Bewitching Sculpture: Icons of Marble, Bronze and Stone

Sculpture seems to be having a well deserved moment in the sun within the media at the moment, I hope the interest will be sustained. We seem to give less attention to Sculpture than to paintings, just visiting any art gallery confirms this. I am interested in how people conduct themselves within the gallery space and I have noticed that Sculpture galleries are often treated as corridors, simply walked through en route to reach the picture galleries.

I do not profess to know a great deal about sculpture, that I love it, is enough for me.

I find the details of sculpture bewitching, particularly, hands and feet. A well sculpted pair of hands can be incredibly articulate as with the hands of John Gibson’s 1860 Marble, Pandora ( V & A ). Gibson successfully articulates through Pandora’s hands her indecision. Pandora is on the cusp of action then pulls back from it for a brief moment, her hands revealing a feverish desire to open the box and a tension that she should not. This paradoxical sense of action and inaction could be said to be an intrinsic trait of many Pandora sculptures, however, I feel that hands of Gibson’s Pandora are more successful than most at conveying this inner conflict.

‘A roaring motor car which seems to run on machine-gun fire, is more beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace’.

I love the bombastic quality of the Marinetti’s Futurist Manifesto, but on the topic of the Victory of Samothrace, we are diametrically opposed. The first sighting of the Winged Victory of Samothrace at the top of a beautiful staircase in the Louvre is really something to behold. She rises above everything around her elevated by her beauty and physical presence. As one of my favourite sculptures I am constantly amazed at her scale and the simple fluidity of her lines. The floating gossamer robe, the sense of motion and a complete sense of awe at the capability of the hands that released her from the block of marble in around 190 bc, for me makes the Victory absolutely breathtaking. Moreover, despite the Futurist’s manifesto declaration regarding the Victory, a comparison of Umberto Boccioni’s bronze, Unique Forms of Continuity in Space, to the Victory reveals a parity of line and motion – the Victory is perhaps more of an influence than they would care to admit!

Cemeteries have some of the most exquisite examples sculpture. Jules Dalou’s life size bronze of the journalist Victor Noir is perhaps one of the most extraordinary grave memorials I have seen. Extraordinary, not because it has any radical qualities, it is a bronze in the tradition of bronzes. Its quality is derived from its heightened sense of corporeality. Approaching the grave is like arriving immediately upon the scene of Noir’s death, it is easy to imagine the duel in which he died as you stand next to the memorial. The beautifully crisp top hat is a bewitching detail, looking as if it had toppled to the ground as he fell.

Noir’s monument has also become something of a fertility symbol owing to the infamous sculpted protuberance. I love that as a memorial to a deceased 19th century man in Paris’s Pere La Chaise, a veritable city of the dead, Victor Noir has become a symbol of life and hope.

I love so many pieces of sculpture that it would be impossible to list and describe them here, so instead I have created in addition to the pieces already described a short list of favourites.

  1. Apollo and Daphne by Gian Lorenzo Bernini at the Borghese Gallery, Rome
  2. The Tinted Venus by John Gibson, The Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool
  3. The Pieta by Michelangelo, St Peters Basilica, Rome
  4. Clytie by G.F Watts, a bronze version can be seen at the V & A London and a marble at the Harris Museum, Preston.
  5. Oscar Wilde’s Funerary monument by Jacob Epstein, Pere La Chaise Cemetery, Paris.

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