Man has always been interested in his image and likeness. Portrait sculpture touches us simply because it brings us face to face with men or women from the past and preserves the features, expression, clothing and jewellery of a time now gone. We can have a look at the outfits of Pharaohs or Shakespeare, the face of beauties from the past, as well as the true likeness of heroes who have been immortalised in stone or metal. The portrait sculptor (or even the figurative sculptor) is responsible for this.
Sculptures present an ethnographic record of our heritage and do not cease to engage us because of the human interest. Even our currency includes the effect of the portrait sculptor, with heads usually appearing on coins.
Some of the most ancient known portrait sculptures are of Egyptians and they are found on tombs, but bronze sculptures have been uncovered in the tombs of Chinese emperors, in Pompeii and around Mesopotamia.
Early statues ended up being formed from clay and natural stone, but the actual breakthrough discovery of the ability to smelt metal led to bronze becoming a popular medium.
The Industrial revolution made it possible for foundries to spring up all over the place and people desired to get their likeness cast in metal. Paris was a particular centre for sculptors in the 1800s and the art form attracted in many people from far and wide to make use of the talents of the artists.
Although the very first portrait sculptures were only accessible to the well-off or famous, they are now more widely available. However, they are still a luxury item as they call for the skills of qualified artist.
Even today, the portrait sculptor is definitely not out of business. In fact, we have not decreased our desire for portraits at all and they are still commissioned to honour and give public recognition to the dead, such as Nelson in Trafalgar Square, London.
A sculpture of a fellow person will help to preserve their memory and honour them, and maybe this could be the underlying cause for our lasting love affair with them.
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