The beginning of sculpture
Ever since humans started carving rock and wood, sculpture has played different purposes in all aspects of life. In religion, artists sculpted spiritual figures, depicting their gods and other heavenly emblems. Some sculptures fit perfectly in fountains, enhancing their aesthetics. But typically, sculptures were made as monuments for historic and important figures, namely national heroes, military warriors, and great presidents and leaders.
Early sculptural objects were used in spiritual rituals, most of them representing the forces of nature that were believed to be either good or evil spirits. Early civilizations, such as those in the Mesopotamia, Egypt, China, and Indus Valley all had the same views. For the Egyptians, whose belief was mainly about life after death, sculptures were made as tombs for pharaohs and their wives.
These tombs are now known as the pyramids. Inside they are more sculptural artifacts made in the honor of their late leaders. A distinct characteristic of their sculptures was that the head, legs, and feet of their human figures were carved in profile. Another huge contribution of the early Egyptians is the great Sphinx, which stands guard at the pyramids of Giza.
Unlike the Egyptians, people in Mesopotamia made sculptures out of clay, wood, leaves, and shells. Since they were located close to rivers, they made use of more available resources for sculpture. Although their sculptures were made as representations of their religious belief, their figures were very distinct from the Egyptians’. Theirs were cone-shaped with tiny heads, fat noses, and huge glaring eyes. Little evidence of sculpture of the Minoan civilization in the Crete island has been found since the power was transferred to the mainland. Nevertheless, the Lion Gate at Mycenae still stands tall. The huge guards which stand at the entrance to the city were made in around 1250 B.C.
Out of all the many cultures and civilizations who have sculpted, the Greeks did an exceptional job at mastering this art. Their main subject was the human figure, which resulted in their gods and goddesses being patterned on humans themselves. The Greek artists aimed to perfectly depict the human form, and between the 7th century and the later part of the 4th century, B.C., their sculptures were more balanced and exhibit the most perfect of all poses.
Because the Ten Commandments explicitly prohibits the making of graven images, early Christians were not open to expressing their religious beliefs through sculptures. Ultimately, the church’s leaders decided to use the art as a representation of Godly images and items and only forbade the production of idols. Today some of the few allowed relics from their era survive. These include chalices, portable altars, and other such items that they used in Christian worship.
Over time, after the year 1000, Christian sculptures evolved from small altars to huge and striking churches. The early churches were patterned after the Roman buildings, which were eventually customized by later artists.