One of the most dynamic forms of art – sculpture – has been with us since time immemorial. In this edition, we invite you to (re)discover works with a unique artistic and historical value for art historians and the general public – true, easily recognizable icons.
A critical part of society for centuries, sculptures offer interpretations of ancient culture and history. Having withstood the test of time, they are a series of works that any museum would be eager to have in its collection. What they represent, the fascinating techniques used to create them, or their impact on the course of history are just a few of the virtues that have contributed to making them the most representative sculptures in the world. Among the most famous of these works of art is Michelangelo’s Renaissance masterpiece, “David,” or the modern sculpture “The Thinker,” created by the French artist Auguste Rodin. Whether for capturing global imagination or for being innovative and beautiful, here we suggest some of the most remarkable sculptures in the world.
“The Thinker” by Rodin
A sculptural masterpiece that has deeply penetrated both art history and popular culture, becoming an icon. Auguste Rodin (France, 1840-1917) worked on this bronze sculpture in 1882, instantly creating a symbol of contemplation and introspection. The sculptor’s great achievement was to bring the inherent abstraction of thought into physical form with majestic expressiveness. Seated, chin resting on hand, the entire body of the figure seems immersed in thought. Every part of the body reflects concentration on a thought that reaches transcendental and philosophical meaning. “The Thinker” is currently exhibited at the Rodin Museum in France.
“David” by Michelangelo
The Renaissance white marble sculpture by Michelangelo Buonarrotti (Italy, 1475-1564), known as “David”, must be included in the list for being one of the most popular artworks in art history. In 1501, at the age of 26, the sculptor began working on this masterpiece, a task that would take him four years to complete. The sculpture, measuring just over five meters in height and weighing over five tons, portrays David – the biblical hero – just before his famous battle with Goliath. The figure also represents the ideal of male beauty. Muscular and upright, the nudity of his figure symbolized a connection with nature. The work was astonishing at the time, as it was incomprehensible how such detail and precision could be achieved with a chisel. The sculpture is currently displayed in Florence, Italy (Galleria Dell’Accademia).
“Venus de Milo”
Hair tied up, a bare torso ending in a dress that covers the lower body, and two missing arms, the Venus de Milo is immediately recognizable due to this characteristic flaw. It is one of the most representative sculptures of classical antiquity, attributed to an unknown artist, though many historians attribute its creation to Alexandros of Antioch (100 BC). The sculpture represents the goddess of beauty, love, and fertility, known as Venus to the Romans and Aphrodite to the Greeks. Also known as the Aphrodite of Milos, the Venus de Milo is perhaps the most famous work of ancient Greek sculpture. It has been widely referenced in popular culture and greatly influenced modern artists, including Salvador Dalí. The sculpture stands 202 cm tall and was discovered on the island of Milos, Greece, in 1820, before being taken to the Louvre Museum in Paris, where it remains to this day.
“The Winged Victory of Samothrace”
Belonging to the Hellenistic period, this sculpture was created around 190 BC. Of unknown authorship, it stands out as one of the most visited and popular artworks at the Louvre Museum in France, where it currently resides. This white marble sculpture from the ancient Greek island of Paros depicts Nike (Victory in English), the messenger goddess sent by Zeus to announce triumph and glory to victors in military battles and sporting competitions. Standing almost three meters tall, it imposes itself upon all who behold it, becoming recognizable and popular because, like the Venus de Milo, it lacks an important element: the head.
“The Abduction of Proserpina” by Bernini
No other Baroque work can represent the movement like “The Abduction of Proserpine” by Gian Lorenzo Bernini (Italy, 1598-1680). In this 1622 sculpture, the Italian artist captures a crucial moment in Greek mythology when Hades, the god of the underworld, kidnaps Proserpina, daughter of Demeter and Zeus, an event that would trigger the creation of the seasons. Bernini skillfully executes this scene theatrically, combining human features with fidelity, from fingers to the characters’ expressions, immersing us in the scene. Indeed, this sculpture possesses surprising liveliness in both facial expressions and the fabrics enveloping the characters; everything appears very tangible. The anatomical work on tense and twisted bodies is stunning. The dynamism is evident in every detail, leaving us in awe.
“The Pietà” by Michelangelo
This is another famous sculpture by Michelangelo. Dated in 1499, it’s one of the most exceptional sculptural works in art history, often seen as the pinnacle of sculpture. It represents a religious passage, specifically the moment when the Virgin Mary holds the body of her son Jesus after he has been taken down from the cross. However, it’s not like other Pietà sculptures that are typically immersed in suffering; quite the opposite. Michelangelo sculpted a Virgin Mary with a beautiful and rejuvenated face, bearing an immaculate and divine expression. His technical virtuosity is impressive: the interplay of light and shadow, anatomy, harmony, and composition complexity. The result garnered admiration from historians and artists for centuries. Notably, the incredible work on the folds of the Virgin Mary’s garments stands out. This marble sculpture is currently located in St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican City.