The Most Famous Sculptures in the World and Where You Can See Them
In the ancient times the world had seven wonders. Now it would be quite difficult to reduce the world's art masterpieces to only seven, as the contest that was held some time ago proves. This is by no means my intention, but seven is a number I like, so why don't we talk about seven sculptures the world would not be the same without? Let's get started!
Number 1: Michelangelo's David. One of the finest masterpieces the Renaissance ever produced. The world hadn't seen anything like that for thousand years and is probably the most famous sculpture in the entire world. To see this marvelous marble statue you must travel to Florence. The sculpture is kept at the Accademia Gallery museum, where you can also see other notable renaissance works. If you are short of time (which is quite probable, being Florence an open-air museum), you can also admire a David's replica in the original location of the statue, in front of the renowned Palazzo Vecchio in Piazza della Signoria.
Number 2: Michelangelo's Pietà. Completed 5 years before the David by a 21-year-old boy named Michelangelo Buonarroti. Maybe the most impressive sculpture I have ever seen, but only one of the many art treasures you can behold inside St. Peter's Cathedral in Rome. The drapery of Mary's dress, her beautiful, majestic face confronted to Jesus' corpse in her hands, the perfection of every detail, convey a mixture of emotions that are difficult to express. Both the David and the Pietà suffered in the 20th century attacks by mentally perturbed which led to some minor damage. Once again heads and tails of humanity: art against destruction.
Number 3: the equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius. We are not leaving Rome so fast... So far we've seen only one side of the eternal city, the christian one. Let's concentrate on my favourite now: the ancient Rome's glory. We don't know the author of this fantastic cast of the 2nd century emperor, but he definitely set the standards of all equestrians statues to come. Well, actually he and the Middle Ages people who incorrectly thought it was a portray of the first christian emperor Constantine. Yes, believe it or not in late Antiquity and the Middle Ages it was customary to melt down the numerous pre-christian or pagan bronze statues to mint new coinage or simply to cast new christian statues. Indeed Marcus Aurelius' statue is the only equestrian portray of a pre-christian emperor that has survived. If you want to see this 1900 year-old perfectly preserved statue you must climb to the top of the Capitol hill and visit the capitoline museums. Believe me, they are worth a visit. But if you simply don't have the time there's a 1981 replica standing in the open air Piazza del Campidoglio...
Number 4: the winged Victory of Samothrace. This is yet an older statue, a greek original 2300 years-old. If you want to see its magnificence you must visit the Louvre Museum in Paris. This parian marble sculpture, despite its incompleteness and significant damage, is one of the most celebrated statues of the world. It was unearthed in 1863 in the island of Samothrace, Greece, by a french amateur archaeologist and immediately sent to France. It is thought that it commemorated a victory of the hellenistic period, that is, the period between the death of Alexander the Great and the arrival of the romans to Greece. It is considered a masterwork for its depiction of movement, the fine rendering of its garments, and the loss of hands and head, even if regrettable, further enhances the portray of the supernatural. Definitely one must.
Number 5: the Farnese Bull. We return to Italy to behold yet another hellenistic statue (or maybe a roman copy of the original statue), once part of the impressive private art collection of roman big shot Asinius Pollio and later located at the famous Baths of Caracalla, in Rome. It was rediscovered there in 1546 in the excavations ordered by Pope Paul III in the hope of finding ancient roman pieces of art to adorn his residence. Now you can visit it in Naples, in the Archaeological Museum, and admire the largest single statue ever recovered from antiquity. It represents the myth of Dirce and depicts Zeto and Amphion tying Dirce to a wild bull in response to the ill-treatment she gave to their mother Antiope. The majestic expression of movement and tension is overwhelming. Don't forget paying a visit to nearby Pompeii and Capri!
Number 6: the Thinker. This artwork by Rodin is one of the most popular statues in the whole world and ,indeed, it has become an icon of popular culture. Originally named "the Poet" because it was conceived as a portray of Dante pondering its great poem in front of the Gates of Hell, this bronze cast was finished first in 1902. Unlike the vast majority of the most famous statues around the world Rodin's thinker is not one but many statues, as the sculptor did over twenty casts for different museums of the five continents. The original one, first exhibited in 1904, can be seen in Rodin's museum in Paris.
Number 7: colossal statues which no longer exist and one that still enlightens the world. Last stop of this statue-trip will be some statues which ceased to exist centuries ago but still excite our imagination and one which still embodies like no other one dream. Let's get started with the first: the Colossus of Rhodes, one of the wonders of antiquity, a sculpture so big that ships could sail off Rhodes between its legs. The Colossus of Nero in Rome which was nearly as tall as the flavian Amphitheater, nowadays known as the Colosseum. The Zeus and Athenea colossal ivory-and-gold statues in Greece, which are thought to have been destroyed in a fire in their final location in Constantinople, nowadays Istanbul. And finally the ivory-and-gold Jupiter statue of the most important pagan shrine in Rome, an ancient times Saint Peter's Basilica. You cannot see these statues anywhere. Or can you? In some cases there are remains. In others there are plans to rebuild them. And there is another possibility: just as the dinosaurs never disappeared but evolved into birds there is a chance these statues are still visible, but evolved into something else. Saint Peter's Basilica seating Saint Peter statue is said to have been a roman statue of Jupiter...
And last but not least we got one colossal statue that still exists: the gigantic rendering of Liberty enlightening the world that adorns New York's liberty island. The sculpture's total height is 46 m, which makes it 9 m taller than the Colossus of Nero was, depicts the roman goddess Liberty (in full classical garments...) and her torch represents Enlightment. This lady is actually french, you know, being a gift of the French Republic to commemorate the Centennial of the American Declaration of Independence. Forming part of the popular culture most selected icons as it does, it is no wonder there are many replicas spread all over the world. For sure the most important of all these is the one you can admire in Paris, on the river Seine, where it was erected only 3 years after her bigger sister was transported to America.
Of course there are many other choices (for instance Bernini's sculptures), but I think no one would say any of these sculptures doesn't deserve forming part of the group of the Most Famous Sculptures in the World. What do you think?