In honor of World Sculpture Day, Musement takes a look at 25 famous sculptures from across the globe.
The sculpture is one of the most enduring forms of expression. Rooted in prehistory, sculptures have given us insight into myriad cultures and civilizations, with the techniques and materials of these three-dimensional works recounting the story of its era just as distinctly as the subject of the work itself. In honor of World Sculpture Day, April 27, we thought we’d take a look at some of the world’s most iconic sculptures. In no particular order, here are 25 of them.
1. The David
2. The Great Sphinx of Giza
This mythological creature coupling the body of a lion with the face of a man has inspired one of my favorite yoga poses (it’s one heck of a way to ease into backbends!). The 65-foot-tall emblem of Ancient Egypt dates back to the Old Kingdom–2494 BCE, to be precise.
3. The Thinker
One of the most iconic images of all time, Auguste Rodin’s ‘The Thinker’ is a pop culture darling that even received its own Google image to mark the French sculptor’s birthday. The plaster has been used many times over, so this fellow slumps and broods in a few locales, but the best place to admire one is the Sculpture Garden of the exquisite Rodin Museum in Paris, which has cameoed in Woody Allen’s ‘Midnight in Paris’ and on the Emmy-award-winning ‘The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’.
4. The Terracotta Army
Located approximately one hour outside of Xi An, this terra cotta army buried near the tomb of Qin Shi Huang, China’s first emperor who reigned until his death in 220 BCE, was unearthed in 1974–local farmers stumbled upon it when attempting to dig a well. The army contains more than 8,000 life-sized clay soldiers and hundreds of chariots and horses.
5. Venus de Milo
Sculpted by Alexandros of Antioch between 130 and 100 BCE, the armless ‘Venus de Milo’ was discovered in the 19th century in the ruins of Milos. This iconic dame stands inside the Louvre Museum in Paris where she is constantly surrounded by a swarm of admirers.
6. The Pietà
At the mention of Michelangelo and ‘The Pietà’, the sculpture of Mary and Jesus at Saint Peter’s Basilica is usually the first to come mind, but it’s actually one of a quartet of sculptural depictions of this harrowing post-crucifixion motif. However, look at it closely…Jesus isn’t quite yet a fully grown man? Some say this depiction is his mother recalling his childhood at the time of this death and others say it’s a foreshadowing of the grief his mother will feel as she watches her adolescent son napping.
7. Nelson Mandela
Designed by Marco Cianfanelli, these 50 steel charcoal poles form Nelson Mandela’s face. The sculpture, inaugurated in 2012, stands on the R102 Highway in Howick, South Africa–on the very spot where he was handcuffed then taken to Robben Island, the former prison off the coast of Cape Town where he was incarcerated for 27 years.
8. Nefertiti Bust
Nefertiti, the Egyptian queen and Great Royal Wife of the pharaoh Akhenaten, is portrayed as an emblem of elegance with her long neck, high cheekbones, and impeccably groomed brows. Sculpted by Thutmose in 1345 BCE, Nefertiti is displayed in the Neues Museum, one of the six extraordinary institutions on Museum Island in Berlin.
9. Christ the Redeemer
125-feet tall and 98-feet wide, French sculptor Paul Landowski’s distinct gargantuan Jesus with his arms has spread out like a “T” has dominated the apex of Corcovado mountain in Rio de Janeiro since 1931. Definitely a must when in Rio! Needless to say, the iconic stance is one of the most cliched tourist poses.
10. Tian Tan Buddha
This 112 foot-tall Buddha sits serenely atop a hill on Lantau Island in Hong Kong. Completed in 1993, the ‘Tian Tan Buddha’ is one of the most visited sites in this vibrant metropolis.
11. Rape of Prosperina
Gianlorenzo Bernini’s portrayal of Pluto abducting Proserpina to bring her to the underworld will tug on your heart strings…especially when you catch a glimpse of the tear on her left cheek as she’s struggling to escape his grip. See this Baroque masterpiece, completed in 1622, at the Borghese Gallery in Rome.
12. Daphne and Apollo
Yet another masterpiece by Baroque maestro Bernini on display at Rome’s Borghese Gallery, this one depicting the myth of Daphne and Apollo. In a nutshell, Apollo has beef with Eros, who subsequently shoots Apollo with a gold arrow, which prompts him to fall in love with Daphne. Eros pegged her with a lead arrow that turned her off from his advances, and to get him off her back, she summons her father to turn her into a laurel tree. The marble sculpture, completed in 1624, depicting the moment of her transformation is beyond astounding.
13. Mount Rushmore
Completed in 1941 by father and son team Gutzon and Lincoln Borglum, the faces of former presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln are carved into a 60-foot-high granite mountain in Keystone, South Dakota.
14. Manneken Pis
This two-foot-tall naked bronze boy perpetually relieves himself in a fountain on the corner of Rue du Chêne and the pedestrian Rue de l’Étuve in Brussels, about a five-minute stroll from the Grand Place. This Brussels icon is known to sport the occasional costume. Artist Jerome Duquesnoy sculpted the original version in 1619, but the current version on display is replica–the original has been the target of several both failed and successful thefts.
15. Statue of Liberty
An emblem of New York City and an icon of freedom! Since 1886, Lady Liberty has proudly flaunted her torch in New York Harbor. The copper figure, designed by sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi and built by Gustave Eiffel, was a gift to the United States from France.
16. Cloud Gate
Known colloquially as the Bean, Anish Kapoor’s ‘Cloud Gate’ sculpture stands in Chicago’s Liberty Park. Since its unveiling in 2006, people have flocked to it in droves to admire the reflection of the Chicago skyline and, in more recent years, to snap a selfie. Comprised of 168 stainless steel plates, the work was unveiled in 2006.
17. The Winged Victory of Samothrace
Along with the ‘Mona Lisa’ and the aforementioned ‘Venus de Milo’, this sculpture of Nike, the Greek goddess of victory, completes the Louvre’s Holy Trinity. Discovered in 1883 on the island of Samothrace, the piece is believed to have been created in 200-190 BCE and is considered a masterpiece of the Hellenistic period.
These minimalist monolithic statues featuring ginormous heads and pursed lips draw crowds to Easter Island, a remote territory of Chile in the middle of the Pacific. Carved from an indigenous stone during the 12th and 13th centuries, some of these statues in Rapa Nui stand 33-feet high.
19. Perseus with the Head of Medusa
Medusa’s tale just breaks my heart, but that’s a whole ‘nother story. Perseus was tasked with beheading this Gorgon known for a visage so painful on the eyes it turned its onlookers to stone. Rather than gaze directly at her, Perseus kept an eye on her reflection in his polished sword and struck at the right moment. Antonio Canova’s version, unveiled in 1801, stands in the Vatican Museums, while the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York houses a replica.
20. The Little Mermaid
Before Ariel swam around Disney’s animated waters, “The Little Mermaid” was the titular nameless character in Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale. Edvard Eriksen’s bronze portrayal has been gazing out to sea since 1913 from her perch on a rock along the Langelinie promenade in Copenhagen.
21. Venus of Willendorf
Don’t let this figurine’s small size (4.4 inches) make you think anything less of its significance. Venus, the Roman goddess of love, was said to have brought good luck and was the inspiration for many sculptors back in their time. Created around 25,000 years ago, this Venus was discovered in a small town near Willendorf, Austria in 1908 and can be found at the Naturhistorisches Museum in Vienna.
22. The Capitoline Wolf
Did you realize that this sculpture from the Middle Ages didn’t include Romulus and Remus until the Renaissance? The Capitoline Wolf has become Mater Romanorum and depicts the legend of the founding of Rome. You can see it at Rome’s Capitoline Museums.
23. The Motherland Calls
When it was unveiled in 1967, The Motherland Calls was the biggest sculpture in the world. Since then, it lost that title but still remains the largest one in Europe. The 279-foot-tall statue, designed by Yevgeny Vuchetich and Nikolai Nikitin, displays a woman stepping forward as she flashes her sword. A significant figure in Russia, she can be found at the location of the battlegrounds where the Battle of Stalingrad took place, during World War II. Two hundred steps lead from the area’s base to the foot of the statue, each representing a day of the bloody 200-day battle.
24. The Discus Thrower (Discobolus)
This Greek sculpture, completed by Myron, is one of the most famous sculptures in the world. Myron’s work displays a young athlete’s poised face during the final movement prior to throwing the disk. The original bronze piece, sculpted roughly between 460-650 BC, was lost but has been recreated numerous times by the Romans in marble. They can be found all over the world, from The British Museum in London to Italy’s National Museum of Rome.
Alright, it’s not really one of the most famous sculptures in the world but we wanted to finish this article with a nod to Stranger Things fans. Maman (mom in French), a major piece of Louise Bourgeois, is currently visible at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. The spider also graced the Tate Modern in London (which commissioned it) and the Museum of Fine Arts of Ottawa before creeping over to the Mori Museum in Tokyo.