French Sculpture Census


2007 Bassett and Fogelman, Looking at European Sculpture

A very useful book to find definitions of sculpture types is:
Jane BASSETT and Peggy FOGELMAN, Looking at European Sculpture. A Guide to technical terms, The J. Paul Getty Museum in collaboration with The Victoria and Albert Museum, 2007.
The authors kindly allowed me to quote some of their entries. I am happy to thank them.

A three-dimensional partial representation of a real, imagined, or symbolic human figure that concentrates on the head - the locus of intellect and personality - and some portion of the chest (see TRUNCATION). The arms may or may not be included, but the lower torso and legs are by definition excluded. The sculpted bust is an inherently artificial format because of its incompleteness. It assumes the willingness of the viewer to accept the fragment as a convincing part of the whole and to complete the missing portions in his or her own imagination. Most sculpted busts are portraits, a use derived from ancient Roman tradition and revived in the Renaissance, and they often bear adornments that indicate the identity, status, or symbolic meaning of the figure represented. The chest of a sculpted bust may be nude, clothed, or draped. (p. 15)

An impression or MOLD of the face of a deceased person, usually made by oiling the skin and taking a plaster cast of the features. A death mask could serve as the basis for a tomb effigy, and later as the MODEL for additional portraits, because it so accurately recorded the features of the deceased subject. In a LIFE MASK or LIFE CAST, a plaster cast is made from the face of a living subject. Molds of other parts of the body, such as the hands, are sometimes made as reference tools for the sculpting of full-length figures. (p. 27)

An adjective describing the image, often a portrait, of a person on horseback. The equestrian portrait monument in European sculpture derived from ancient Roman precedents and was intended to evoke the glory and power of the Roman empire. This sculptural genre was, therefore, extremely popular for the representation of military leaders and rulers. For technical reasons large equestrian monuments were usually executed in bronze rather than stone: the tensile strength and lighter weight of a hollow-cast bronze allowed the sculptor to show the horse rearing or prancing on two or three legs without the need for additional SUPPORTS. (p. 33-34)

A sculpted figure or bust that terminates - either at the chest or below the waist - in an abstract blocklike mass. The herm, also called a "term", apparently originated in ancient Greece as a large pile of stones resembling a giant phallus, which was dedicated to Hermes, the god of travel, and placed along a road as a marker. It evolved into a sculpted form consisting of a representational head atop a rectangular pedestal with an erect phallus. In later Greek art the herm form lost its exclusive association with Hermes; heads of other male and female deities, famous personalities, or even ordinary portrait sitters were given block-like terminations and displayed on rectangular pedestals in various contexts and settings. The herm was used extensively in seventeenth-century European garden sculpture for representations of classical deities and mythological creatures of the forest. In the late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century Europe, it enjoyed even more widespread use for portraits and other subjects. (p. 45-46)

A three-dimensional sculpture CARVED or MODELED on all sides. A sculpture is still being considered to have been sculpted in-the-round even if the degree of finish is not equal on every side. This condition might occur, for example, if a work was intended to be placed in a niche, where some sides would not be visible. Sculpture is being described as being conceived or executed in-the-round to distinguish it from RELIEF. (p. 46)


In art historical usage, the term "medal" is used for any small circular flat work that exhibits relief decoration on one, or usually both sides. Medals can be executed in bronze, silver, lead, or gold.
"Medallions" are round or oval reliefs distinguished from medals by their larger size, although the terms are often used interchangeably. Medallions can be executed in any material, including wood, marble, terracotta, and bronze, and are often incorporated into larger works of sculpture, such as tomb monuments.
Portrait images typically decorate the front, or obverse, of a medal or medallion, whereas the back, or reverse, usually displays an emblem, symbolic motif, narrative scene, and/or inscription that refers specifically to the life or personality of the sitter portrayed on the front. Medals are often similar to coins in size, material, and type of decoration but were not intended for use as currency. (p. 58-59)



A work that is conceived, executed, and intended for display as one of a pair. Similarity in size and subject or symmetry of pose and composition are common devices for associating or visually unifying a pendant with its mate. (p. 69)

A small single-sided relief, usually executed in bronze, silver, lead, or gold, which can take any shape and therefore differs from a MEDAL. The subject matter represented in plaquettes, ranging from religious devotional images to popular mythological themes, is more general than in portrait medals. In the Renaissance, plaquettes were often incorporated into functional objects such as boxes, oil lamps, and candlestick bases; they could also be hung from a wall or sewn onto clothing. (p. 69)

Sculpture in which the elements of the composition project from the surface of a more or less flat background, known as the relief plane. Relief sculpture is classified according to the degree of projection from the relief plane.
High relief ("haut-relief" in French, "alto rilievo" in Italian) exhibits the greatest degree of projection, in which more than half of the mass of each compositional element extends out into space.
In low relief ("bas-relief" in French, "basso rilievo" in Italian), less than half the mass of each figure or decorative motif projects from the relief plane.
Middle relief ("demi-relief" in French, "mezzo rilievo" in Italian) falls between high and low relief in its degree of projection.
High, low, and middle relief are often combined in a single work in order to vary the composition, play with spatial illusion, and/or hierarchically order the images represented.
In very shallow relief, better known as "méplat" in French, "rilievo schiacciato", or "stiacciato", from the Italian for "squashed" or "flattened", the elements of the scene or composition barely project beyond the surface, and an illusion of spatial recession is achieved by undulating the surface within a very limited range of depth. The desired aesthetic in rilievo schiacciato is closely related to the convention of spatial representation in paintings.
Hollow relief ("cavo rilievo" in Italian) is a type of sculpture in which the forms of the composition project below the surface toward the unseen back of the relief panel, hence reversing the usual relationship between sculpted elements and their background. In hollow relief the compositional elements are concave rather than convex in relation to the surface. (p. 77-79)


A sculpture IN-THE-ROUND which represents an entire figure or animal. (p. 86)

A sculpture IN-THE-ROUND representing an entire figure on a scale that is substantially smaller than life-size (usually less than one-half life-size in height). Bronze statuettes were popular among collectors in the ancient world and were revived as a sculptural genre in Europe at the end of the fifteenth century. (p. 86)

In its most general sense, anything that holds up and/or bears the weight of a sculpture from below. A support accomplishes one or all of the following: bearing a sculpture's weight, raising its height to the desired viewing level, and achieving a pleasing visual transition between the sculpture and the ground.
"Support" encompasses the more specific terms "socle", "pedestal", and "base".
A socle (sometimes referred to by the French word "piédouche") is a small, three-dimensional support of varying form - round, square, rectangular, polygonal, or composite - usually decorated with moldings at top and bottom, and sometimes waisted in the middle. A socle can be made of the same material as the object it supports or of something different. If it is executed as part of the sculpture (for example, carved from the same piece of stone or cast together in bronze), the socle is said to be integral to the work of art. Socles may be decorated with RELIEF scenes, inscriptions, or applied MEDALLIONS or PLAQUETTES. A socle typically serves as a transitional element between a sculpture and the pedestal or piece of furniture on which it is displayed.
A pedestal is a support of larger dimensions; it can be tall and narrow to hold up a STATUETTE or BUST or deep and wide to bear a large figure or sculptural group. A traditional pedestal consists of three basic elements: the top section, called a "cornice" or "surbase"; the middle section, or body of the pedestal, called a "dado" or "die"; and the part of the pedestal nearest the ground, called a "foot", "plinth", or "base". Conventionally, the dado is the most slender element, with the cornice and plinth projecting outward to convey an impression of stability at the top and bottom. A pedestal's dado may display an inscription or relief decoration elucidating the subject of the sculpture it supports.
Technically, the term base connotes the lowest part of a column or, by extension, pedestal. However it has become a fairly generic term in common usage and is often employed interchangeably with socle and pedestal. "Base" is also used to describe a support for which the other two terms seem inappropriate. For example, European seventeenth- and eighteenth century bronzes were typically cast with a short supporting element decorated on its top surface with scenographic details of a landscape, clouds, or water. This support, which served to stabilize the bronze and suggest a natural setting for the sculpted image, is referred to as a base.
The term "support" also describes the element or elements within a stone composition that bear the weight and redistribute the downward thrust of the sculpture. For instance, the tree-stump supports so ubiquitous in marble figural sculpture are necessary to carry the weight of naturalistic stone figures that might otherwise snap or break at their slender ankles. (p. 88-91)


The way in which the lower portion and bottom edge of a sculpted BUST is treated. The artist's approach to this truncation determines how much of the human body is included in a representational bust and how that body is terminated to establish its bottom boundary. The term is interchangeable with "termination".
In the fifteenth century, portrait or allegorical busts often included the shoulders and upper portion of the arms, ending in a straight horizontal line above the elbows, a format probably derived from reliquary busts. This type of truncation encouraged the viewer to complete the partially depicted body in his or her own imagination but did nothing to mitigate the abrupt cutting-off of the figure.
By the end of the fifteenth-century, with the increasing awareness and admiration of ancient busts, terminations in which the subject's nude or partially draped chest ended in a continuous curved line became increasingly popular in humanist and courtly circles because of their conscious emulation of antiquity. These classicizing busts usually included the shoulders and chest, or only the chest, and were placed on SOCLES.
Mannerist artists of the late sixteenth century sometimes used the sitter's garb or armor to determine the truncation.
In the Baroque period, artists sought to mitigate the inherent artificiality of the truncated bust by employing sweeping curves and flowing draperies that would soften and distract from the termination and lend the portrait a greater sense of physical volume and lifelike animation.
Although classicizing terminations inspired by ancient Rome sculpture were widespread during the Neoclassical period of the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, proponents of a purer Grecian aesthetic regarded the square HERM truncation as preferable to the traditional Roman formula of a bust on a socle.
By the mid-nineteenth century sculptors had become increasingly innovative in their experiments with bust terminations, often adopting unconventional formulas that played upon the fragmentation inherent in the sculpted bust or emphasized its status as an object. (p. 97-98)

1. Jane Bassett and Peggy Fogelman, Looking at European Sculpture. A Guide to technical terms, The J. Paul Getty Museum in collaboration with The Victoria and Albert Museum, 2007