Jürg Widmer Probst Reviews the World’s Most Important Sculptures

We talk art history’s three most important sculptures with Jürg Widmer Probst

We can probably all name our favourite painters or paintings. But sculpture is often a little more low profile. For many people, they may see a sculpture they like from time to time, but with ever feeling like they really know much more about this incredible artistic medium.

Too often, sculpture sits in the background – that statue you pass in the park every day, or a piece of public art in a shopping centre. So, with that in mind, we thought we’d bring you a quick guide to the three most significant sculptures in the world (in our view, at least!).

1. Michelangelo, David
This is the big one: in more ways than one. As well as being the most famous statue in the world, it’s huge – carved from a 5.5 metre block of marble. It took Michelangelo three years to carve, and weighs well over five tons. Of course, it is the most famous statue of the Italian Renaissance, and with good reason.

Nothing quite prepares you for it – the scale, the glowing white marble, and the unbelievable tension that Michelangelo manages to express in the subject’s body. It is also fascinating how the sculptor has stretched and enlarged some aspects of the figure to make it look right from the perspective of the viewer down below on the ground. It is a lesson in sculpting the human form in such a way that the figure seems dynamic and real.

There are a couple of other copies of David in Florence, but go and see the real deal in the Accademia Gallery. Our tip is to get there in the afternoon, just before they shut for the day to avoid the crowds.


2. Auguste Rodin, The Burghers of Calais
You may well know Rodin’s ‘The Thinker’, but this one was seen as a big step forward in the development of a more realistic approach to sculpture. It shows the six men who sacrificed themselves to the English armies to save the city of Calais. Rodin is always an unbelievably expressive sculptor, but this is one that really takes the breath away with its emotional power.

The darkness of the situation these six men found themselves in is written in their faces, in the tension in their hands and the depths of their eyes. Most importantly (for art historians at least) it was one of the first monumental statues that was on ground level – viewers are forced to look these men in the eyes, and feel their pain.

3. Henry Moore, Recumbent Figure
Something a little more abstract now. We’re getting more in to modern territory with this final sculpture by Henry Moore, but the inspiration behind it couldn’t be more primitive in some ways.

This simple primal form, that simply expresses the curves and dips and kinks of the human body has echoes of a skull, or a piece of bone. The form is very organic and we love the way that although it is far from a realistic representation of a person, there is still something deeply human about it.

It is a sculpture that has a huge amount of power, expressed through suggestion and memory, rather than direct realism.

Words by Jürg Widmer Probst

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