Sculpture and the Body

Sculpture and the Body

Beginning since prehistoric times, artists have used art to shape and chisel the human form. Learn about body volumes, muscle shape and movement relationships among organs, as well as other factors essential for three dimensional sculpture.

Sculpture is not a rigid art form; rather it’s constantly expanding and evolving. Here, five sculptors reimagine the body in various ways.

Body Parts

A sculptor works with solid forms: clay, wood, stone or metal. They may appear delicate, aggressive, flowing taut or relaxed depending on how he/she manipulates them to represent parts of or all of a body; their expressive properties enhanced further when coupled with subject matter that reinforces these properties resulting in images that communicate more than facts alone.

Sculpture is an art that can be practiced by all ages and cultures worldwide; its presence can be found almost in every country. The oldest examples were small figurines made of clay or other materials; religious icons or objects of devotion often featured as early sculptures. Since ancient times, sculpture has also been an integral component of many societies’ rituals and celebrations, as well as serving to honour those who have passed on.

Sculptors have always held different statuses across cultures. In ancient Greece, for instance, they were seen more as craftspeople than artists; it wasn’t until the High Renaissance that Michelangelo became highly esteemed for his artistic endeavors while decorative sculpture on buildings was the purview of skilled artisans.

Sculpture used to be prohibitively expensive to produce and so it was only affordable by wealthy individuals. Therefore, large sculpture was often used as a political or religious statement – this was particularly prevalent during ancient Egypt and Mesopotamian statue production periods. Since the advent of globalisation however, sculpture is now increasingly accessible – including public collections as well as many private ones.

Human bodies remain the ultimate subject for sculpture, with so many emotions and gestures to portray. Artists have explored these possibilities from many perspectives: realistic portraits by Donatello and El Greco to grotesque figures; Gothic sculpture of Christianity’s agonies and passions to classical masterpieces from Renaissance Italy; from anatomical models used in modern medicine to wax effigies, mannequins and anatomical models currently in use today.


Muscles bend and stretch as energy from the nervous system is translated into movement by contracting and relaxing; this transformation provides energy for movement within our bodies – making muscles an interesting subject to study for artists. Muscles also help generate the skeletal movement necessary for structure formation within us; this makes realistic figurative sculpture artists particularly fascinated with muscles.

Albinus and Wandelaar took an innovative approach when they created their Tabulae sceleti musculorum corporis humanum: instead of starting from the surface layering their way inward layer by layer to reach the skeleton, they decided to select ideal muscle from various cadavers for size, position, insertion, action etc. before carefully sketching these muscles on every skeleton in their work.

By applying this methodology, they were able to produce an atlas of muscles with unprecedented accuracy. Readers could flip through pages and view illustrations depicting every muscle layer before reaching the skeleton – this allowed viewers to understand how each muscle related with others, making the atlas much simpler to comprehend.

Muscles are fascinating to artists for multiple reasons. Artists find them especially captivating because of the incredible variety in shape and size depending on their function and position in the body, which sculptors must know in order to accurately recreate body movements seen in people and animals in their sculptures. Knowing different types of muscles helps sculptors depict these same movements within their sculptures.


The skeleton serves to protect and support body tissues and organs while simultaneously providing articulate connections to limbs. Bones function like living tissue; shifting as the body moves and conversing with other parts of its system in complex ways.

A sculptor can utilize the expressive qualities of solid form to craft images that convey a variety of complex emotions and feelings. Our bodies have an intuitive understanding of three-dimensional form from birth; by augmenting this sense, sculptors can amplify it further to turn it into art.

In the 17th century, an entirely new genre of anatomy books were produced specifically to support artists. GRI’s collection includes several such volumes such as Anatomie du Gladiateur Combattant, Applicable aux Beaux Arts (1812) written by French army surgeon Jean Pierre Bouyer whose illustrations depict muscles and bones rendered with red and black to contrast against each other – inspired by Borghese Gladiator statue.

Our human bodies contain 206 bones (including tiny ones inside our ears). These bones take various shapes and forms; some are immovable (like skull bones), while others can move partially or fully – such as arm, leg, and rib cage bones. Each joint between these bones is covered with cartilage to reduce friction during movement.

At 30-40 percent of its breaking strength, bone is estimated to possess 30-40% elasticity; its rate of stiffening depends on how loads are applied; it will stiffen more rapidly under high loads than low ones, giving its structure flexibility so as to resist impact and move with its load during an accident such as falls or blows.


As in painting, sculpture requires both an understanding and sensitive response to three-dimensional forms, but unlike pictorial arts it has its own physical presence that cannot be rivaled by pictorial art forms such as painting. For instance, sculpture can occupy space within a round area; have depth; interact with light to produce shadows and highlights on its surfaces; as well as fill any given room in which it stands alone.

By rendering the human form in sculpture form, artists are able to demonstrate certain features not readily visible with naked eyes. Skin structure and tone varies dramatically across parts of the body – thus necessitating an artist who can visualize these aspects accurately in sculpture form.

Over time, various strategies have been employed by artists to blend reality with art; some attempt to recreate the physical appearance of human forms while others focus on emotional resonance or spiritual significance. At the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s recent exhibit Like Life: Sculpture and Color from 14th-Century Europe to Now, key body sculptures were displayed alongside related paintings and drawings in order to examine how bodies have changed throughout time.

Auguste Rodin revolutionized sculpture by using clay and wax rather than stone, instead producing unpolished works with visible evidence of his modeling tools – suggesting a direct relationship between his creative process and the bodies he depicted. His emotive figures convey powerful emotions like love, anger, fear and longing that are felt universally by humans.

Though nonsurgical body sculpting is noninvasive, you may still feel discomfort from sessions and experience bruising afterward. If this becomes bothersome for you, numbing cream may be applied topically over the treatment area to alleviate it.


As a three-dimensional art form, sculpture has the capacity to transform space in ways paintings cannot. Being touchable also helps viewers experience their presence and the relationship between themselves and the artwork. Furthermore, unlike paintings which must be seen from one angle only, sculptures allow audiences to explore how a work affects them in relation to its surrounding environment.

Sculptors can achieve abstraction by filtering or simplifying the information content of a concept or phenomenon, for instance reducing its information to its core idea or experience. A leather soccer ball could be abstracted by leaving out specific characteristics like size and shape of its actual ball; this process is known as concept-token distinction and can be applied both physically and verbally.

At the turn of the 20th century, sculpture began shifting away from Neoclassical forms towards more stylized or abstracted ones – this movement is known as Modernism. Renowned sculptors like Henry Moore and Alberto Giacometti pioneered geometric abstraction. Additionally, artists began experimenting with different materials like concrete, glass, metal and wire which ultimately resulted in the development of kinetic sculptures which moved in response to light or movement.

Antony Gormley’s Blind Light sculpture utilizes mirror surfaces to create an optical illusion that dissipates the boundary between inner and outer space, inviting viewers to explore their relationship to it as an artwork and its effects on them in relation to other pieces in the room. Such exploration demonstrates how body can serve as an instrument for exploring relationships among space, abstraction and structure which aligns well with research on refl exivity for dancers as well as those experiencing abstract art.