The art form of sculpting has existed since the prehistoric age, with the earliest artists making use of materials such as ivory and clay. However, for many people, they think of the Egyptians or the Greeks as the initial creators of sculpture. It is widely known that the ancient Egyptians created a number of sculptures developed for both purely aesthetic reasons, as well as to observe rituals. The early Egyptians created sculptures of Sphinxes and Pharaohs, some of which are still in existence today. In fact, sculpture has often been used in religious practices or to honor those who were highly regarded in religious or political roles. The Greeks are also recognized for having created beautiful and lasting pieces that demonstrate the values of their time. Many of these pieces have proven their capability to survive and are able to observe even today.
Many of the most famous pieces of ancient sculpture have been attributed to the Greeks. Most often the pieces created were of people, especially those in positions of power. While the Greeks generally favored painting as the chosen art form, the sculptures were the pieces that survived to be observed and studied. These pieces were generally made of stone (often marble) and hand carved using metal tools or they were made from bronze. Bronze was considered to be of a higher stature than the stone sculptures, but not as many pieces lasted because the bronze was often melted down and reused for other purposes.
During the Middle Ages and Medieval periods, European artists utilized sculpture to represent the Gothic and Roman periods symbolized by religious architecture. The cathedrals and churches displayed intricate works of art and in some cases, provided a platform for sculptors to gain notoriety and influence. In the latter part of the Medieval period, many famous Renaissance sculptors emerged. In 16th and 17th century Italy and France, the baroque art style emerged and became the widely accepted norm.
Neoclassicism emerged in the 18th century and was characterized by a return to simplicity and restraint, a direct contrast to the extravagant baroque style that had been popular previously. This style of sculpture retained its popularity well into the 19th century as well.
The modern sculpture of the 20th century provided a break from the realism and traditional Greek style of creating sculptures. Artists were influenced by work from many different parts of the world, including Aztec and African art. The modern sculpture movement also made use of nontraditional materials to create pieces that were not designed to last indefinitely (as it often had been in the past) but only to use the best materials to represent that piece of art for the time being. Modern sculptures also began to use everyday items to create pieces of art, known as the “pop art” style.
The current, contemporary style of sculpture is not easily defined. Artists use a variety of materials and methods for creating sculptures. Many traditional rules have been lifted and the artist is no longer limited by the popular, accepted style as they have been historically.