Transcript Relief Sculpture
“Relief sculpture is any work which projects from, but which belongs
to, a wall, or other type of background surface, on which it is carved…
Also known as relievo, relief sculpture is a combination of the twodimensional pictorial arts and the three-dimensional sculptural arts.”
• The term relief is from the Latin verb levo, to raise. To create a
sculpture in relief is to give the impression that the sculpted
material has been raised above the background plane.
• There are four different types of relief :
– high relief= Where more than 50% of the depth is shown and there
may be undercut areas.
– mid-relief = Not enough detail to be considered high, but also has
more depth than low relief.
– low-relief (French: bas-relief), where the plane is scarcely more than
scratched in order to remove background material.
– sunken relief (aka incised or intaglio relief), where the carving is
sunk below the level of the surrounding surface. If you look at it from
the side, you cannot see the carving. Sunken relief is surrounded by a
carved frame. This frames the carving with a powerful line of shadow.
The surrounding surface remains untouched, with no projections.
Sunken relief carving is found almost exclusively in ancient Egyptian
art, although it has also been used in some beautiful small-scale
ivory reliefs from India.
Relief Methods in Clay
• Additive Relief – Adding to the field to raise
the subject and increase depth.
– For example clay, plaster can be built up to make a
sculpture into a relief.
• Subtractive Relief - Carve Away or subtract
from the field to lower the background and
raise the plain.
– For example you can carve into clay or plaster to
make a sculpture into relief.
What type of relief to you think it is?
Guess on the following image
High, Medium, Low, or Sunken?
Prehistoric Relief Sculpture
Reliefs date from the Gravettian Period (28,000
to 22,000 years ago) of the Paleolithic era.
Next three examples of relief are all from the
The Venus of Laussel
(c.23,000-20,000 BCE), a limestone
low relief of a reclining female figure,
found in the Dordogne, France.
This limestone carving is one of the
earliest relief sculptures, & ranks
among the world's oldest artworks.
The low relief depiction of salmon
Found in the Abri du Poisson Cave
At Les Eyzies de Tayac, Périgord, Dordogne, France
This is one of the oldest known representations of fish in the world
The outline around the fish, is formed by thieves trying to steal the carving in the 70’s
The Tuc d'Audoubert Bison (c.13,500 BCE)
This is an unfired clay relief sculptures of two bison from the Magdalenian Period.
Discovered at Tuc d'Audoubert Cave, Ariege, France.
Ancient World reliefs
An example of low relief artworks discovered from the
ancient world are the set of lions and dragons from the
Ishtar Gate, Babylon.
(Images on next 2 slides)
Babylon was once the greatest city of the
world when the Neo-Babylonian Empire
reigned supreme in the Ancient Near East (575
Ishtar Gate detail (575 B.C.E)
Ancient World reliefs
An example of sunken relief artworks discovered from
the ancient world are in Egypt.
Egyptian sculptors tended to employ sunken relief.
Figures are depicted standing sideways and are
contained within a sharply insized outline: see for
instance the many sunken reliefs at the Temple of
Karnak in Egypt.
(Image on next slide)
Relief at the Temple of Karnak – Egypt
Questions to discuss
• What do you think the oldest sculptures found in
France were used for? (The salmon, the buffalo,
and the reclining woman.) Why were they made?
• In the ancient world and in Ancient Egypt, reliefs
were used to decorate buildings, tell stories, and
communicate areas and persons of importance.
Where did they learn to create these sculptures?
How long do you think it took to carve into stone?
Ancient Relief Sculpture
• High reliefs did not become common until Classical
Antiquity (c.500 BCE onwards), when Ancient Greek
sculptors began to explore the genre more thoroughly.
– Attic tomb relief sculpture dating from the 4th century BCE
are notable examples, as are the sculptured friezes used in
the decoration of the Parthenon and other classical
– During the period 600-1100, abstract reliefs appeared in
numerous cultures around the world, as disparate as the
Mixtec culture in Mexico, the Norse/Viking culture and
Islamic environments across the Middle East.
Jumping forward in Time…
From Ancient world 3,500-600 BCE to Ancient
Greece (776 BCE – 400 BCE) Relief Sculpture
were used mainly on walls, friezes, and grave
markers (called ‘stele’). More popular form of
sculptures had risen. Doing artwork “in the
round” (free standing) was used to trade with,
show importance, and show skill level beyond
relief. The reliefs that were made were high
reliefs, cut almost in the round, to keep up with
the trending forms. (Example on next pages)
Stele of Pamphile & Demetrias
Late 4th century BCE
In the sculpture, Pamphile is seated on a
throne, extending her hand to her sister
Demetrias, who is standing. High Relief.
This sculpture is one of the last ones made,
before the issue of the prohibited law by
Demetrious Phalereus in 317 BC. This
outlawed lavished over the top grave
markers like this one.
Greece becomes a Rome Province 146 BCE
As Roman culture, and styles over lapped with
Greek, they too had a fascination with the use of
high relief on walls, friezes, grave markers, and
also on sarcophagi (tombs). Relief sculptures
were prominent in the sarcophagi of Roman art
during the 2nd and 3rd centuries CE.
Roman sarcophagus, Italy, mid 2nd century CE - Nelson-Atkins Museum of
Art. Exhibit in the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri, USA.
We will discuss the rest at a later time…….That’s
enough history for today! Follow the next two
slides for what to do next.
Project Goals (Write these down)
• To create a relief sculpture no smaller than 8.5”x5.5”.
• To use varying degrees of high and low relief to create a 3D
sculpture on a 2D plane.
• Use both additive and subtractive methods to create details and
• Create a strong piece that will not break when transported or fired.
• Using creativity, and time to create a strong artwork
• Create a piece with at least one subject matter and an visible
background with details.
• You may choose whether your work is abstract, or real.
• You may choose whether your work is functional or non-funtional
• You may choose in what direction your piece will be displayed.
– Ex. Sits on a table, hangs from a wall, hooks to a countertop,
wraps around a mug.
• TODAY: Sketch your ideas out, both from the front and side
view. Think of how layers and depth are needed to create
the illusion of 3D work. I want to see 3 different ideas.
Describe whether it will be functional or non-functional.
Also describe visually the shapes.
• TODAY: After you have your idea down, create a slab of clay
on which to work. Remember size rules. (no smaller than
• NEXT CLASS: You can either add to your slab or create your
piece separate and attach at a later time. If you use the
subtractive method, remember to wrap clay that is
subtracted together and keep it damp.
• Work on a clay board! Your piece will be difficult to move!