What Methods Did the Greeks Use for Making Sculpture?

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What Methods Did the Greeks Use for Making Sculpture?
Marble statues from ancient Greece aid present-day artists in their sculture techniques. (Marble Statue image by Sitech from Fotolia.com)

Grecian art has made a profound impact on the world. Most historians classify the art from this period into three eras: the experimental Archaic Period, artistic growth and domination in the Classical Period, and the loss of Grecian art and artists to Rome in the Hellenistic Period. Over these periods, the Greeks modified and perfected the sculpture process through several methods. We best see these styles exhibited in surviving Roman sculptures.

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Sphyrelaton

Bronze was a popular medium of Greek statues to portray leading figures of the day in an expensive and lasting metal. The earliest method of shaping the bronze was called sphyrelaton, or "hammer-driven." The sculpture was pieced together from hammered sheets of bronze. The sheets were often placed over a relief such as wood to create a design or model. The bronze was easier to use than traditional copper because it remained in a liquid state longer, making it easier to mould.

Lost-Wax

Sphyrelaton did not remain a preferred option for long when the method of creating statues with lost wax became popular. Artists used the lost-wax technique to create moulds through solid or hollow casting. Solid lost-wax casting involved making a model out of the wax, coating it in clay, and removing the wax; artists then poured liquid bronze into the mould to create a bust or statue. However, this could only be done on small scales. So Greeks developed hollow lost-wax casting, which allowed the artist to create a hollow version of the statue. The statue was cast in several pieces and then threaded together with iron rods to provide support. A mould was created with clay and wax, and vents allowed heat from the molten metal to exit the mould. Once the wax melted and the mould hardened, molten metal poured into the mould solidified, creating a statue.

Chisels and Carving

Marble was another popular medium for Greek statues. After choosing a stone, a sculptor created a smaller wax or clay model to provide direction during carving. A sculptor used flat, pointed, round-ended, toothed, and splitting chisels with a hammer. Large, unnecessary pieces were chiselled away first before the artist could mark the emerging figure with charcoal or pencil. The sculptor used sandpaper, cloth and emery stone to polish the finished product.

Painting

Most Greek sculpture was painted with bold colours. The figure's "skin" was left the colour of stone, while colour distinguished sculpted clothing or hair. On rare occasions, the entire sculpture was painted. Artists often used precious metals to complete a statue after painting. As the style shifted to nude figures, painting became less prominent.

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