The 26 most famous sculptures of all time (2023)

The 26 most famous sculptures of all time (1)

From prehistory to the 21st century, here are the most famous sculptures of all time.

Edited by

Will Gleason
Written by
Howard Halle


Unlike a painting, a sculpture is three-dimensional art that allows you to view a piece from all angles. Whether celebrating a historical figure or created as a work of art, the sculpture is all the more powerful because of its physical presence. The most famous sculptures of all time are instantly recognizable, created by artists across the ages and in media ranging from marble to metal.

Likesstreet art, some sculptures are big, bold and unmissable. Other examples of sculpture can be delicate and require careful study. Right here in NYC you can see important piecescentral park, housed in museums such asthe meeting,MoMAor theGuggenheim, or as public works byart outdoors🇧🇷 Most of these famous sculptures can be identified by even the most superficial observer. From Michelangelo's David to Warhol's Brillo Box, these iconic sculptures are works that define their eras and their makers. Photos don't do these sculptures justice, so any fan of these works should try to see them in person to see the full effect.

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The most famous sculptures of all time.

The 26 most famous sculptures of all time (4)

1.Venus of Willendorf, 28,000-25,000 AD

The largest sculpture in art history, this small figure measuring just over 10 cm in size, was discovered in Austria in 1908. No one knows what function she served, but conjectures range from a fertility goddess to an aid in masturbation. Some scholars suggest that it may have been a woman's self-portrait. It is the most famous of many of these Paleolithic objects.

The 26 most famous sculptures of all time (5)

2.Bust of Nefertiti, 1345 BC.

This portrait has been a symbol of female beauty since it was first discovered in 1912 in the ruins of Amarna, the capital city built by the most controversial pharaoh in ancient Egyptian history: Akhenaten. The life of its queen Nefertiti is a mystery: she is said to have reigned as pharaoh for a time after Akhenaten's death, or more likely as co-regent of the young king Tutankhamen. Some Egyptologists believe that she was in fact Tutankhamun's mother. This stucco-clad limestone bust is believed to be the work of Thutmose, Akhenaten's court sculptor.


The 26 most famous sculptures of all time (6)

3.The Terracotta Army, 210-209 BC

Discovered in 1974, the Terracotta Army is a vast repository of clay statues buried in three huge pits near the tomb of Shi Huang, China's first emperor, who died in 210 BC. died, were buried. The army tasked with protecting him in the afterlife is believed to have numbered more than 8,000 soldiers, as well as 670 horses and 130 carriages. Each is life-size, although actual size will vary by military rank.

The 26 most famous sculptures of all time (7)

4.Laocoön and his sons, 2nd century B.C.

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Perhaps the most famous sculpture of Roman antiquity,Laocoön and his sonsIt was originally excavated in Rome in 1506 and transferred to the Vatican, where it remains today. It is based on the myth of a Trojan priest who was killed along with his sons by sea serpents sent by the sea god Poseidon in retaliation for Laocoon's attempt to uncover the Trojan Horse ruse. Originally housed in the palace of Emperor Titus and attributed to a trio of Greek sculptors from the island of Rhodes, this life-size group of figures is unrivaled as a study of human suffering.


The 26 most famous sculptures of all time (8)

5.Michelangelo, David, 1501-1504

One of the most iconic works in all of art history, Michelangelo's David arose from a larger project to decorate the buttresses of Florence's great cathedral, the Duomo, with a group of figures from the Old Testament. EITHERDavidit was, and was indeed begun in 1464 by Agostino di Duccio. Over the next two years Agostino managed to chip off part of the huge block of marble from the famous Carrara quarry before stopping in 1466. (No one knows why). Another artist took over, but he too only worked on it briefly. The marble remained intact for the next 25 years until Michelangelo reworked it in 1501. He was then 26 years old. When completed, the David weighed six tons, meaning it could not be lifted onto the roof of the cathedral. Instead, it was displayed in front of the entrance to the Palazzo Vecchio, Florence's town hall. One of the purest distillations of the High Renaissance style, the figure was immediately embraced by the Florentine public as a symbol of the city-state's own resistance to the powers arrayed against it. 1873, theDavidIt was moved to the Accademia Gallery and a replica was installed in its original location.

The 26 most famous sculptures of all time (9)

6.Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Ecstasy of Saint Teresa, 1647-1652

Gian Lorenzo Bernini is considered the founder of the Roman Baroque style and created this masterpiece for a chapel in the church of Santa Maria della Vittoria. The Baroque was inseparable from the Counter-Reformation, with which the Catholic Church attempted to stem the tide of Protestantism that was burgeoning in Europe in the 17th century. Artworks like Bernini's were part of the program to affirm papal dogma, here well served by Bernini's genius for imbuing religious scenes with dramatic narrative.Ecstasyis an example: its subject - Saint Teresa of Ávila, a Carmelite nun and Spanish mystic, who wrote about her encounter with an angel - is presented at the moment when the angel is about to pierce an arrow into her heart.EcstasyThe erotic undertones are unmistakable, most evident in the nun's orgasmic expression and the twisted cloth that encircles both figures. As an architect and artist, Bernini also designed the chapel's surroundings in marble, stucco and paint.


The 26 most famous sculptures of all time (10)

7.Antonio Canova, Perseus with Medusenhaupt, 1804–6

The Italian artist Antonio Canova (1757–1822) is considered the greatest sculptor of the 18th century. His work embodied the neoclassical style, as seen in his marble depiction of the mythical Greek hero Perseus. In fact, Canova made two versions of the piece: one is in the Vatican in Rome, while the other is kept in the European Sculpture Court at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The 26 most famous sculptures of all time (11)

8.Edgar Degas, The Little Ballerina of Fourteen, 1881/1922

Although best known as a painter, the Impressionist master Edgar Degas also worked in sculpture, creating what is arguably the most radical effort of his oeuvre. degassedThe little fourteen year old ballerinamade of wax (of which bronze copies were later cast after his death in 1917), but the fact that Degas dressed his eponymous model in a royal ballet costume (complete with bodice, tutu and slippers) and real hair caused quite a stir at the timedancerfirst performed at the Sixth Impressionist Exhibition of 1881 in Paris. Degas chose to cover most of her ornaments with wax to match the rest of the girl's features, but kept the tutu as well as a headband that held her hair back as they were, making the character one of the earliest examples for found objects . . Art.dancerit was the only sculpture Degas exhibited in his life; After his death, 156 more specimens were found in his study.


The 26 most famous sculptures of all time (12)

9.Auguste Rodin, The Burghers of Calais, 1894-1885

While most people associate it with the great French sculptor Auguste RodinThe Thinker, this set, which commemorates an incident during the Hundred Years' War (1337-1453) between Britain and France, is the most important in the history of sculpture. Commissioned for a park in the town of Calais (where a year-long siege by the English was lifted in 1346 when six town elders offered to be executed in exchange for saving the populace),the bourgeoishe dispensed with the format typical of the monuments of the time: instead of figures standing alone or stacked in the shape of a pyramid on a high base, Rodin mounted his life-size subjects directly on the floor, at viewer height. This radical turn to realism broke with the heroic treatment of these outdoor works. withthe bourgeoisRodin took one of the first steps towards modern sculpture.

The 26 most famous sculptures of all time (13)

10Pablo Picasso, Guitar, 1912

In 1912, Picasso created a cardboard model of a piece that would have a major impact on 20th-century art. Also in the MoMA collection it represented a guitar, a subject Picasso often explored in paintings and collages and in many ways.guitarHe shifted cut-and-paste techniques from two-dimensional to three-dimensional collage. He did the same with Cubism, blending flat forms into a multi-faceted form with depth and volume. Picasso's innovation was to avoid conventional sculpture and to sculpt a solid mass sculpture. Instead of,guitarit stuck like a structure. This idea would resonate from Russian Constructivism to Minimalism and beyond. Two years after the factguitarPicasso created this sheet metal version cut out on cardboard.


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The 26 most famous sculptures of all time (14)

11Umberto Boccioni, Unique Forms of Continuity in Space, 1913

From its radical beginnings to its final Fascist incarnation, Italian Futurism shocked the world, but no work exemplified the movement's sheer delirium better than this sculpture of one of its leading luminaries: Umberto Boccioni. Boccioni began as a painter and switched to three-dimensional work after a trip to Paris in 1913, during which he visited the studios of several avant-garde sculptors of the time, including Constantin Brancusi, Raymond Duchamp-Villon and Alexander Archipenko. Boccioni summarized his ideas in this dynamic masterpiece, depicting a figure walking in what Boccioni described as "synthetic continuity" of movement. The piece was originally made of plaster and was not cast in its famous bronze version until 1931, well after the artist died in 1916 as a member of an Italian artillery regiment during the First World War.

The 26 most famous sculptures of all time (15)

12Constantin Brancusi, Miss Pogany, 1913

Born in Romania, Brancusi was one of the most important modern sculptors of the early 20th century and one of the most important figures in the entire history of sculpture. A proto-minimalist, Brancusi took forms from nature and simplified them into abstract representations. His style was influenced by the folk art of his homeland, which often featured vivid geometric patterns and stylized motifs. He also made no distinction between object and base, treating them in certain cases as interchangeable components, an approach that represented a crucial break with sculptural traditions. This iconic piece is a portrait of his model and his lover Margit Pogány, a Hungarian art student he met in Paris in 1910. The first iteration was carved in marble, followed by a plaster copy from which this bronze was made. The cast itself was exhibited at the legendary Armory Show in New York in 1913, where critics mocked and ridiculed it. But it was also the show's most played track. Brancusi worked on different versions ofMille Paganyfor about 20 years.


The 26 most famous sculptures of all time (16)

13Duchamp, Bicycle Wheel, 1913

Bicycleit is considered the first of Duchamp's revolutionary readymades. However, when he finished the piece in his Paris studio, he really had no idea what to call it. "I had the happy idea of ​​putting a bicycle wheel on a kitchen stool and watching it turn," Duchamp later said. It took a trip to New York in 1915 and an encounter with the city's enormous production of industrial goods for Duchamp to invent the term ready-made. More importantly, he began to realize that making art in the traditional, artisanal way seemed pointless in the industrial age. Why bother, he posited, when widely available off-the-shelf products could do the job? For Duchamp, the idea behind the artwork was more important than the way it was made. This performance, perhaps the first real example of conceptual art, would completely change the history of art in the future. However, just like an ordinary household item, the originalBicyclehas not survived: this version is actually a replica from 1951.

The 26 most famous sculptures of all time (17)

14Alexander Calder, Calders Zirkus, 1926-31

A popular fixture from the Whitney Museum's permanent collection,Zirkus boilersit exudes the playful essence brought to life by Alexander Calder (1898–1976) as an artist who helped shape 20th-century sculpture.circus, created during the artist's stay in Paris, was less abstract than his hanging "mobiles" but just as kinetic in its own way: made mostly of wire and wood,circusIt served as the centerpiece for impromptu performances, with Calder moving like a divine ringmaster around various figures depicting contortionists, sword swallowers, lion tamers, and so on.


The 26 most famous sculptures of all time (18)

fifteen.Aristide Maillol, The Air, 1938

A painter and tapestry designer, as well as a sculptor, French artist Aristide Maillol (1861-1944) might best be described as a modern neoclassical who gave a streamlined 20th-century twist to traditional Greco-Roman statues. One could also describe him as a radical conservative, although it should be remembered that avant-garde contemporaries such as Picasso also created works following the classicist style after the First World War. Maillol's theme was the female nude, inThehe created a contrast between the material mass of his motif and the way it seems to float in space, balancing between stubborn physicality and fleeting presence.

The 26 most famous sculptures of all time (19)

sixteen.Yayoi Kusama, Structure No. 1, 1962

Kusama, a Japanese artist working in various media, came to New York in 1957 and returned to Japan in 1972. She has since established herself as a major figure on the downtown scene, whose art touched on many areas, including pop art, minimalism, and performance art. As an artist who frequently explored female sexuality, she was also a forerunner of feminist art. Kusama's work is often marked by hallucinogenic patterns and repetitions of shapes, a tendency rooted in certain psychological conditions (hallucinations, OCD) that she has suffered from since childhood. All of these aspects of Kusuma's art and life are reflected in this work, in which a run-of-the-mill upholstered chair is eerily subsumed by a plague-like eruption of phallic protrusions of sewn upholstery fabric.


The 26 most famous sculptures of all time (20)

17Marisol, Women and Dogs, 1963-64

Known simply by her first name, Marisol Escobar (1930–2016) was born in Paris to Venezuelan parents. As an artist, she was associated with Pop Art and later Op Art, although stylistically she belonged to neither group. Instead, she created figurative paintings intended as feminist satires about gender roles, celebrity, and wealth. insidewomen and dogsit deals with the objectification of women and the way men's imposed standards of femininity are used to force them into conformity.

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The 26 most famous sculptures of all time (21)

18Andy Warhol, Gloss Box (Sabonetes), 1964

The Brillo Box is perhaps the best-known of a series of sculptural works Warhol created in the mid-1960s that effectively took his exploration of pop culture into three dimensions. True to the Warhol name that Warhol gave his studio, the artist hired carpenters to work on a sort of assembly line, nailing together wooden cases into crate shapes for various products, including Heinz Ketchup, Kellogg's Corn Flakes and Campbell's Soup, and Brillo bars of soap. He then painted each box a color to match the original (white in Brillo's case) before silk-screening the product name and logo. The boxes were made multiple times and often displayed in large batches, effectively transforming any gallery they were housed in into a high-culture facsimile of a warehouse. Its shape and mass production was perhaps a nod to or a parody of the then emerging minimalist style. But the real pointGlitzerboxIn this way, his approach to the real subverts artistic conventions, suggesting that there is no real difference between manufactured goods and the work of an artist's studio.


The 26 most famous sculptures of all time (22)

19Donald Judd, Untitled (stack), 1967

Donald Judd's name is synonymous with Minimal Art, the movement of the mid-1960s that distilled modernist rationalism to its essence. For Judd, sculpture meant articulating the concrete presence of the work in space. This idea was described with the term "specific object" and although other minimalists adopted it, Judd arguably gave the idea its purest expression by adopting the box as his signature form. Like Warhol, he produced them as repeating units, using materials and methods borrowed from industrial manufacture. Unlike Warhol's Soup Cans and Marilyn's, Judd's art was not about something outside of himself. His "Batteries" are among his best-known pieces. Each consists of a group of identical flat boxes of galvanized sheet metal that protrude from the wall to form a column with items evenly spaced. But Judd, who started out as a painter, was as interested in color and texture as he was in form, as seen here in the green varnish applied to the front of each box. Judd's interplay of colors and materials thereUntitled (stack)a careful elegance that softens its abstract absolutism.

The 26 most famous sculptures of all time (23)


Like Benglis, Hesse was an artist who filtered post-minimalism through an undeniably feminist prism. As a Jew who fled Nazi Germany as a child, she explored organic forms, creating pieces out of industrial fiberglass, latex, and rope that resembled skin or flesh, genitals, and other body parts. Given your background, it's tempting to find an undercurrent of trauma or fear in a job like this.


The 26 most famous sculptures of all time (24)

21Richard Serra, Fast eine Tonne (House of Cards), 1969

After Judd and Flavin, a group of artists left the minimalist aesthetic of Minimalism. As part of this post-minimalist generation, Richard Serra put the concept of the specific object on steroids, greatly expanding its size and weight, and making the laws of gravity an integral part of the idea. He created precarious balancing acts out of steel or lead plates and pipes weighing several tons, which gave the work a threatening effect. (On two occasions, the assemblers installing Serra's parts were killed or maimed when the factory accidentally collapsed.) In recent decades, Serra's work has taken on a curvilinear refinement that has made it very popular, but initially as a one ton prop (house of Cards) with four sheets of lead leaning against each other, he shared his concerns with brutal frankness.

The 26 most famous sculptures of all time (25)

22Robert Smithson, Wendelsteg, 1970

Following the general counterculture trend, artists in the 1960s and 1970s began to rebel against the commercialization of the gallery world and to develop radically new art forms such as earthworks. Also known as Land Art, Robert Smithson (1938-1973) was the leading figure in the genre, venturing into the deserts of the western United States along with artists such as Michael Heizer, Walter De Maria and James Turrel to create works of monuments who acted in harmony with the environment. This site-specific approach, as it was called, often used materials taken directly from the landscape. It is Smithson's caseSpiral spring, which juts into Utah's Great Salt Lake from Rozel Point on the northeastern shore of the lake. Made from mud, salt crystals and locally quarried basalt,Dimensions of the spiral bridge1500 by 15 feet. It was submerged in the lake for decades until a drought in the early 2000s brought it back to the surface. 2017,Spiral springit has been named an official work of art for Utah.


The 26 most famous sculptures of all time (26)

23Louise Bourgeois, Spinne, 1996

The emblematic work of the French-born artist,Spideremerged in the mid-1990s, when Bourgeois (1911-2010) was already in his eighties. It exists in numerous variable-scale versions, including some monumental ones.SpiderIt is intended as a tribute to the artist's mother, a tapestry restorer (hence the allusion to arachnids' tendency to spin webs).

The 26 most famous sculptures of all time (27)

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24Antony Gormley, The Angel of the North, 1998

Antony Gormley, winner of the prestigious Turner Prize in 1994, is one of Britain's most celebrated contemporary sculptors but is also known worldwide for his unique take on figurative art, which draws on wide variations of scale and style, all sometimes in the same model : a cast of the artist's own body. That's true of this massive winged monument near the town of Gateshead in north-east England. Located on a main streetEngelIt is 66 feet tall and spans 177 feet wide from wingtip to wingtip. According to Gormley, the work is intended as a sort of symbolic marker between Britain's industrial past (the sculpture stands in England's coalfields, the heart of the Industrial Revolution) and its post-industrial future.


The 26 most famous sculptures of all time (28)

25Anish Kapoor, Gate of the Clouds, 2006

Affectionately called "The Bean" by Chicagoans for its curved elliptical shape,Portal das Nuvens, Anish Kapoor's public art centerpiece for Millennium Park in Second City, is both artwork and architecture, providing an Instagrammable archway for Sunday strollers and other park visitors. made of mirror steel,Portal das NuvensThe reflectivity and large scale of a fun house makes it Kapoor's best-known piece.

The 26 most famous sculptures of all time (29)

26Rachel Harrison, Alexandre o Grande, 2007

Rachel Harrison's work combines accomplished formalism with a knack for infusing seemingly abstract elements with multiple meanings, including political ones. She fiercely questions monumentality and the associated male prerogative. Harrison creates most of his sculptures by stacking and placing Styrofoam blocks or slabs before covering them with a combination of cement and paint detailing. The icing on the cake is a kind of find, alone or in combination with others. A prime example is this mannequin in an elongated paint-splattered shape. Wearing an inverted cloak and mask of Abraham Lincoln, the work presents the great man's theory of history with his evocation of the conqueror of antiquity standing on a clown-colored rock.

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Photography: Courtesy of CC/Flickr/Juanky Pamies Alcubilla
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