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Acropolis: The name is formed from the Greek words for high and city, and unless qualified by some other place name, refers the the Acropolis of Athens. This is the rocky emminence where the temples to Athena are located, and is probably the most important single locus of Western cultural heritage. The temples were built in the Age of Pericles, replacing earlier generations of temples on the same ground, which were destroyed by the Persion invaders, who sacked Athens in 480 BCE. The Parthenon, the Erechtheion, the Propylaea, and the Temple of Athena Nike are all on this hilltop. The removal of the Elgin Marbles, now in England, from the Parthenon, played a large part in the cultural momentum of the Neoclassical movement. The ethics of their removal, called looting by many, and a rescue by others, has been hotly debated ever since. Many of the sculptures had been burned for lime by the modern Greeks, and War soon devastated the Acropolis, destroyed much more, so on balance, it has probably been a good thing, but the removal of the marbles has long been deeply resented by the Greeks.

Aluminum Oxide: A synthethic abrasive used in grindstones, both on bench grinders and on hand held grinders, and in coated abrasives (e.g., sandpaper.) Aluminum oxide stones are often pink, blue, light gray, or white. In the studio, aluminum oxide wheels are often used for sharpening steel, and both wheels and coated abrasives are used for grinding marble and other softer stones. The abrasive is not hard enough to grind carbide tools, granite, or similar hard stones.

Anisotropy: Not having the same physical properties in all directions. Slate, which splits more easily in one plane than in another, is a good example of an anisotropic material.

Archaic Period of Greece: The years from 750 to 500 BCE. The sculpture of this period, though often beautiful, has a rigid, stylized, unnatural look. Faces of Archaic sculpture often have a characteristic smile similar to smile seen on ships figureheads and outsider art.

Atalanta: In Greek Mythology, Atalanta was the daughter of King Iausus. Abandoned on a hillside at birth, she was rescued and raised by a she-bear. Atalanta grew up to be a virgin huntress, priestess of Artemis, and heroine of numerous adventures with her hero peers. It was she who drew first blood in the Caledonian Boar Hunt, and she was the only female Argonaut.

Baroque: Relating to the art, architecture, music, etc., of the 17th and 18th Century Europe. The architecture is characterized by Classical motifs with the addition of ornate and elaborate detail. Bernini is the quintessential Baroque sculptor, and Reubens the quintessential Baroque painter.

Basalt: A very hard, plain, grey stone, that can be polished to a glassy finish. Carved in ancient Egypt.

Bedding: The direction of the original layers of sediment in a sedimentary stone, or in a metamorphic stone, such as marble, that originated as a sedimentary stone. Stone cleaves more easily between these layers, so the bedding direction must always be considered when splitting a stone. A carver may also choose tools differently when working from one side of the stone or the other because of the bedding direction. The bedding is also significant when the weight of some projection, such as an extended arm arm, will apply significant torque to some part of the finished piece. See also rift.

Boucharde: See bush hammer.

Bozzetto: (Italian) A small model of a piece, usually wax, clay, or plaster, from which a sculptor works. The French word is maquette

Bronze: The name for numerous alloys of tin and copper. Bronze has been used since at least the third century BCE, for sculpture, weapons, tools, and other purposes.

Bronze Age: The historic period in which bronze was the most important metal for weapons and tools. The bracketing dates vary widely by region. In Greece, the Bronze Age is usually said to begin at around 2900 BCE, and end with the beginning of the Iron age at around 1200 BCE. Bronze was not abruptly eclipsed by iron, but was gradually supplanted by cheaper and more abundant iron.

Bruise: Striking translucent stones, such as marble and alabaster, can leave a milky, relatively opaque region that extends down into the stone, anywere from a millimeter to a centimeter or more in marble, and considerably deeper in alabaster. This does not ordinarily apply to limestone, because it is already opaque, or to hard stones like granite. Bruising is also called "stunning," particularly in older usage.

Bush Hammer: A hammer with a textured face, often small pyramids, for pulverizing the surface of a stone. Also called a boucharde. When used on marble, it is sometimes called a frosting hammer.

Carbide: See tungsten carbide.

Carborundum: See silicon carbide.

Chryselephantine: Figurative sculpture constructed primarily of ivory and gold over a wooden frame. Often larger than life, they were frequently further decorated with glass, precious and semi-precious stones. The statues frequently served not only for worship, but as a component of the treasury, as much of the gold work was designed to be removed an melted down in times of hardship, to be replaced when finances allowed. In ancient Greece, chryselphantine was the artistic medium to which the greatest prestige attached.

Cinquecento: Short for the Italian millecinquecento, which means 1500. Note, this is equivalent to saying "the 1500's". The same period is otherwise called the Sixteenth Century.

Classical Period of Greece : refers to the years 480 to 336. This period begins with the defeat of the Persians by the unified Greeks led by Athens, and spear-headed by Sparta. It ends with the death of Alexander the Great.

Claw Chisel: A sculptor's chisel with multiple points instead of an edge. It is primarily used for cleaning up rough carving preparatory to finishing with an edged chisel, and occasionally as a finish tool, to leave a striated surface texture. Also called a tooth chisel.

Contrapposto: Italian for "counterpoise." This is the practice of modelling the figure in a pose characterised by an S curve. This gives a more dynamic and lively appearance. The introduction of contrapposto and similar dynamic poses is one of the chief innovations of the Classical Greek period. There is a striking contrast between the poses of this period and the static poses of the Archaic art. Occasionally it refers to the composition of multiple figures posed in reaction to each other.

Club Hammer: A short handled hammer for sculptors. The head is just a rectangular block of iron.

Dating Conventions:

  • AD is an abbreviation of the Latin Anno Domini, meaning "the year of the Lord." It is the traditional designation for dates since the nominal birth of Christ, but is now out of favor with scholars because of its implicit ethnocentricity.
  • BC is an abbreviation of "before Christ." Like AD, it is now out of favor and has been replaced by BCE.
  • CE is an abbreviation for "common era." Synonymous with AD.
  • BCE An abbreviation for "before the common era." Synonymous with BC.
  • BP is an abbreviation for "before present," with "present" meaning 1950. This is used in the context of radio-carbon dating, because the system was calibrated in 1950.
  • Italian The convention in Italian is to give the ordinal number of the century. What is called the Fifteenth Century in English is Quattrocento in Italian, Similarly to saying "the Fourteen Hundreds."
  • The Xth Century CE is the century number following the century of the given date. E.g., Michaelangelo completed the Pietá in 1499 CE, which was the Fifteenth Century
  • The Xth Century BCE is the century number one larger than the given date. E.g., the Greeks defeated the Persians at Plataea in 479 BCE, which was in the Fifth Century BCE.

Grain: The secondary direction in which an igneous rock cleaves relatively easily is called the grain direction, as opposed to the rift, which is the primary direction. See also bedding, and rift.

Engineer's Hammer: A one handed sledgehammer, with a relatively long handle. Used primarily by tradesmen, but occasionally by sculptors.

Feather and Wedge: The combination of a steel wedge and two semi-cylindrical spacers that are used to split stone. Feather and wedge sets, inserted into a row of holes, can split stones of enormous size with relatively little effort. Wedges are sometimes used without feathers, particularly when splitting stones with a pronounced grain.

Felsic vs Mafic: See Mafic vs Felsic

Frosting hammer: See bush hammer.

Hellenistic Period of Greece : The years between the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BCE, and the annexation of Greece by the ascendant Romans in 146 BCE. The period is characterised by the widespread influence of mature Greek culture and thought throughout the Mediterranean, and the concurrent decline of Greece proper as the center of Greek culture.

Hyper-Realism: Sculpture that is the three dimensional analog of Photorealist or Hyper-Realist painting. Realistically polychromed, and often cast from live models, these sculptures can be startlingly realistic.

The amount Hype-Realist work done in fine arts by well known artists is dwarfed by the volume of work done to support FX. Special effects sculptors have carried the art of sculpting animals to a particularly extraordinary level, especially the convincing representation of dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures and imaginary beings.

The genre has always been limited by the very thing that makes it interesting. The contrast between the extraordinary verisimilitude of the pieces and the absence of life almost invariably produces a feeling of the uncanny that dominates any other emotional effect the work might have.

Only a few artists have managed to avoid this problem, and in doing so they have not carried verisimilitude as far as the true Hyper-Realists. The sculpture of the Photorealists painter Audrey Flack, the one-off sculpture of Pavlova, done in the 1930's by Malvina Hoffman, and the early 20th C. work of Gilbert Bayes may point the way to a solution.

Intaglio: See Relief.

Inédit: An original model for a sculpture that has never been cast.

Iron Age: The historic period in which iron replaced bronze as the most important metal for weapons and tools. It is an imprecise term, and the bracketing dates vary by region. In Greece and the ancient Middle East, it is usually said to begin around 1200 BCE. The Iron Age in a given region is said to end not when iron ceases to be the dominant metal, but rather when historical sources replace archaeology as the the main source of our knowledge. Thus, the Greek Iron Age is usually regarded as ending in the Hellenistic period. Authors differ on precise dates even within a region, and sub-divide the period differently. One useful distinction is between the Early Iron Age and the Middle Iron Age, which are distinguished by the availability of steel. In Greece, this division falls in the early Fifth or late Sixth Centuries BCE.

Lump Hammer: A short handled hammer used by tradesmen and sculptors. The iron head has two faces, and is similar to a club hammer, but has slightly tapered sides and smoothed corners.

Mafic vs Felsic: (Scientific) Mafic is a made up word describing a large class of igneous rocks composed primarily of magnesium (Ma) and iron (Fe). Basalt is a common mafic stone. The iron makes these rocks heavy, with a specific gravity greater than 3.0. Felsic, another made up word, describes the other large class of igneous rocks, which are composed primarily of silicon, oxygen, aluminum, and potassium. The "fel" is for feldspar, which is the silicon-rich main constituent. Felsic rocks generally have a specific gravity of less than 3.0.

Maquette: (French) See Bozzetto.

Monolith(ic): From the Latin monolithus meaning, consisting of a single stone. In archaeology, the word usually refers to a large, plain, stone monument, usually pillar like, sometimes of raw stone. As an adjective, in the context of stone sculpture, it is often used to describe a work in stone that emphasizes the massive quality of the original block.

Mycenaea: The capital city, 90 km south of Athens, of an early Greek people who dominated the region from about 1600 BCE to about 1100 BCE. Mycenae is famous for the massive stone ruins, and for the discovery, by Heinrich Schliemann, in 1876, of a trove of artifacts that included the gold Mask of Agamemnon (which may or may not be Agamemnon, and may or may not even be authentic.) Much of the mythology of the Greeks is thought to originate with the Mycenaeans. The only surviving example of monumental Mycenaean sculpture is the famous Lion Gate.

Non-finito: Non-finito refers to the practice of deliberately leaving a piece unfinished. The practice begain in the Renaissance, was famously used by Michelangelo, and has frequently been used since, notably by Rodin, but also by many others. Rodin's use of the technique often seems somewhat affected, as it tends to be used in pieces that are actually carved indirectly.

Perserschutt: German for "Persian dump," the Perserchutt is the ceremonial dumping ground on the Acropolis where the Athenians buried the sacred remains of the temples destroyed by the Persian army in 480. Bad luck for Athens was good luck for history, because this repository of sculpture and other artifacts was preserved for millenia, until it was excavated in the 19th Century, bringing to light many examples of Archaic and early Classical sculpture, including the Kritios Boy, and numerous Kouroi.

Phydias: 480-430 BC, was the the greatest of the Greek sculptors of the Classical period. No works still in existence can be attributed to Phydias with certainty, but numerous Roman and Hellenistic copies in marble exist. It is not known whether Phydias himself worked in marble; Plato claims that he did not.

Piccirilli Brothers: A commercial carving establishment in the Bronx, NY, which opened in 1888, and carved many of the great works of sculpture produced in the United States at the end of the 19th and well into the 20th Century. Among the works produced by the Piccirillis were the sculpture of Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial, The Four Continents at the Custom House in New York, The pediments, lions, and cornice figures on the New York Public Library at 42nd st., and the Dupont Circle Fountain in Washington DC.

Plastic Arts: The visual arts, as opposed to music, poetry, etc. The term traditionally refers to painting, and drawing, as well as sculpture, but is becoming somewhat ambiguous, as some authors now use it to refer only to three dimensional arts.

Ponderation: This refers to the nature of the planting of the figure's feet. Weight can be on one leg or both. The "engaged" leg is the one that bears the figure's weight, and the other is said to be "free." The the figure can be still or in motion.

Punch: A spike-shaped chisel used for roughing out stone. Also called a point chisel.

Quattrocento: Short for the Italian millequattrocento, which means 1400. Note, this is equivalent to saying "the 1400's". The same period is otherwise called the Fifteenth Century.

Relief: Sculpture in which the subject is carved leaving an attached back panel. The French term bas-relief is often used as a synonym for relief, but this properly means low relief, i.e., relief in the carving or modelling is shallow and does not employ undercuts. Relief may also be incised, meaning that the outlines of the figure are cut into the stone but the figures themselves are at the same level as the background. Traditionally, the Italian terminology distinguishes several degrees of relief:

  • Basso-relievo: elements are only slightly lifted from the background.
  • Alto-relievo: elements raised from the background half or more of their circumference. Some elements may be entirely in-the-round.
  • Mezzo-relievo occupies the middle ground.
  • Intaglio reliefs are carved in the negative, with the surface of the slab being the background, and the figures hollowed out.

Renaissance: The period of European cultural history following the late Middle Ages, roughly the Fourteenth to the Seventeenth Centuries, depending upon the region. The word is from the Old Frence for "to be born again." Sculpture in the Early Renaissance peaks with the later work of Donatello (1386--1466.) Sculpture in the High Renaissance, 1490--1527, is dominated by Michelangelo. The work of Giambologna epitiomizes sculpture of the late Renaissance (also known as Mannerism.) The Italian Renaissance ends around 1590, and is succeeded by the Baroque period.

Scarpellino : (Italian) A skilled professional carver who roughed-out sculpture for the nominal artist.

Seicento: Short for the Italian millequattrocento, which means 1600. Note, this is equivalent to saying "the 1600's". The same period is otherwise called the Seventeenth Century.

Silicon Carbide: An ultra-hard synthethic abrasive, invented in the 1880's. It is also known by the trade name Carborundum, and is the abrasive often found in green and dark grey grinding wheels, and in some coated abrasives. It cuts every hard material used by sculptors, in particular, it can be used on carbide tool tips, as well as granite and similar stones.

Stun: See bruise.

Rift: The direction in which an igneous rock cleaves most easily is called the rift direction. See also bedding, and grain.

Round Mallet or Hammer: A short handled sculptors hammer, with a tapered iron cylinder for a head.

Steel: Alloys of iron containing sufficient carbon to harden them, but not so much much as to make them fragile (e.g. cast iron) are called Steel. Steel may also contain small amounts of chromium, molybdenum, nickel or other metals, which modify its properties in various ways, but carbon is the key ingredient. Most steels can be softened and hardened using heat treatments, allowing them to be worked soft, then hardened for durability.

Trecento: Short for the Italian milletrecento, which means 1300. Note, this is equivalent to saying "the 1300's". The same period is otherwise called the Fourteenth Century.

Tungsten Carbide: An ultra-hard metal-like material used for cutting edges many power and hand tools. Tungsten carbide can cut any stone, wood, metal, or tool material used by sculptors with the exception of silicon carbide and diamond, which can be used to shape carbide tools. When a tool is called "carbide" it usually means that the tool is steel with a carbide cutting edge attached to it by braizing. Often, the carbide is set into a notch in the steel. Small carbide cutting burrs are sometimes ground from a single piece of carbide. "Structured carbide" refers to tools with irregular grains of tungsten carbide, rather than cutting edges.

Verism: The name given to sculptural styles that show the true characteristics of the subject at a fine grain, especially signs of age, such as wrinkles, or a furrowed brow. It is used as a synonym for "warts and all," particularly when referring to ancient Roman sculpture, in which verism contrasts sharply with the idealization characteristic of the parallel Classical Greek tradition. Roman portrait scultptors often used verism to lend gravity or dignity to the portrayal of the subject, whereas the Greek tradition idealized the subject.

Beware that 20th and 21st Centuries Hyper-Realist sculpture is often referred to as Verist Sculpture regardless of whether the work of the artist is verist by the traditional meaning of the term. Verism and and a high degree of realism or naturalism may or may not occur together. For instance, grotesque and/or caricatured sculpture may be verist, but not realistic, while the work of the Hyper-Realist De Andrea is extremely realistic, but has an airbrushed Playboy centerfold quality that is almost the opposite of verism. The work of Duane Hanson may be regarded as both realist and verist.