Sculpture through the Ages

Sculpture through the Ages

Sculpture through the Ages

Sculpture through the Ages

Excerpt

Guides in Rome, little moustachioed men who wore their derby hats and high wing collars all summer, and always mentioned the cash value of every building or work of art, used to pause before Michelangelo's great statue of Moses and point to a blemish on its knee. The story they told was that when the work was completed, the master thought it so life-like it needed only to speak to be completely human. He commanded it to do so, and flew into a rage hurling his heavy mallet which did the damage when there was no response. If this very doubtful tale is true, Michelangelo did his own creation a deep injustice, for like all serious and intense productions of the human personality it speaks, not with the sound of words to be sure, but in a manner comprehensible in all times and places.

The language of art varies according to its medium. Painting speaks almost as the written word, saying much but clinging to a plane from which it must be read. Music soars disembodied, and entrances with an immediate and direct message that is only for the spirit. But sculpture stands forth and speaks as the presence of the man himself. For sculpture is an art of mass and space. The column of form rises, as the man steps up to hold the attention of his people; and it moves in the space about itself expressively, as the man gestures in his speech. Easy and calm it may be, flowing with even stress and rhythm in its own immediate compass; or exuberant, excited, frantic, radiating in complex and dynamic gesticulation. It may be motionless, drawn up with architectural dignity and tension or relaxed in eternal resignation.

Too little has been written, however, of what the language of art actually reveals. Its record should constantly be scanned, for human culture grows only by cumulative application of human experience. All the mistakes have been made, there is no need to keep on making them. The antidote lies in keeping alive a sensitive contact with cultural patterns of the past. The following pages are prepared as a lesson in how to read the exciting and illuminating text of western sculpture. The dominant perspectives of each period and the immediate background of each work will be presented to provide as precise an indication as possible of just what human occasion called for the particular work or just what human expression it conveys. Criticism and teaching of the art of the past have been seriously inadequate in this respect.

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