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Sculpture is a branch of visual art which has had many deep changes throughout the centuries as the historical, social and artistic context of each century has heavily influenced this three-dimensional form of expression.
The sculptural history of ancient Greece can be divided in three main periods, in which artists have explored thoroughly the proportion and complexion of the human body. From the archaic period of Greek sculpture, which also represents the proper start of European sculpture, examples of kouros sculptures have started to set an example for what a human model should look like. The kouroi were very muscular sculptures, which used to resemble the ideal of human beauty and perfection. With these sculptures the Greeks have also acquired a mathematical knowledge of the human body as they explored body proportions. However the stasis and lack of expressivity characterises this period.
The classic period, which follows the archaic, has shown that Greek sculpture developed under some aspects. The sculpture mainly represented athletes, therefore they were still very toned and even more detailed. These sculptures were dynamic and the fullness of the movement was represented by the sculptors. The proportions also refined but however the lack of expressivity remained.
Only with the start of the Hellenic period and the decline of the Greek culture. This period was characterised by conflicts between the different polis in Greece. These feelings of worry and fear were translated to art with the use and development of what is called phatos (suffering). This element of phatos was used in sculptures to fulfil the lack of expression. In the Hellenic period, sculpture completely changed also because common men and women were now represented as the cultural development of the country reached its peak.
Every period of Greek sculpture, had however one common aspect, the use of marble, even if there were some key differences. In fact, what distinguishes the archaic to the classic sculpture was that to make the sculpture more stable the classical sculptures used natural elements to support the very extended structures, whereas the Hellenic sculptures differs from the others as weight was distributed with pleasing drapery which masked the supports.
With the decline of the Greeks, sculpture was revived by the Romans, who mainly made copies in marble and bronze only to see it forgotten over the Medieval times, where Greek sculptures were considered as profanity and sculpture was mainly used as a decorative element of Gothic Architecture.
Only during Renaissance and the Baroque period sculpture was re-discovered to then flourish with the Neoclassical movement of the 18th century, where sculpture reached its peak of perfection with the many works of Canova and John Gibson which revisited the ideals of human perfection of the Classical period.
European sculpture had a complete turn in the 20th century, where the social and artistic context was dominated by the fear and shock of sudden changes in the economic and political structure of European countries (development of capitalism, Marxism, consumer’s society, world wars) and the sentimental and mental structure of artists which started to refigure the crisis of the modern man through Cubist, Dada, Surreal, Minimalist, Abstract and Futuristic sculpture. The development of these different sculpture movements marked a deep change in Europe’s sculpture, as artists were now trying to express themselves as beings rather than impress others with a unreal and useless perfection.