Among the oldest sculptures discovered to date is the Lion-man, which was found in 1939 in a German cave. It is between 35,000 and 40,000 years old and belongs to the prehistoric period, or the period before the invention of writing. Another iconic prehistoric sculpture is Venus of Willendorf, a 4.4 inch figurine portraying a woman. It was found in Austria and is estimated to have been carved between 24,000 and 22,000 BCE. The earliest sculpture on our list is however the Great Sphinx of Giza, the oldest known monumental sculpture from ancient Egypt. In ancient Greece and Rome, sculptures were often made to honor the various Gods or to show the greatness of the kings. Venus de Milo, portraying the Greek goddess of love and beauty, is perhaps the most famous work of ancient Greek sculpture. During the reign of the Roman Emperor Constantine (AD 306 – 337), Christianity began to transition to the dominant religion of the Roman Empire and, with time, European sculpture began to depict Biblical characters and stories. Among the most famous of such artworks are the statues of David by Renaissance artists Donatello and Michelangelo. The most famous piece of modern sculpture is perhaps The Thinker, created by the French artist Auguste Rodin. Here are the 10 most famous sculptures in the world.
#10 Ecstasy of Saint Teresa
Location: Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome, Italy
Sculptor: Gian Lorenzo Bernini
Saint Teresa of Avila was a Spanish nun who claimed to have experienced divine visions in which she would suddenly feel consumed by the love of God, feel the bodily presence of Christ or of angels, and be lifted to an exalted state of ecstasy. She described these visions in her writings. In 1622, forty years after her death, Teresa was canonized by Pope Gregory XV. This sculpture depicts one of the visions described by her in her spiritual autobiography. In it, an angel carrying a fire-tipped spear appears before her. He pierces her heart repeatedly with the spear, an act that sends her into a state of spiritual rapture. Gian Lorenzo Bernini is regarded as a pioneer of Baroque sculpture, a style the flourished in Europe from early 17th to late 18th century. In this masterpiece, Bernini takes the principles of the Baroque; drama, emotion and theatricality; to unparalleled heights. Ecstasy of Saint Teresa is the most renowned work of one of the most influential sculptors of all time.
Location: St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City
Michelangelo, active during the Renaissance, is widely regarded as the most influential sculptor of all time. He was just 24 at the time of completion of the Pieta, which was soon regarded as one of the world’s great masterpieces of sculpture. Pieta, as a theme in Christian art, depicts Virgin Mary supporting the body of the dead Christ after the Crucifixion. Though the subject is not a part of the Biblical narrative of the Crucifixion, it has been widely represented in both European painting and sculpture. This famous work depicts Virgin Mary grieving over the body of Jesus who is lying on her lap after the Crucifixion. At the time of its completion, some observers criticized Michelangelo for showing Mary too youthful to have a son who was 33 years old. Michelangelo defended himself by saying that her youth symbolizes her incorruptible purity. Pieta is the only sculpture ever signed by Michelangelo. The sculptor’s signature can be seen across Mary’s chest.
#8 The Bronze David
Location: Bargello Museum, Florence, Italy
Year: c. 1440s
The Bronze David is renowned for being the first large-scale free-standing nude statue since antiquity. It is also the first unsupported standing work of bronze cast during the Renaissance. It depicts David, of the story of David and Goliath, holding the sword of his defeated enemy and with his foot on Goliath’s severed head. David is completely naked, apart from a laurel-topped hat and boots. The well-proportioned and delicate figure of David bears contrast with the giant sword in his hand, perhaps indicating the assistance of God in his achieving the incredible feat. Donatello is regarded as one of the founding fathers of the Renaissance and he was the leading sculptor of its early period. Among other things, he gave a different direction to Western sculpture taking it away from the prevalent Gothic style to the Classical style. Donatello produced a clothed marble statue of David in Gothic style in 1409 but it is nowhere as famous as the Bronze David, which is executed in Classical style and considered his greatest masterpiece.
#7 The Great Sphinx
Location: Giza Plateau, Giza, Egypt
Sculptor: Not Known
Year: Not Known
One of the most famous monuments in the world, the Great Sphinx of Giza is a giant limestone statue of a sphinx, a mythical creature with the body of a lion and the head of a human. It is 240 feet (73 m) long from paw to tail; stands 66 feet (20 m) high from the base to the top of the head; and is 62 feet (19 m) wide at its rear haunches. The Great Sphinx is the oldest known monumental sculpture in Egypt and, for centuries, it was the largest sculpture in the world. However, not much in known about the monument. Scholars remain in disagreement over when the Great Sphinx was constructed and for whom. The most popular view is that it represents the Pharaoh Khafre of the 4th dynasty during the Old Kingdom and thus it was constructed during his reign which lasted from 2558 BCE to 2532 BCE. According to some recent studies the Sphinx was built as long ago as 7000 BC suggesting that the statue was the work of an advanced civilization predating the ancient Egyptians. However, traditional Egyptologists reject this view.
#6 Christ the Redeemer
Location: Corcovado mountain, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Sculptor: Paul Landowski
In 1921, the Roman Catholic Circle of Rio de Janeiro proposed the construction of a statue of Jesus Christ on Mount Corcovado. The commanding height of the summit, 2,310 feet (704 m), would make the statue visible from anywhere in Rio. Brazilian engineer Heitor da Silva Costa was chosen to design the statue while French sculptor Paul Landowski created the work. Silva Costa worked in collaboration with French engineer Albert Caquot while Romanian sculptor Gheorghe Leonida fashioned the face of the statue. Christ the Redeemer, known as Cristo Redentor in native Portuguese, was completed in 1931. It stands 98 feet (30 m) tall excluding its 26 feet (8 m) pedestal. Horizontally, the outstretched arms of Christ span 92 feet (28 m). Christ the Redeemer has become a symbol of Christianity across the world. It is a cultural icon of both Rio de Janeiro and Brazil. The statue was voted as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in a 21st century poll with more than 100 million votes.
#5 Manneken Pis
Location: Museum of the City of Brussels, Belgium
Sculptor: Hieronymus Duquesnoy the Elder
The name of this statue literally means “peeing little man” or “peeing boy”. It is a small bronze sculpture depicting a naked little boy urinating into a fountain’s basin. It is located in the center of Brussels at the junction of the road Rue du Chene and the pedestrian Rue de l’Etuve. The Manneken Pis is considered an emblem of the rebellious spirit of Brussels and it is one of the most famous attractions in the city. The statue gained in importance by the end of the 17th century and its popularity has grown since then making it “an object of glory appreciated by all and renowned throughout the world”. There are numerous legends associated with the Manneken Pis. He is dressed in costumes several times each week and his wardrobe consists of around one thousand different costumes. He has received gifts from lords and kings and has been abducted and saved several times. The current statue is a copy which dates from 1965. The original is kept at the Museum of the City of Brussels.
#4 The Thinker
Location: Musee Rodin, Paris, France
Sculptor: Auguste Rodin
Auguste Rodin was a towering figure in the field of sculpture who is widely considered the father of modern sculpture. He originally conceived this statue as part of a large commission, begun in 1880, for a doorway surround called The Gates of Hell. Rodin based this commission on The Divine Comedy of Dante and some critics believe that The Thinker originally intended to depict Dante. Many marble and bronze editions of The Thinker in several sizes were executed during the lifetime of Rodin and even after his death. However, the most famous version is the 6 feel (1.8 m) tall bronze statue that was cast in 1904 and that sits in the gardens of the Rodin Museum in Paris. This image of a man lost in thought, but whose powerful body suggests a great capacity for action, has became one of the most celebrated sculptures ever known. The Thinker was originally named The Poet and it is often used as an image to represent philosophy. It is the most famous work of the greatest modern sculptor.
#3 Venus de Milo
Location: Louvre Museum, Paris, France
Sculptor: probably Alexandros of Antioch
Year: between 130 BCE and 100 BCE
It is generally believed that this statue was discovered on 8th April 1820 by a peasant named Yorgos Kentrotas. He found it in pieces on Milos, a Greek island in the Aegean Sea. The sculpture was subsequently presented to King Louis XVIII of France who then gave it to the Louvre, where it is on display to this very day. Also known as Aphrodite of Milos, Venus de Milo is thought to represent Aphrodite, the ancient Greek goddess of love, beauty, pleasure and procreation. The Roman goddess counterpart to Aphrodite was Venus. The statue is believed to have been carved by Alexandros of Antioch, a sculptor of the Hellenistic period. Apart from the much discussed mystery about its missing arms, it was originally draped in jewelry including a bracelet, earrings and a headband. However all these things have been long lost. Venus de Milo is perhaps the most famous work of ancient Greek sculpture. It has been widely referenced in popular culture and has greatly influenced modern artists including Salvador Dali.
Location: Accademia Gallery, Florence, Italy
In 1501, the city government of Florence commissioned Michelangelo to create this statue as part of a series to adorn the roof-line of Florence’s cathedral dome. However, upon its completion, they were so overwhelmed by its beauty that it was decided to place it in wide-view next to the entrance to the Palazzo Vecchio, the town hall of Florence. The marble sculpture was moved in 1873 to the Gallery of the Academy, an art museum in Florence. A replica was placed at its original location in 1910. Michelangelo’s David most likely represents the Biblical hero David after he has made up his mind to fight Goliath but before the actual fight. This is unlike earlier Renaissance depictions of David which show him after the fight and include some part of the giant Goliath. Michelangelo masterfully depicts the Biblical hero with his brow drawn, his neck tense and his veins bulging out of his lowered right hand. David is the most famous sculpture of perhaps the greatest sculptor of all time. It is one of the best known artworks in the world.
#1 Statue of Liberty
Location: Liberty Island, Manhattan, New York City, New York, U.S.
Sculptor: Frederic Auguste Bartholdi
Liberty, a personification of the concept of liberty, has existed as a goddess in many cultures. Since the French Revolution, the figure of Liberty is viewed as a symbol of France and the French Republic. This renowned copper statue was a gift from the people of France to the people of the United States. It was designed by French sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi and built by renowned French civil engineer Gustave Eiffel. The Statue of Liberty depicts the Roman goddess Libertas holding a torch above her head with her right hand and in her left hand she is carrying a tablet on which is inscribed in Roman numerals the date of the U.S. Declaration of Independence. As an American icon, the Statue of Liberty has been depicted on the country’s coinage and stamps. It has also become an international icon of freedom. It was described as a “masterpiece of the human spirit” and designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984. One of the best known monuments, the Statue of Liberty is the most famous sculpture in the world.