Learn how to create a sculpture inspired by ancient Greek and Roman art in the Museum’s collections.
Artists have been creating sculptures for thousands of years. These three-dimensional works of art are made by using tools to model, cast, or shape materials such as clay, metal, stone, and wood. Sometimes sculptures are made into a relief—artwork that has a flat base and raised designs on one side, and is meant to be hung on a wall. Other times sculptures are in the round—artwork that stands up on its own and has designs and details all the way around it.
Ancient Greeks and Romans created sculptures as a way to remember important moments, tell stories, and honor gods, goddesses, and their heroes. These beautiful pieces of artwork decorated buildings and temples. Many different types were created, such as relief panels, monuments, three-dimensional life-sized figures, and portrait busts—the head, neck, and upper body of a person sculpted out of stone or cast in metal. Faces had more expression and figures were often sculpted to look like they were moving. Large sculptures (some over ten feet tall!) were created in pieces and then joined together using metal rods. The ancient Greeks created perfectly proportioned and idealized sculptures that showcased their idea of perfection, especially with the human form. The ancient Romans admired the sculptures created by the Greeks, but preferred to create their own versions that represented real people with their natural beauty and imperfections.
The all-white sculptures that we see today are quite different than they were more than 1,600 years ago. Take a close look at the marble statue of Athena Parthenos above. Athena is the goddess of war and wisdom. This sculpture is a smaller Roman-period replica of the original 38-foot-tall gold and ivory statue that once stood within the Parthenon on the Athenian Acropolis in Greece. Can you see the traces of paint on the lower curls on Athena’s left shoulder? After a sculptor carved this statue of the goddess, it was painted in many different colors! Artists often used brightly colored paint to add patterns and finishing touches to the skin, hair, eyebrows, and lips. Sometimes they even used bone, crystal, or glass for the eyes, or added bronze spears, swords, helmets, and jewelry!
Many sculptures that survive were made out of marble, and some were made out of bronze. Metal sculptures were sometimes melted down and used to make other things like weapons or coins because bronze was very valuable.
Think about the type of sculpture you want to create. What materials and techniques will you use to tell a story?
Instructions and photos courtesy of Thomaida Mele.
You will need:
- wooden doll pin and base
- white Crayola Model Magic or self-hardening clay
- sculpting tools, a toothpick, popsicle stick, fork, spoon, or butter knife
- cardboard base
- double-sided tape
- decorative embellishments such as googly eyes, feathers, pipe cleaners, plastic gemstones, or pieces of fabric
- optional: washable markers or paint (for self-hardening clay)
Sarcophagus lid fragment: sea monsters, Roman, Late Roman Imperial Period, Late Roman, about 350 CE. Stone, marble. Gift of Charles C. Perkins.
The designs on this stone fragment from ancient Rome are carved in low relief, which means they are not very high or bumpy. Look closely. Can you see the large, fishy tail of a sea beast swimming over the waves at the right? Or the pair of sea lions or leopards following it?
Upper part of a grave stele: seated sphinx (sphinx and capital), Greek, Archaic Period, about 530 CE. Marble. 1931 and 1939 Purchase Funds.
In the Round
This sculpture from Ancient Greece has a sphinx on the top. A sphinx is a mythological creature that has the body of a lion, the head of a woman, and the wings and feathers of a bird. Use your imagination: even though it doesn’t look like it, this sculpture originally had a head with long, black hair! The feathers on the wings were carved and painted in a pattern of green, black, red, and blue, and the feathers on the chest were carved in a scale pattern in alternating rows of red and green. The creature’s legs were also painted green.
About the Artist
Thomaida Mele is a philologist living in Boston. Originally from Greece, she received her master’s degree in Classical Studies from University of Crete. Thomaida loves art and museums. Her professional experience includes more than ten years teaching Ancient Greek, Latin, history, and philosophy to high school students. She was also a Museum Educator in the Artful Adventures program at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Thomaida strongly believes that all art has one common characteristic—it unites people!