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Gordon Campbell

[Gr.: ‘high stone’]

Ancient Greek statue with a wooden body and the head and limbs made of stone (usually marble, sometimes limestone). This technique seems to have come into use in Greece at the end of the 6th century bc or the beginning of the 5th, and was predominantly, but not exclusively, employed for cult statues. The wooden bodies of acrolithic statues were covered in sheets of precious metal or draped with textiles regularly renewed in cult ceremonies. In ancient Greece the term acrolith (usually agalma akrolithos or xoanon akrolithos) was used relatively rarely, and is first attested in temple inventories of the 2nd century bc; Vitruvius uses it in Latin as a synonym for colossal statues. It was then reintroduced as a technical term by 18th-century antiquarians.

While the wooden bodies of ancient acroliths are not preserved, their stone extremities have occasionally survived and can be identified through specific characteristics of their technical manufacture (acrolithic heads, for example, have flat undersides, whereas heads fashioned for insertion into stone bodies were made with convex tenons). In the Hellenistic and Roman periods, the extent of stone elements can increase, so that for example the head and naked parts of the chest are made of one marble segment. The appearance of acroliths could be similar to chryselephantine (gold-ivory) statues, to which they may have offered a more cost-effective alternative, although it seems that other considerations, such as their role within the cult ritual, may have been of greater significance. Examples of surviving stone fragments from acroliths are a colossal head in the Ludovisi collection in Rome and an ...




R. W. Sanderson and Francis Cheetham

Term used to describe two types of stone, one of gypsum and one of limestone.

R. W. Sanderson

‘True’ alabaster is hydrated calcium sulphate, a finely fibrous form of gypsum. It occurs as nodular masses with a felted, fibrous microstructure, variably intermixed with streaks of red or green clay. Deposits of economic size accumulate as precipitated salts in evaporating saline lakes in arid areas. The variety satin spar occurs in vein-like form with the fibres in regular parallel arrangement, giving the mass a silk-like lustre. Alabaster is slightly soluble in water and therefore not suitable for outdoor works; it is very soft and readily cut and polished with the simplest tools. It provides an excellent surface for painting and gilding, without priming being necessary. Geologically ancient deposits provided material for sculptors, although gypsum continues to form in suitable environments in the Middle East, the USA, and elsewhere. European sources exploited for decoration since the Middle Ages are present in ...


Alexander Nagel

[Fr. postautel, retable; Ger. Altar, Altaraufsatz, Altarbild, Altarretabel, Altarrückwand, Retabel; It. ancona, dossale, pala (d’altare); Sp. retablo]

An image-bearing structure set on the rear part of the altar (see Altar, §II), abutting the back of the altarblock, or set behind the altar in such a way as to be visually joined with the altar when viewed from a distance. It is also sometimes called a retable, following the medieval term retrotabulum [retabulum, retrotabularium].

The altarpiece was never officially prescribed by the Church, but it did perform a prescribed function alternatively carried out by a simple inscription on the altarblock: to declare to which saint or mystery the altar was dedicated. In fact, the altarpiece did more than merely identify the altar; its form and content evoked the mystery or personage whose cult was celebrated at the altar. This original and lasting function influenced the many forms taken by the altarpiece throughout its history. Since the altarpiece was not prescribed by the Church, its form varied enormously. For this reason, it is often impossible, and historically inaccurate, to draw neat distinctions between the altarpiece and other elements occasionally associated with the altar apparatus. For example, movable statues, often of the Virgin and Child, were occasionally placed on altars according to ritual needs, and at those times fulfilled the function of the altarpiece....


Philip Ward-Jackson

Term applied particularly to mid-19th-century French sculpture with animal subject-matter. The beginnings of this genre as a significant phenomenon may be located in 1831, when three sculptors, Antoine-Louis Barye, C. Fratin (1801–64) and A. Guionnet (fl 1831–53), all exhibited animal pieces at the Paris Salon. The popularity of such sculpture, and its commercial exploitability through the production of serial bronzes and plasters, induced some sculptors, such as Barye et Cie, to cast and market their own animal statuettes. Antecedents are numerous, but a comparable degree of concentration on animal subjects in sculpture is found only at the end of the 18th century, in the work of the English painter and sculptor George Garrard. Garrard’s animal pieces reflect contemporary concern with ‘improved’ stock-breeding, as well as the involvement with natural history of the encyclopedists. A much publicized debate in 1830 on comparative anatomy, between Etienne Geoffroy de Saint Hilaire and his pupil Georges Cuvier, stimulated widespread interest in zoology, as did the growth of the Paris Jardin des Plantes, where several generations of sculptors studied animals from life. They could observe dissections at the Musée National d’Histoire Naturelle, where Barye occupied the post of Professor of Zoological Drawing from ...



Trevor Proudfoot

Material most commonly used as a cheaper alternative to stone. Occasionally, its special properties make it a preferred but more expensive choice to stone. In its simplest form, artificial stone is an ashlar covering for buildings (e.g. 18th-century terraced houses by John Nash). It is found in its most sophisticated form as the component of numerous 19th-century terracotta or cement-based sculptures.

The earliest and simplest form of artificial stone is the lime-and-gypsum plaster used to decorate the walls of Egyptian tombs. These facings were predominantly of gypsum plaster lined and painted to simulate the texture of stone. In ancient Rome, renders (first coats of plaster) had a similar design and purpose, although they were applied to a wider variety of buildings. The incorporation of lime, pozzolana, additives of volcanic ash, sherds of pottery and brick dust strengthened the mortars and gave them greater durability. The renders were often painted to increase the illusion that actual stone was used (...


Thorsten Opper

In 1954 a large number of fragments of ancient plaster casts came to light in the Roman city of Baiae on the gulf of Naples. Of a total of 430 fragments, 293 were in a condition that allowed further analysis. This revealed that they originally belonged to a group of 24–35 full-length statues that formed a representative collection of plaster copies of Greek bronze originals (gods, heroes, mythological figures) mainly of the 5th and 4th centuries bc. Twelve of these statues could be identified through comparison with Roman marble copies (e.g. Tyrant Slayers, Ephesian Amazons, Athena Velletri, Westmacott Ephebe, Hera Borghese, Eirene and Ploutos). For others likely identifications have been suggested, but cannot be proven (e.g. Doryphoros). The Baiae plaster statues were technically highly accomplished (hollow-cast figures with internal armatures, probably the first casts produced from high-quality moulds), and are likely to have been imported, perhaps from a place such as Athens, where at least three of the originals were located....


[low relief; It. basso-relievo]

Term for carving, embossing or casting that protrudes only moderately from the background plane (see Relief sculpture).

R. Polacco: ‘Porte e cancelli bronzei medioevali in S. Marco a Venezia’, Ven. A., 3 (1989), pp. 14–23B. Gallistl: Die Bronzetüren Bischof Bernwards Im Dom Zu Hildesheim (Freiberg, 1990)S. Salomi, ed.: Le porte di bronzo dall’Antichità al secolo XIII (Rome, 1990)E. Simi Varanelli: Artisti e dottori nel Medioevo: Il Campanile di Firenze e la rivalutazione delle ‘Arti Belle’ (Rome, 1995), pp. 192C. E. Gilbert: ‘The Pisa Baptistery Pulpit Addresses its Public’, Artibus et historiae, 21/41 (2000), pp. 9–30, 221P. Malgouyres: ‘Due medaglioni di Giovanni Bonazza ad Avignone’, Arte veneta, 57 (2000), pp. 74–5R. J. M. Olson: The Florentine Tondo (Oxford, 2000)A. Saviello: ‘Tugendhafte Eva: Die Frau-Kind-Gruppen in den Reliefs der Grabmalskapelle des heiligen Antonius von Padua’, Mitteilungen des Kunsthistorischen Instituts in Florenz, 49/3 (2005), pp. 323–52...




P. T. Craddock

Alloy of copper and tin. In the West bronze was largely superseded by Brass, the alloy of copper and zinc, by the 5th century ad; many brass artworks, however, are commonly described as ‘bronze’. In early times Classical languages had just one term for copper and copper alloys, thus for example the Chinese had the word tang, the Tibetans li, the Greeks khalkos and the Romans aes. (For copper–zinc alloys produced by cementation (see Brass, §II) the Greeks had the term oreikhalkos and the Romans the related term aurichalcum, but these were not often used in general literature.)

The equivalent Anglo-Saxon general term was ‘brass’, and up to the 17th century this simply meant copper or one of its alloys. Various terms for copper–zinc alloys, such as latten and maslin, were in use in the late medieval and early post-medieval periods (see Blair and Blair, pp. 81–106). At about this time the term ...



Nicholas Penny

Type of sculpture, commonly but not always a portrait, that includes the chest or part of the chest, as well as the head. In this sense the word has been used for only about three centuries in English, and for many years writers on art in England preferred to use the Italian term busto, which reflects the fact that this type of sculpture was regarded as of Italian origin.

Generally, a sculptured bust does not include the arms, although it does often include a suggestion of their existence. Usually a substantial portion of the upper chest is also included, thus outweighing the head, which it supports. There are, however, sculptures that include only a small, rounded portion of the chest as a base for the neck, and there are truncated statues that include arms as well as a chest. Such variants are commonly referred to as busts since there are no other established terms with which to describe them....


G. Lloyd-Morgan

Sculpted female figure (equivalent to the male Atlantid) used in place of a column (see fig.). Caryatids first appeared in ancient Greek architecture around the mid-6th century bc; they were also used in Roman architecture, and these models were revived in the 18th and 19th centuries (see §2). Classical caryatids are always clothed; they may be dressed in the Ionic style and may have either a polos or a high-sided crown on their heads, or a wider drum representing a basket containing sacred objects. When dressed in Doric costume, however, caryatids bear the capital directly on their heads. Where hands survive, they may hold ceremonial religious vessels. Non-architectural caryatid figures occur as decorative elements in the minor arts of Greece, Etruria and Imperial Rome. The most notable are the stand supporting mirror-discs, usually dating from the 6th and 5th centuries bc. Caryatids were used in furniture decoration, often as bronze mounts, during the 18th and 19th centuries....



Tim Smare

Reproduction of a three-dimensional object produced by means of a mould.

While moulds can be fashioned directly, for example by carving wood or stone, both mould and cast are usually made in a pliable or amorphous material, such as plaster of Paris, wax or clay. The model is encased in the chosen material, so as to hold an impression of its shape and surface in negative: the mould is then carefully removed and the hollow interior filled to make the positive cast. A piece-mould, a mould constructed in numerous sections, is used to facilitate removal, the small sections sometimes held in place by an outer ‘case’ mould. The modern process of casting has been simplified by the use of synthetic rubbers that can be peeled away from undercut forms and reused. Other, less versatile, flexible materials for moulds include wax, gelatin and latex rubber (see Plastic, §1). Alternatively, a one-off cast can be made with a waste-mould. If the original form is modelled in soft clay, a plaster mould of few sections is easily removed, but if there are undercut forms the mould is ‘wasted’ or chipped away from the cast. ...


Term applied to sculpture incorporating gold (Gr. chrysos) and ivory (Greek elephantinos), often on a wooden armature. The term is applied to statues overlaid with gold (for drapery) and ivory (for skin). A famous example was Pheidias’ colossal statue of Zeus, once housed at the ancient Greek sanctuary of ...



Kathryn Morrison

[column figure]

Form of sculpture in which a column and a figure are carved from a single block of stone. It is distinct from the Classical Caryatid, which structurally replaces the column, or from figures carved into columnar shafts (e.g. the Puerta de las Platerías of Santiago de Compostela, c. 1110). Column statues first appeared on the embrasures of French portals in the middle of the 12th century and are regarded as the main feature that distinguishes Romanesque from Early Gothic sculptural ensembles.

The desire to depict large figures on doorposts and recessed doorway embrasures was manifest in the first half of the 12th century, for example at St Pierre, Moissac (c. 1125–30), where large standing figures were carved into the sides of the trumeau and the faces of the doorposts, or at Ferrara Cathedral (c. 1135), where figures were carved into the arrises of the embrasures. Meanwhile, column statues may have appeared in cloisters or church furnishings. Three marble column statues from ...


David Summers

Term used in modern writing about art for the posture of a sculpted figure standing at rest with weight shifted on to one leg. Polykleitos’ Doryphoros (c. 440 bc; copy, Minneapolis, MN, Inst. A.; for illustration see Polykleitos) is an early example of this posture, which displays the human body as a self-contained static system, in balance in the pose itself but visibly arrested and therefore implying past and future movement. Contrapposto, like acanthus ornament and wet drapery, became a signature of the Greek Classical style (see Greece, ancient, §IV, 2, (iii), (b)) and its influence. The formula appears in innumerable Greek and Roman figures as well as in Far Eastern art and in medieval ‘renascences’, finally to be revived and developed as part of the Neo-classicism of the Italian Renaissance.

The modern term retains only a fraction of its earlier meanings. The word ‘contrapposto’ is not simply the past participle of the Italian word meaning ‘to counterpose’; it is more properly a translation of the Latin ...


Irene Bald Romano

Image of a divinity that served in antiquity as a focal-point for worship and cult rituals. Most cult statues were housed in temples or shrines, although outdoor worship of images is also attested. Although aniconic worship (i.e. of a non-anthropomorphic symbol of a deity such as a rock or pillar) is known in Near Eastern, Greek and Roman cults, most deities by the late 2nd millennium bc were worshipped in an anthropomorphic form and were, as such, earthly substitutes or humanized manifestations of the presence of a deity.

Anthropomorphic cult statues are well attested in the Ancient Near East, Anatolia, the Levant and Egypt. Near Eastern cuneiform records going back at least to the 2nd millennium bc indicate that Mesopotamian cult images were made of wood and opulently clad in tiaras, robes and jewellery. The garments of the statue were ceremonially changed, and ritual meals were served up to the cult image. Specific attributes and attire aided identity. From ...