We use cookies to improve your experience online. By using our website, you agree to the use of cookies as described in our cookies policy.

We’ve recently updated our ticketing system. If you have any issues booking tickets just give us a call on 020 7300 8090.

The history of sculpture

Ten-week art history and theory course

Short course

  • 23 January 2019, 6.15 — 8.15pm
  • 30 January 2019, 6.15 — 8.15pm
  • 6 February 2019, 6.15 — 8.15pm
  • 13 February 2019, 6.15 — 8.15pm
  • 20 February 2019, 6.15 — 8.15pm
  • 27 February 2019, 6.15 — 8.15pm
  • 6 March 2019, 6.15 — 8.15pm
  • 13 March 2019, 6.15 — 8.15pm
  • 20 March 2019, 6.15 — 8.15pm
  • 27 March 2019, 6.15 — 8.15pm

Book now
Part of our

Phyllida Barlow RA

events programme
Go to exhibition page

Sotheby's ancient sculpture & works of art department, Ancient Sculpture.

Sotheby's, Ancient Sculpture & Works of Art Department.

Join international scholars for a ten-week series on the history of sculpture and explore how artists make use of a range of styles, techniques and materials to create three-dimensional objects, from ancient civilisations to the present day.

Since the earliest civilisations, sculpture has been central to devotional practices and can be found in cultures across the world and over time has become one of the most universal and durable art forms. Sculptures as diverse as the Venus of Berekhat Ram (230,000 – 700,000BCE), the monumental Egyptian Sphinx (2558 – 2532BC) and the gold miniatures of the pre-Columbian era (from 500AD) are a few examples of early devotional sculpture with resounding social and cultural significance.

It is widely accepted that the Western tradition of sculpture began in Ancient Greece (800BC – 600AD), where sculptors began to move away from creating purely spiritual items towards an attempt to capture the human body in metal and stone. This move had a profound influence on all art that followed, right up until the 20th century. Such classical examples still provide a foundation for the art historical cannon and inform and inspire contemporary artists today.

In the Middle Ages, Christianity provided a driving force for the production of sculpture, with altarpieces and reliefs representing biblical scenes or as ghoulish reminders of what awaited sinners in the afterlife. In the Renaissance, sculptors returned to the study of the human form, attempting to present it in all its glory, at once both idealised and realistic. During this period, artists like Donatello, Ghiberti and Michelangelo created masterpieces including Donatello’s bronze David (1430 – 1440), Ghiberti’s Gates of Paradise of the Florence Baptistry (1425) and Michelangelo’s marble Pietà (1498 – 1499) and David (1501 – 1504).

These sculptures of the human body became integral to the teaching practices in the Fine Art Academies of the 18th and 19th centuries. Life drawing classes were compulsory and plaster cast replicas of classical sculpture and the human body were an essential tool for art students. Even today, here at the Royal Academy of Arts, the RA’s collection of casts are on display throughout the RA Schools, the Vaults and in The Collection Gallery.

In the 20th century, artists and sculptors moved away from traditional themes of naturalism and human representation and began to embrace modernism in sculpture. Abstracted and distorted, these new three-dimensional shapes were created using new, innovative materials, such as in Marcel Duchamp’s found objects or Alexander Calder’s kinetics. Sculpture in recent years has gained an even wider definition and concepts such as land art and urban installations are now often included in the genre.

This course concentrates on sculpture throughout Western art, although we will explore the effects that advances in travel, communication and archaeology have had on Western sculpture. For example, the radical influence of the so called ‘primitive’ statues and cultural artefacts on modernist artists and sculptors like Pablo Picasso, Amedeo Modigliani and Alberto Giacometti and, more recently, the reminder afforded by exhibitions such as ‘Oceania’ on the central and universal significance of sculpture across cultures.

This course coincides with the exhibition of the Phyllida Barlow RA at the Royal Academy of Arts, providing a timely discussion of the remarkable scope and diversity in the work of contemporary sculptors. This course will follow a broadly chronological arrangement, from the figurines of antiquity, through the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, the European 17th and 18th century schools (with a particular focus on the academic sculptures in the RA’s collection) through to modern and contemporary art with consideration of the impact of technological and digital advancements and the role and practice of sculpture in the future.

● Fully booked

● Cancelled

  • 23 January 2019, 6.15 — 8.15pm
  • 30 January 2019, 6.15 — 8.15pm
  • 6 February 2019, 6.15 — 8.15pm
  • 13 February 2019, 6.15 — 8.15pm
  • 20 February 2019, 6.15 — 8.15pm
  • 27 February 2019, 6.15 — 8.15pm
  • 6 March 2019, 6.15 — 8.15pm
  • 13 March 2019, 6.15 — 8.15pm
  • 20 March 2019, 6.15 — 8.15pm
  • 27 March 2019, 6.15 — 8.15pm

The Life Drawing Room, Royal Academy Schools

6.15–8.15pm each week (registration from 6pm). £540 for full course, £320 for weeks 1–5 OR weeks 6–10.

Book now