangelo for the next four decades. Some of his best known works are later carved to form part of it (the great marble Moses and the two tormented Slaves of 1513-6). But the project is doomed to remain unfinished.

Part of the reason is that Julius ii has an even more challenging task for this multi-talented artist. In 1508 he commissions Michelangelo to paint the ceiling of the Sistine chapel.


The youthful Bernini: AD 1618-1625

No sculptor, other than Michelangelo with his early Pietà, has ever made such an immediate impact as Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini. In his early twenties he produces an extraordinary series of innovative masterpieces for a single patron, Cardinal Scipione Borghese.

Two in particular break new ground. When Pluto lifts Prosperpina (Pluto and Proserpina 1621-2), his fingers, sinking with the exertion into her outer thigh, transform marble into soft flesh as never before. In Apollo and Daphne (1622-5) the fleeing Daphne, changing before our eyes into a laurel tree, seems to deny for ever the static element in sculpture. The new style of baroque has already found its greatest master.

Baroque as a style: 17th - 18th century AD

Europe in the 17th century, and in particular Roman Catholic Europe, revels in a new artistic style embracing architecture as well as painting and sculpture. In many contexts, such as church interiors, the baroque combines all three arts in an unprecedented way to create a sense of emotional exuberance.

This mood is very different from the dignified and often severe masterpieces of the Renaissance. The term barocco is first used to suggest disapproval. It is thought to derive from a Portuguese word for a misshapen pearl. Certainly unbalance and excess are the qualities which baroque artists indulge in and turn to advantage.

The Roman Catholic world is the natural home of baroque, because its mood suits so well the message of the Counter-reformation. Protestant reformers can be caricatured, not too unreasonably, as argumentative, dour, unsentimental, hostile to images, and distrustful of any authority except that of holy writ.

The Catholic church by contrast enjoys an aura of centuries of authority and prestige, has long used art and music with great skill to touch the emotions of the faithful, and much prefers a good show to a good argument.

Following the example of the new St Peter's in Rome, numerous churches built and decorated in the 17th century put baroque at the service of the church's message. The faithful are welcomed by rows of saints, gesticulating eagerly in stone from alcove or roof line.

Inside a baroque church, light falls on mingling curves of columns and altars and sculpted groups, breaking up the solidity of side walls and often leading the eye up to an illusionistic ceiling - in which angels and people of fame or virtue stream upwards into the distant clouds of heaven. There is nothing half-hearted about baroque (at any rate until a slight loss of nerve in the 18th century results in the development known as rococo).

Bernini and baroque Rome: 17th century AD

In the transformation of Rome into a baroque city, no one plays a part comparable to that of the sculptor and architect Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini. In 1629 he is appointed architect to St Peter's, the creation of which has given a new excitement and dignity to the ancient city. Over the next forty years he provides magnificent features to impress the arriving pilgrims.

The first, completed in 1633, is the vast bronze canopy held up by four twisting columns (profusely decorated with the Barberini bees, for the pope at the time is Urban viii). This structure, known as the Baldacchino, is at the very heart of the church - above the tomb of St Peter and below the dome.

The Baldacchino rises above an altar at which only the pope conducts mass. Visible between the columns, from the point of view of the congregation, is Bernini's other dramatic contribution to the interior of St Peter's. This is a golden tableau, a piece of pure theatre, above the altar at the far end of the church. Its central feature is the papal throne of St Peter, held aloft among the clouds.

Sculpted golden rays stream up from St Peter's throne towards heaven. In an extra dimension to the illusion they are joined by real rays of golden light, shining from the afternoon sun through an amber window in which the holy dove spreads his wings. This glorious blend of sculpture and architecture is achieved between 1657 and 1666.

During these same years Bernini's great contribution to the exterior of St Peter's is also under construction. The open space in front of the church, where pilgrims gather to hear the pope's Easter address, needs to be enclosed in some way to form a welcoming piazza.

Bernini achieves a perfect solution in the form of an open curving colonnade. The four concentric rows of columns provide covered walkways and a shape for the piazza, but they do so without closing it in - for there is no back wall. Meanwhile the balustrade above the columns is an ideal pedestal for the gesticulating stone saints who are an indispensable part of monumental baroque.

Bernini can be seen in even more emotional and theatrical vein in his superb ensemble in the Cornaro chapel in Santa Maria della Vittoria. The subject is the mystical ecstasy of St Teresa of Avila, following her own account of being pierced by the arrow of divine love. The saint, in a flutter of white marble robes, swoons as a jubilant winged boy prepares to plunge an arrow into her heart. Real light from a hidden window combines with sculpted rays to illuminate the scene from above.

In a final theatrical touch, in this most histrionic of religious masterpieces, sculpted members of the Cornaro family watch the scene from boxes to either side.

Baroque Rome perfectly reflects the mood of the Catholic reformation. The city of the popes (whose temporal rule in Central italy and whose spiritual authority over the greater part of Christendom are now alike restored) is also the headquarters of the popes' energetic new missionaries, the Jesuits.

The sumptuous central church of the Jesuits - the Gesù, completed in 1575 - is an early and influential example of the Baroque style. Its sculptural altars and painted ceilings, in which saints destroy heresy or fly heavenwards with flamboyant certainty, leave the visitor in no doubt that Rome and its brand of Christianity have recovered their confidence.

The Cornaro chapel is completed in 1652. The previous year Bernini has unveiled the most spectacular of Rome's many fountains. There are others by him in the city (in the Piazza di Spagna and the Piazza Barberini), but this one in the Piazza Navona outdoes them all.

The design of the Fountain of the Four Rivers is Bernini's but most of the carving - including the figures of the four river gods - is done by others from his preparatory models. From the shock of its central concept (heavy obelisk on top of hollow rock) to its lively and often surprising details, this is a worthy secular counterpart to Bernini's Christian contribution in the shaping of Baroque Rome.

The portrait bust: 17th - 18th century AD

In addition to his numerous other talents, Bernini is a master of the portrait bust. He depicts his sitters with a new informality, enabling him to catch the fleeting moment when a characteristic glance or expression reveals the real person.

This is seen as much in the bust of a plump dignitary (such as his patron Cardinal Scipione Borghese) as in the delightfully fresh glimpse in marble of Bernini's mistress Costanza Buonarelli. In 1665, on a visit to France, Bernini sculpts the young Louis XIV. He manages to make even the Sun king, the very embodiment of pomposity, look human and almost amusing.

Bernini's contemporary, Alessandro Algardi, is his equal in suggesting living flesh within the confines of cold marble - though Algardi inclines to burden his sitters with the weight of dignity instead of the more impish quality often found in them by Bernini. Between them, these two sculptors make Italy the undisputed home of the portrait bust during the 17th century.

But in the next century it is France which produces the greatest masters in this difficult craft.

Louis François Roubiliac, born in Lyons in about 1705, becomes one of several Foreign sculptors making their careers in England. His first important commission demonstrates very effectively his fresh approach to portrait sculpture. His marble statue of Handel, unveiled in Vauxhall Gardens in 1738, shows the composer in nightcap and slippers improvising on a lyre while a chubby infant at his feet jots down the notes.

The greatest French master of the portrait bust, Jean-Antoine Houdon, is a generation younger than Roubiliac. From the 1770s many of the most famous faces in Europe are modelled in clay in Houdon's Paris studio. It is frequently through his view of them that they are now known to the world (Voltaire being the prime example).

In 1785 Houdon is invited to America to sculpt a statue of George Washington. He crosses the Atlantic with Benjamin Franklin, who has been in Paris for some years as a diplomat for the newly independent American states.

At the time of Houdon's visit Washington has retired to his country estate, after winning the war against Britain. Houdon sculpts him in the guise of a similar Roman hero, Cincinnatus, who leaves his farm to save the republic of Rome from military disaster and then returns to private life. The marble statue (now in the state capitol of Virginia, in Richmond) is completed by 1788 - the year before Washington is again called from retirement, to become the new nation's first president.

18th century

Neoclassicism: 18th - 19th century AD

Ever since the Renaissance, successive generations of artists and architects have turned to classical models for inspiration. Even at the height of baroque (the least classical of styles in mood or line) contemporary grandees are often depicted in togas. Military heroes, however foolish they may look, strutt in the stiff ribbed kilt of the Roman legionary.

During the 18th century a quest for classical authenticity is undertaken with new academic vigour. There are several reasons. Archaeological sites such as Pompeii are being excavated. And interest is shifting from the Roman part of the classical heritage to the Greek.

Ancient Greek sites in southern Italy (in particular Paestum) and in Sicily begin to be studied in the 1740s. In 1755 Johann Joachim Winckelmann, a German archaeologist and a key figure in the Greek Revival, publishes a work on Greek painting and sculpture in which he argues that the art of Greece provides the best example of ideal beauty.

The avant-garde greets this notion with enthusiasm. Over the next century Greek themes increasingly pervade the decorative arts. Greek porticos and colonnades grace public buildings. Greek refinement becomes the ideal for neoclassical sculptors and painters.

In architecture there has already been a strong classical revival early in the century, particularly in the Palladian movement in Britain. Robert Adam, returning from Rome in 1757 with a multitude of classical themes and motifs in his head, creates an eclectic style very much his own - in which classical severity and rococo fancy are subtly blended to satisfy his customers.By the turn of the century these pleasant fancies seem too frivolous. A more rigorously Greek style becomes the architectural fashion in many parts of Europe.

Rome is the centre of neoclassical sculpture. The Venetian sculptor Antonio Canova arrives to set up his studio in 1782. He is soon producing beautifully modelled nudes in the Greek style - such as Theseus with the minotaur, now in the Victoria and Albert museum, or Perseus with the head of Medusa in the Vatican. The flesh is modelled with a slightly chilly perfection, more noticeable in female figures (such as the famous Graces done for Woburn Abbey, in which three languid ladies share a sentimental moment).

In 1802 Canova is invited by Napoleon to visit Paris, beginning an extraordinary relationship with the Bonaparte dynasty.

The effect of the Greek Revival on painters includes a new emphasis on the importance of line, deriving from the figures on Greek vases and in low-relief friezes. It also results in a great increase in the number of subjects selected from Greek mythology and literature.

Many of these neoclassical artists treat their ancient themes with a wispy sentimentality, more in keeping with their own time than with Greece or Rome. This is true of the French artist who pioneers the style in the 1750s, Joseph-Marie Vien. The charge can also be laid against the most energetic neoclassical painter working in Britain, Benjamin West. But an entirely new rigour is introduced by Vien's best pupil, Jacques-Louis David.

The neoclassical ideal is now so powerful that Napoleon is willing to be sculpted by Canova, larger than life and naked, in the role of Mars the god of war. It is one of the pleasant ironies of history that this 11-foot-high marble nude with the face of Napoleon is presented to the duke of Wellington after the battle of Waterloo, and stands now at the bottom of the stairs in Apsley House.

The Bonaparte link results also in one of the most famous of all neoclassical statues. Canova sculpts the emperor's sister, Pauline Borghese, reclining naked to the waist on a chaise longue. Just as her brother is Mars, she is posing as Venus - holding in delicate fingers the apple which she has been awarded for her beauty in the judgement of Paris.

A version of the Parthenon rises from 1806 in Paris, on Napoleon's orders, to become eventually the church of La Madeleine. Another Parthenon begins to be built on Calton Hill in Edinburgh in 1822 as a memorial to the Scots who have died in the Napoleonic wars (it remains uncompleted). The design chosen for the new British Museum, on which work begins in 1823, is a Parthenon with extensions.

So the 19th century acquires, through neoclassicism and the Greek Revival, a conventional style of considerable vigour. Architects of important new buildings, whether churches, parliaments or banks, will now consider a sprinkling of Greek columns as one serious option. The other, resulting from another 18th-century revival, is to go Gothic.

Pauline Borghese's smoothly sinuous flesh, and the plumped-up cushions on which she rests, are miracles of carving in marble - a skill in which Canova is unequalled among neoclassical sculptors.

The other most successful member of the school is a Dane, Bertel Thorvaldsen, who arrives in Rome in 1797 and is given encouragement by Canova. Twenty years later Thorvaldsen is employing some forty assistants in his Roman workshop. Even before the end of his life a museum devoted to his works is established in Copenhagen.

Sections are as yet missing at this point.

Africa and Oceania

African wood carving: 19th - 20th century AD

In Africa, south of the Sahara, wood is the natural material for carving. In the 20th century sculpture in wood is still very much a living tradition. Examples from the 19th century have been preserved in reasonable number, largely by the efforts of collectors. But earlier work has crumbled irretrievably, eaten by ants or rotted by damp.

Even so, the body of art surviving to us in this tradition is immensely rich. It powerfully suggests how much has been lost.

It is difficult to imagine how African tribal sculptors have viewed their own work, but they have certainly not seen it as art in the self-conscious western manner of recent centuries.

Tribal carving is done for a clear and practical purpose. A figure may represent an ancestor, destined to stand in a shrine. A mask may be intended for use by a Shaman just once a year in a special dance. A post may be designed to prop up a chief's verandah or to form part of a palisade round his house. An elaborate chair is likely to be for the chief himself to sit on. All of them will be better if carved in a dramatic or propitious way.

The art of Oceania: 19th - 20th century AD

The vitality and variety of African sculpture is rivalled only by the art of the region known as Oceania - the islands of the south Pacific. Particularly vigorous, in artistic terms, are the products of New Guinea and of the groups of islands lying to the southeast of it, including New Ireland, the Solomon Islands, New Hebrides and New Caledonia.

As in Africa, the human face and form is used in a myriad different ways to provide masks, free-standing wooden figures, or decoration for gable ends, door posts and ceremonial seats.

The oldest art form of these islands is colourful basketry, often in elaborate sculptural forms, rather than the woodcarving which has predominated in recent centuries.

The reason is that the islanders had no metal tools until the first regular contact with Europeans in the 18th century. A new ease in the carving of wood made possible the lively and fantastic figures now associated with the region. The arrival of Christian missionaries brought a subsequent attempt to discourage such sculpture, linked as it usually is with a pagan world of spirits.

Tribal art and cubism: 20th century AD

Whatever the reason for the range of tribal art, the result is an unrivalled display of the power of the imagination. The basic subject, as in western sculpture, is the human body. But the tribal sculptor is liberated from the straitjacket of realism.

His ingredients may be limited to the parts of the body, but he constantly reassembles them in new dimensions and relationships. From a central axis of eyes, nose, mouth, navel and genital organs, to the peripheral cast list of hair, ears, arms, breasts, legs and buttocks, there is no predicting which of these elements will take the starring roles in any one production. Startling imbalance is restored to balance by the force of strong design.

It is hard to know whether a particular image may be intended to seem sad or terrifying (or neither, or even nothing), for this is a subjective matter on which an outsider may often be mistaken. But in these carvings there is no mistaking the energy and playfulness with which the human body is turned, by confident distortion, into such a gallery of wonderful creatures.

It is not surprising that Picasso, the most playful genius of the 20th century, is inspired by these fragmentations of dull reality to find a new direction of his own in cubism.

This History is as yet incomplete.
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