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Revival and Invention

Sculpture through its Material Histories

Edited By Sébastien Clerbois and Martina Droth

Materials may seem to be sculpture’s most obvious aspect. Traditionally seen as a means to an end, and frequently studied in terms of technical procedures, their intrinsic meaning often remains unquestioned. Yet materials comprise a field rich in meaning, bringing into play a wide range of issues crucial to our understanding of sculpture. This book places materials at the centre of our approach to sculpture, examining their symbolic and aesthetic language, their abstract and philosophical associations, and the ways in which they reveal the political, economic and social contexts of sculptural practice. Spanning a chronology from antiquity through to the end of the nineteenth century, the essays collected in this book uncover material properties as fundamental to artistic intentionality.

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Sébastien Clerbois - The Revival of Ivory Sculpture in Belgium (1890–1910): The Material in Question 231

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Sébastien Clerbois The Revival of Ivory Sculpture in Belgium (1890–1910): The Material in Question In the context of a conference dedicated to the materials of sculpture, the fundamental question is, without doubt, how art historians can change their traditional outlook so as to make the material – within traditional history of art methodologies – the central issue of their study. This requires a sig- nificant shift in approach, and is often dif ficult to achieve. Can we really appreciate the enormous dif ference such a shift of emphasis would produce if, for example, rather than studying ‘the marble sculptures of Canova’, we were to study ‘the role of marble in the sculptures of Canova’? Studying issues specifically engendered by attention to materials can appear radical. Of course, Canova’s sculptures cannot simply be reduced to the marble, just as it would be inappropriate to reduce the material to purely stylistic, iconographic or sociological considerations detached from its context. Yet, as sculpture historians know well, the material is of primary importance in the study of any sculptural work. It informs our understanding of technique, of visuality (the same fineness of features cannot be obtained in basalt as in marble), and of aesthetic and symbolic meanings (does not the black carboniferous limestone of Algardi’s Sleep evoke the night?), as much as sociological context (the local availability of raw materials, the conventions for their use, and so on). There is, therefore, not only a legitimacy, but also a need, to return to what may...

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