Sculpture – Art at the Pinnacle of What is Possible

Statue Potsdam

People from all walks of life and all backgrounds can be moved or engaged by works of art, like this sculpture standing in the mist gazing at the New Palace in the Sanssouci Royal Park at Potsdam.

For thousands of years on earth the ancient art of producing images carved from stones and the minerals of our earth arose in all the ancient civilisations and lasted until the first half of the twentieth century.

This is when new impressions and ways of creating them challenged old ways and tried and true methods of execution.

cupid-blindfolding-beauty-1I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free*

Endeavouring to understand just how any person can create an image in their mind’s eye, construct it from a hard substance gleaned from nature, that when given form can be animated to capture our attention, is surely nothing sort of amazing.

From the ancient Greek sculptors Myron, Polykleitos, Praxiteles and Lysippus to the modernity of Michelangelo, Bernini, Canova, Rodin, Mackennal and Moore, sculptors are indeed my heroes.

I dare say some examples of their works would make many people have a deeply felt emotional and spiritual response.

Sculpture-at-Rome-BESTMy personal enthusiasm for sculpture began when I first felt completely overwhelmed by the power of art during my first trip to Europe and Italy in 1972.

There I stood in a chapel inside St Peter’s Basilica at Rome, completely engaged feeling as if a veil had been lifted from my eyes.

Pieta by MichelangeloGazing at The Pieta, carved from marble by Renaissance genius Michelangelo di Ludovico Buonarroti Simoni (1475-1564), I felt completely gobsmacked. I had read about this work and looked at photos of it in books and magazines however nothing really prepares you for seeing such a wonderful object ‘in the flesh’ so to speak.

Mary is cradling the body of her fully grown dead son Jesus the Christ in her arms. It was deeply profound to behold and I remember that for a moment I could not breathe at all.

Mary and Jesus - Pieta

Mary’s face is wonderfully graceful, serene, symbolic of eternal youth. It is the face of a loving mother, much like the one Michelangelo lost when he was only five years of age, which maybe a reason why it is so poignantly rendered. After so much suffering the adult Jesus is entirely at rest in his mother’s arms, held as if in a tranquil sleep ready to be re-awakened.

Involuntarily tears streamed down my face and I found myself weeping, not only for her loss but also at this form’s incredible beauty.

From that moment on sculpture, for me became supreme – art at the pinnacle of what is possible.

During the later years of his life Michelangelo was recorded as saying words to the effect… ‘If in my youth I had realized that the sustaining splendour of beauty of with which I was in love would one day flood back into my heart, there to ignite a flame that would torture me without end, how gladly would I have put out the light in my eyes. My soul can find no staircase to Heaven, unless it be through Earth’s loveliness’.

Of all his unfinished works that exist, perhaps the four sculptures meant to adorn the grave of Pope Julius II in Rome are among his most moving.

David's-Head-MichelangeloStill held captive by the stone these four amazing works frame the approach to the perfection of his mighty David at Florence at the Accademia.

They offer us an intense insight into the relationship of the manual forces necessary to allow the figures to finally emerge from the stone cocoon enveloping and constraining them. Viewing any of Michelangelo’s works is an extraordinary and emboldening experience.

My son and his wife shared with me recently about how they felt when encountering an amazing sculpture of The Veiled Christ, carved by Giuseppe Sanmartino (1720 – 1793) in 1753 in the Museo Cappella Sansevero at Napoli. The original sculptor engaged by the Prince of Sansevero died suddenly and Sanmartino was engaged to complete the work using the terracotta model made by his deceased colleague. However Sanmartino decided to fashion the work in his own style. What he achieved in marble was nothing short of remarkable.

Again the subject is Christ. He is lying on a bed completely enclosed in a transparent veil, which was ‘made with such art as to leave the most skilled observers in awe’. He looks for the entire world as if he’s asleep. Such is the skill of the artist that you can readily sense the deep suffering he has encountered by just the way his body is placed. His head is raised on two cushions and you gradually become aware that through the veil you can see the veins in his forehead and the wounds of the nails in his hands and feet.

The crown of thorns lies at the bottom of the bed, evidence of his suffering. The brilliant edges of the shroud provide a compassionate covering and it’s hard to comprehend the sheer brilliance of the rendering of the veil, which is so achingly beautiful in the way it is carved, even when observed from a photograph. They found it staggering to observe the outlines of feathers stuffing the two pillows supporting Christ’s head. Such is the sensitivity of the carver, whose work has since become admired as a ‘symbol of the destiny and redemption of all humanity’.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Italian, 1598-1680: Modello for the Moor, 1653 Terracotta, Detail Torso, On Loan Kimbell Art Museum – Bernini Exhibition The Metropolitan Museum of Art

An exercise in choice would be making a ‘collection’ of say a dozen or so of the sculptures that have particularly rocked my world, although where to stop will be a challenge. They are all very different in design, style and age and they appeal to me because of a great many reasons that often seem hard to explain verbally.

Some of them were discoveries of the moment while others I set out to track down, having read their stories. All retain a special place in my memory and my heart. ‘

They drew me in, so that I would find out their story and it happened because of the power they emanate.

Greek-Classic-Youth-BustTop of my list would be an Ancient Greek archaic work, one formed when artisans were learning how to produce a three-dimensional figure.

The Greek world of ancient times was a compact self-governing territory with a single urban centre.

No other ancient people were so dynamic or so creative as the Ancient Greeks whose citizens while trying every form of action tempered it with the maxim of ‘nothing in excess’.

I really love this figure and the ‘austerity’ or economy of form and style ever present in this splendid work.

It is entitled The Fallen or Dying Warrior and is in the Glyptothek Museum at Munich, purpose built to house an amazing collection of Greek and Roman sculptures assembled by the Bavarian King Ludwig 1 (1786-1868).

Writers in antiquity describe this period of Greek art as severe, perhaps not so literal a use of the word as we would use it today, but as a means to underlining the moderation and equilibrium of a style that would achieve harmony and perfection as its ultimate goal.

The seeds of the severe revolution in sculpture are clear in the fine head of the Dying Warrior. No longer is there a psychological detachment, standing stiff and unmoving as his predecessors; his lips are open, his cheek muscles contracted in a grimace and his face is creased with fatigue. Our dying hero represents in graphic detail his painfully mortal condition.

This achingly beautiful image was taken down from the east pediment of the Temple of Aphia II at Aegina, dating from 510 BCE. It’s easy to identify with his struggle to survive. He is badly injured, stoic almost, refusing to surrender and the artist has captured the intensity and drama of the scene.

Dying Warrior 2He is naked and vulnerable, but still retains enormous integrity; bold and brave even in the face of death. He makes me feel great respect and entirely moved by his plight.

This hero of a Trojan war immortalized in marble was however completely finished on the back surface of the figure, despite the fact it was designed to be placed on the facade pediment so that his back would not be seen. This means the sculptor, who is unknown, was already completing his images in all dimensions 500 years before the Christ event and he saw it as particularly important in finalising this great work. He was revolutionizing a new style.

In the same museum (Glyptothek Museum Munich,) is the Drunken Satyr or Barberini Faun found in the 1620’s on the site of the Castel Sant’Angelo at Rome, formerly the Mausoleum of the Emperor Hadrian. It’s a Roman copy of a high quality original.

Scholars still argue its origins. During the siege of Rome in 537 the historian Procopius recorded the invading ‘Goths’ hurled down the statues adorning Hadrian’s tomb, which would perhaps account for its leg being damaged. The faun has sadly acquired a wrongful reputation as ‘erotic’ work of art, due to the realistic modelling of its genitalia.

Nudity in ancient times was quite normal, viewed very differently and certainly not the focus for the intense voyeurism it is in our own time. Male nudity was not merely tolerated, but entirely acceptable in the ancient world and a social must among even the most respectable of citizens, especially when exercising or participating in games such as the Olympics.

So if we choose to lift our gaze for a while we will find that this is a stunning work of art, despite its indecorous pose. He is asleep, but not at rest. His muscles are tense, his arm bent over the head, the torso twisted. He is a one of a kind and one of the most celebrated and best beloved statues to survive from classical antiquity.

It was in the first century that Roman Satirist Petronius in his Satyricon, a satire on the sterility and corruption of Roman society said of Myron (active 470 – 450 BCE) that he…almost captured the souls of men and animals in his bronzes…

The Discobolus, or thrower of the discus sculpted c450 BCE represents the discovery by Myron of the possibilities of demonstrating in marble ‘the dynamic harmony of the human body in a single plane’. It releases a calm, almost detached energy toward us through its perfect movement, which is captured so precisely. The severe style reached its pinnacle around the middle of the century and the Discus thrower, his body tense, seems to epitomize that universal sense of direction Greek philosopher Heraclitus wrote about in his book ‘On Nature’.

There are a number of copies of this wonderful work, whose energy is expressed at the moment when he is about to let the discus loose. The first copy was found in 1781 and is now owned by the National Museum of Rome and on display at the Baths of Diocletian at Rome. Of it only fragments remain so we are more than reliant on scholarly conjecture in interpreting his thoughts and meaning.

Discobolus 2Heraclitus’s famous doctrine was that everything is in a constant state of flux (you can never step into the same river twice). The apparent unity and stability of the world concealed the dynamic tension that always exists between opposites, which is somehow measured and controlled by reason (Logos) or its physical manifestation fire, which was the ultimate constituent of the world. The fire of the human soul was thought to have been aligned to cosmic fire, which all virtuous souls eventually join. It is one of the reasons cremation was and still is the preferred way of burial in many cultures.

The Pentelic marble statue of Diadoumenos, a young athlete tying the fillet of the victor around his brow dating from around c420BCE, now in the National Archaeological Museum at Athens is also a first century Roman copy of a Greek bronze by Polykleitos (5th and early 4th century BCE). It is likely that he once stood in the sanctuary of Olympus or at Delphi where games were held regularly. He is a male nude figure, one in perfect harmony and proportion, which has been carved according to principles that meant he would be more easily reproduced by others.

The rhythm of the torso gives us an impression of vitality, and the idea that as he steps forward, it will be with great grace and ease of movement.

The case for visual aesthetic beauty was firmly established during the fifth century before Christ at Athens.

Restraint in design and style became inextricably interwoven into what we now today recognize as a classical tradition or an acknowledged standard of excellence.

He is at that high point where art and man began moving forward into the future together.

A Roman copy of a sculpture of the Greek God of Wine Dionysus being nursed by his later companion and tutor Silenus is quite sublime.

There are a number of copies.

One superb example is in The Louvre at Paris another in the Glyptothek Museum at Munich.

A worker in bronze in his youth the sculptor Lysippus (flourished 370 – 300 BCE) was a contemporary of Alexander the Great.

He introduced into Greek art, as represented in sculpture, a new fluidity and naturalism.

He brilliantly combined the pursuit of pathos with a celebration of man’s heroic qualities in harmonious proportion with his study of the sturdy forest guardian, who is so carefully cradling the infant God of wine in his arms.

Pathos implies something so much more than simple emotion: it refers to that inner universe one to which man is drawn attracted by the very nature of his own complexities and contradictions.

The exquisite statue of Apollo, The Sun God from Greek Mythology, was found in the late 14th century. Known as the Apollo Belvedere the svelte and elegant pose of the figure, the lightness of its step, the modelling and smooth softness of his skin was much admired.

The Apollo of the Belvedere was modelled after a Greek bronze original c330 BCE is a Roman copy of a famous work by Leochares and mentioned by the geographer Pausanias, as having stood in the market place at Athens.

Greek sculptors sought the reality of a lifelike appearance, as if it was about to step out of stone and become human.

German archaeologist Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1717-68) Superintendent of Roman antiquities in Florence in 1763 announced in a famous passage

I place at the feet of this statue the idea of it that I have given, imitating those, who placed at the feet of the simulacra of the gods, the wreaths that they could not place on their heads and so it became the summit touched by Greek Art in giving form to ideal beauty.

In 1506 what is considered one of the greatest classical sculptures ever discovered The Laocoon, was found in what appeared to be an underground chamber on the site of the former Domus Aurea, or Golden House of Emperor Nero.

Laocoon-in-Golden-House5Pope Julius II immediately sent his architect Giuliano da Sangallo to the scene, accompanied by a very young Michelangelo on whom it would have a lasting impression. Well read in classical literature Sangallo realized immediately what he was looking at. Roman author Pliny the Elder (AD23 -79) had mentioned the statue in his opus ‘Historia Naturalis‘ and had called it a masterpiece of the arts. Because it was discovered at the very time Rome was striving toward re-birth, based on its classical past and glorious history,  it acquired a special symbolic significance.

The Laocoon tells the story of the tragedy of the Trojan priest Laocoon who warned his people against accepting the Trojan horse.

In retribution Athena, the Greek Goddess of War sent two sea serpents to crush him and his two sons while they were making sacrifice. Laocoon met his death trying to save his city Troy was defeated and the next stage would be the foundation of Rome.

Laocoon Side ViewNow in the Vatican Museum, the statue is attributed by Pliny the Elder to three sculptors from the island of Rhodes: Agesander, Athenodoros and Polydorus. There has always  been debate over the original positioning of its right arm, which has been matched to a separate arm that was found in the museum storage in the 1950’s and re-attached.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598 – 1680) is one of the great masters of the seventeenth century in Italy in sculpture. He lived at a time when the Pope of Rome heavily invested in beauty, boosting the economy and pleasing citizens, who flocked to church in unprecedented numbers.

Pope Urban VIII was perhaps his greatest patron. He reputedly said that Bernini had been born “…for the glory of Rome to illuminate the century.”

Bernini displayed unparalleled virtuosity and enormous skill to produce delicate special effects for his figures, which had formerly only found in bronze statuary.

He developed the Baroque style of sculpture to a highpoint of artistic achievement. He carried the idea of a three-dimensional figure to the pinnacle of what anyone thought possible at that time.

Within two hundred years four renowned sculptors completed very different statues of David. Michelangelo’s always receives attention these days, its perfection overwhelming, as is its size.

Bernini’s David in the Galleria Borghese in Italy is certainly not shabby. His is the youthful David slaying the giant Goliath, the body in the twisted dramatic and realistic pose of the biblical hero about to let loose his slingshot. Bernini in visualizing the life size statuary he would produce began by modelling miniatures from terracotta.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini Terracotta Model for the Lion on the Four Rivers Fountain ca. 1649–50 on loan Galleria dell’Accademia di San Luca, Rome photo by Zeno Colantoni, Rome courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Gian Lorenzo Bernini Terracotta Model for the Lion on the Four Rivers Fountain ca. 1649–50 on loan Galleria dell’Accademia di San Luca, Rome photo by Zeno Colantoni, Rome courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

These clay ‘sketches’ as they are now known, were fired and preserve in material form the images he first imagined and the subject of an exhibition Bernini: Sculpting in Clay at The Met in New York in 2012.

A dispute known as the “Quarrel of the Ancients and Moderns,” dominated the intellectual life of Europe between 1683 and 1719.


The crux was the issue of whether the Moderns (i.e. those living in the eighteenth century) were morally and artistically superior to the Ancients (i.e. ancient Greek and Roman peoples).

The argument introduced an important dichotomy that remains fundamental to our own understanding of modernism; that is recognizing the division between traditional conservative forces, who supported the argument for the Ancient, while the more progressive forces sided with the Moderns.

Classical ColumnsThe identification with the worlds of Ancient Greece and Rome in the eighteenth century had as much to do with people’s perception about early democracy, as it did with the antique rules that governed the development of architecture and design.

Painters and sculptors to a certain extent played a practical role, as essential recorders of contemporary life and experiences. Without photography or film, the wonders of the excavations of ancient cities and remains, and other stunning sights of the Grand Tour of English gentlemen could only be recorded on paper or canvas.

Statues such as The Laocoon, the Belvedere Apollo and the Venus de Milo were all copied in every medium. They became far more famous then, than they are now and, as well, recognized everywhere.

The Venus de Milo or Aphrodite of Milos, is an ancient Greek statue discovered in 1820 on the Island of Melos a volcanic Greek island in the Aegean Sea nearby to Crete in the Cyclades group. She has fascinated all who have viewed her since that time. She is classical in essence, but the way she is positioned with her hips seductively swivelling and the light and shade of the finely detailed drapery over her hips, is indeed intriguing.

She has an serene air of aloofness, the delicate modelling of her flesh and the features of her face are very arresting.

Venus de Milo evokes the presence of fine works by the Greek sculptor Praxiteles from 4BCE, although her aesthetics including the harmonious proportions are that the 5th century while she also has innovations that did not generally appear until the Hellenistic period during the 3rd and 1st centuries BCE. This includes her attitude and her small-breasted elongated body.

Her sculptor basically remains unknown and she remains, quietly standing in her space in The Louvre at Paris, as a persistent enigma. Observing her slowly is a very special experience.

The Sanmartino sculpture of The Veiled Christ was considered one of the greatest sculptures of all time during the eighteenth century and travellers of all levels of distinction traveled to Naples to contemplate this artistic miracle, finding them to be both disconcerted and enraptured by it.

One of its innumerable admirers was Antonio Canova (1757-1822) who tried to buy it during his stay in Naples, and legend has it that he swore he would have given ten years of his life to have been the sculptor of what he considered an incomparable marble.

Canova was a Venetian sculptor who infused his works with a grace epitomized by his Cupid and Psyche now in The Louvre at Paris.

He was appointed by Pius VII (1742-1823) curator of works of art and called to Paris to model a colossal statue of Napoleon.

Napoleon had been extremely proud of his family, who rose in status and fortune with him. His sister Pauline was a great beauty, and she was the patron who had commissioned the exquisite sculpture of Cupid and Psyche from him that is now also in The Louvre at Paris

Perhaps Canova’s most famous portrait in marble is the one he carved of Pauline (Bonaparte) Borghese as Venus Victrix, reclining decorously on her couch. She is a mortal in disguise, her exquisite beauty and serene but passionless sensuality transforming her into the realm of the ‘gods’.

She is in the Galleria Borghese at Rome and is now considered one of Canova’s great masterpieces. In 1815 after Napoleon had been deposed the Pope sent Canova again to Paris to recover the works of art taken from Rome and he also visited England at that time.

Sculpture Pompeii-and-the-Roman-VillaGreat art is one of the most important aspects of whom we are culturally as a nation and, on a personal level reflects our individual spirituality. For me it occurs at that point where nineteenth century art critic and author John Ruskin put it so succinctly… ‘the heart, the head and the hand of man come together’. Ruskin also said

Jason with the Golden Fleece, 1803, Marble Version by Bertel Thorvaldsen courtesy Thorvaldsen Museum, Copenhagen

‘Good art always consists of two things: First, the observation of fact; secondly, the manifesting of human design and authority in the way that fact is told. Great and good art must unite the two; it cannot exist for a moment but in their unity; it consists of the two as essentially as water consists of oxygen and hydrogen* said Ruskin.

The age of romantics and revolutionaries defined by the rule of Napoleon as Emperor and George IV as Prince Regent is an age that emboldened artists to produce sensational sculptures. Jason with the Golden Fleece was rendered by (Karl Albert) Bertel Thorvaldsen (1770-1844) and is considered his ‘breakthrough’ work, begun at Rome in 1802.

Thorvaldsen was a child prodigy, winning a place at the prestigious Royal Academy of Arts at London when he was only 11 years of age. Granted a stipend to travel to Rome to complete his education by the Royal Academy, he stayed there and did not return to Denmark until 1838. He was considered a successor to Canova.

He was treated as a national hero and they erected a museum to house his work next door to Christiansborg Palace.

His art, in the main, adhered strictly to classical norms and by and large modernists would give him a hard time of it. However, his Jason entered history by being ordered from him in marble (from a plaster original) by England’s grand patron and connoisseur of the arts at the time, Thomas Hope (1769-1831).

JASON - Portræt-WEBJason is prince on a mission to collect the golden fleece that is guarded by a fearful dragon in a grove far away from his home.

Thorvaldsen depicts him at the moment when he is standing proud and tall, having gained the fleece and ready to set off home to a hero’s welcome. Thorvaldsen’s contemporaries recognised that with this sculpture new life had successfully been given to antiquity and that the belief in a free man had been re-established.

As such Thorvaldsen’s Jason marks the threshold to the 1800s, when western representative democracies saw the light of day. Hope’s marble version of Jason was purchased by Thorvaldsens Museum at an auction in England in 1917.

Another of the great sculptural monuments to a romantic hero would be that at Oxford University of the poet Percy Byshee Shelley (1792- 1822).

Shelley, like so many others of his age, went to Italy and spent many years in search of something missing in his life. He was dubbed “Mad Shelley” at college for his independent spirit and his poetry is truly divine. He met up with and spent time with his colleague Lord Byron in Italy.

Sadly he drowned sailing back from a visit to Byron at Livorno and The Shelley Memorial at University College, Oxford, England, was sculpted in honour of this one of their most illustrious alumni, who interestingly they seem to have overlooked was expelled for writing a pamphlet on The Necessity of Atheism.

The monument to his greatness is a white marble statue depicting Shelley, reputedly as he appeared when he washed ashore finally at peace with the world. Commissioned by his daughter-in-law, it was sculpted by Edward Onslow Ford (1852- 1901) who was mainly self-taught and reputedly had a charming disposition.

This quality is certainly revealed in his work depicting Shelley, which is lovingly rendered as a nude recumbent.

During the period we now know as ‘Modernism’ the works of the great sculptor Francois-Auguste-René Rodin (1840 – 1917) are indeed mesmerising and most people today would recognise him from his most famous work The Thinker.

Rodin was trained in the traditions of eighteenth century art, and captivated by the works of Renaissance artist Michelangelo. However he broke the rules and the mould in many of his works, which were in their time often controversial and entirely captivating.

One of my favourite of his works that I am able to view with any regularity is the model for his group sculpture and ‘Second Maquette for the Burghers of Calais’, which is now in the Art Gallery of NSW. It was modelled in 1885, although not cast until 1972. While the first maquette he modelled for this commission featured the Burghers in the nude, the second is with them wearing their clothes.

The Municipal Council of Calais had set Rodin the task of honouring six prosperous citizens, who had offered themselves as hostages to King Edward III (1327-77) of England, when he and his army were besieging that city. While they are brought together as a group by Rodin, he also favoured giving them all poses and gestures that reveal not only their individual characters but also his innovative style, one that was often at odds with accepted formulas for public works of art.

Rodin did not want to abide by what was being seen by artists of his time as an outmoded set of rules, but wanted to break free and breath real life into all his works.

Australian sculptor Bertram Mackennal (1863-1931) was a virtuoso modeller of mythological and allegorical works who was influenced by Rodin. He produced exceptional bronzes working mostly in London where he was the first Australian elected as an associate of the British Royal Academy.

His Circe, a femme fatale if ever there was one, was modelled in 1893. She caused a stir in London when she was first exhibited, helping to secure his position as an emerging talent.

She stands with her arms outstretched before her, casting her mesmerizing gaze on all those who surround her. With snakes entwined in her hair and four encircling her feet she is bold and beautiful and when she was exhibited in London he was forced to drape her plinth in fabric to conceal the orgy of intertwined male and female bodies that decorated it.

She was a powerful woman at a time when women’s rights were being fought for and so she became symbolic of that struggle. She certainly did not fit the idea of a meek and submissive Victorian maiden meant only to serve her master.

Today her home is the Art Gallery of NSW although she does travel about a bit.

Henry Spencer Moore (1898-1986), was an English artist best known for his semi-abstract forms that are a 20th century impression in the humanist tradition.

Moore’s radical exploration and interpretation of sculptural form was at the cutting edge of changes in the world of art during the twentieth century that would herald the contemporary age. He produced a number of maquettes entitled ‘The Family Group, my favourite being the ‘Family Group in Bronze modelled between 1948-1949, which is now in the Tate at London.

It is a dynamic grouping, the adults with their limbs intertwined are sheltering their child, whose body and limbs link them both in a simple statement of familial love and empathy. Despite a lack of facial features it strikes a powerful chord that harmoniously resonates.

What goes around comes around springs to mind when you compare them with some of the earliest ancient Greek sculptures from 3000 – 1700 BCE which are particularly wonderful but not real in our sense of that word, but in some sense it takes us back to where we started.

These dynamic figures come from the Cycladic islands, off the coast of Crete and looking at Moore’s work and the Cycladic family group in tandem suggests the continuity and strong links that we retain with our past, which are evident in all the wonderful works we have discussed.

I have to say I could go on and on with this conversation about sculpture, because it is an abiding passion. Enjoying an opportunity to see these and all the sculptures we have looked at up close and personal is truly the ultimate ‘art’ experience.

The ‘Wounded Achilles’ by Carlo Albaccini (1777-1858) Sculpture Gallery at Chatsworth

A favourite sculpture gallery where you can lose your self and have your breath stolen away for hours is that belonging to the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire at Chatsworth House in Derbyshire, England.

It was the creation of William Spencer Cavendish, 6th duke of Devonshire (1790-1858) and finished in 1834, it has today been restored to its appearance at the time of the duke’s death in 1858.

There you will find among many wonderful works the Greek Hero Achilles by Carlo Albaccini (1777-1858) about to die. He is in distress from the mortal wound caused by receiving that fateful arrow in his heel.

Endymion by Antonio Canova is also in the gallery, lying in a recumbant pose although not as controversial as others centuries before who were displayed nude because in his sculptors time it was far more prudent to use just a hint of drapery to cover his personality.

He and all his companions in history offer us a springboard for innovative ideas that will both inspire and assist humankind invent the future.

The advancement of technology during the twentieth century has taken the production of three-dimensional images to a whole new level, although it is one that is not real, although at times it may seem that way.

There is a great deal of science, skill and artistry employed in ‘modelling’ images from those produced by a camera, which up until his contemporary age had only one eye and was unable to register distance, depth or solid shapes.

Achilles Wounded by the Heel by Charles Alphonse Achille Gumery made for the 1850 Grand Prix – École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, Paris on loan at Princeton

Now with new technology they can be three-dimensional, at least at the cinema.

However much you may enjoy the experience, for me anyway, there is nothing like encountering a great work of three dimensional real sculpture – art at the pinnacle of what is possible such as the work Achilles Wounded by the Heel when it was on display at Princeton University Art Museum.

When old age shall this generation waste,
Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say’st,    

‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.’**

Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle 2012-2013

*Quote by Sculptor Michelangelo

** Quote by Poet John Keats ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’

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