History of Clay Sculpture
Because clay is a widely abundant material, civilizations around the world have created clay sculptures since ancient times. Societies from places as diverse as Africa, Mesoamerica, Mesopotamia, and China are all known for their terracotta pottery, bricks, and ritual sculptures. In Classical antiquity, rulers commissioned clay sculptures of people important in political and religious circles. During the Renaissance, artists like Luca della Robbia and Michelangelo helped popularize the medium. Clay was often used as a cheaper and more versatile alternative to materials like bronze and marble. As interest in this art form grew, European art academies required their artists to master clay sculpture. Porcelain, a clay-based ceramic material, originated in China, where craftspeople made intricate vessels. The Chinese sent porcelain to Europe in the 16th century, leading to various experimentations with the new material. Artists continued to experiment with clay, and today, there are more variations in the available materials.
Clay Sculpture Techniques
Artists can choose between water-based and oil-based materials depending on what kind of clay sculptures they wish to produce. Water-based ceramic clay is fired at high temperatures to create hard terracotta, earthenware, porcelain, and stoneware works. After firing, these wares and sculptures can be painted or gilded with different metals to mimic other sculptural mediums. Oil-based clay, on the other hand, cannot be fired. Because oil does not evaporate, this clay remains malleable even after long periods of time. Artists who work with oil-based clay usually do so because they need to constantly move their sculptures, as with animation artists.
Artists Known For Clay Sculpture
Renaissance clay sculptors include Michelangelo, Donatello, and Luca della Robbia. Baroque masters of the medium include Gian Lorenzo Bernini and Alessandro Algardi, known for his portrait busts. French sculptor Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse is most known for his terracotta work “The Abduction of Hippodamia” (1877). Famous modern clay sculptures include “Leda” (1900) by Aristide Maillol and “Camille Claudel with a Bonnet” by Auguste Rodin. Both sculptors worked with terracotta and often made clay models before creating a cast in bronze. David Mach is known for inserting colorful matchsticks into his clay head sculptures of celebrities like Marilyn Monroe, Charlie Chaplin, and Elvis Presley.