Portrait sculptures have served to commemorate and memorialize individuals for millennia--from the rich and powerful to the common folk--and sculptors carry on this rich tradition today. Saatchi Art is proud to offer an international selection of contemporary portrait sculptures for sale, from busts to full-body works in a variety of styles and mediums. All original sculptures ship directly from the artist’s studio to your door and carry our 100% satisfaction guarantee. Explore our selection now!
The history of portrait sculptures is deeply seeded in civilizations from around the world. Many societies reserved portraiture for members of the ruling elite. The ancient Egyptians, for example, carved full-length portraits of rulers into stone. Pre-Columbian societies also reserved large-scale portraits, in the form of colossal Olmec heads or carved Mayan slabs, for example, for members of the ruling family. Many groups who followed this practice, like the Egyptians and Romans, also utilized sculpted portraits for funerary situations, carving the deceased’s face to serve as a tomb marker. East Asian civilizations usually reserved sculpted portraits to depict religious figures like the Buddha. These practices carried on into later centuries, with the Renaissance witnessing an expansion of the style. Portrait busts became very popular during this time, and the personal portrait medal was introduced. Later styles of portrait sculptures evolved with contemporaneous artistic movements, resulting in abstracted approaches to the human form. As the style is so ingrained in the history of mankind and art, portraits are still a common subject for many sculptors.
Portrait sculptures are made in a variety of styles but remain in one of a few categories depicting the subject in a full-length view, as a bust, or as a head. Full-length portraits were historically commissioned to honor and celebrate a political or religious figure, white busts were reserved for more private use, such as in funerary or shrine contexts. Some cultures, including the Olmecs, created colossal stone sculptures of the heads of rulers, again to honor and highlight their importance. As with any sculpture, artists can use wax, plaster, or clay models and different metal casting techniques to produce the work. Sculpted portraits are made in different artistic styles, ranging from the hyperrealistic approaches of ancient Greece and Rome to the amorphous abstract renditions of Impressionists and Cubists.
Ancient examples of portrait sculptures include Mayan stelae depicting rulers, Egyptian funerary portraits like Thutmose’s “Bust of Nefertiti” (1345), and extremely realistic Roman portraits like “Portrait of an Old Man.” Religious figures were a common subject for Renaissance artists like Donatello and Luca della Robbia, who made terracotta clay portrait sculptures of The Virgin and Child. Verrocchio was also famed for his terracotta reliefs of Christ in Majesty. Pablo Picasso applied his Cubist ideals to his fragmented “Woman’s Head (Fernande)” (1909), a portrait of his lover Amelie Lang. Other well-known modernist portrait sculptures include Auguste Rodin’s full-length “Monument to Balzac” (1891-1897), Constantin Brancusi’s “Portrait of Mademoiselle Pogany” (1912), and Henri Matisse’s “Marguerite” (1915).