It’s all good having seen your artworks online. It’s great having read in books about sculptors, painters, and artists. Yes, good for you if you’ve watched a TV show about the masterpieces of the art world.
But, really, we all know it’s not the same as seeing them in the flesh. Or rather in the white marble, terracotta, ceramics or whatever. This is particularly true of sculpture as an art form – out of all the visual arts.
Sculptors work in three dimensions – not just two. The principles of sculptural design have nothing to do with a flat page. To appreciate the work of a sculptor to the full you must see it in reality. The different perspectives, the size, the materiality of the work demands this.
So, the question becomes, where can you go and see all of these famous sculptures that are talked about all over the place? What art center or museum of art holds all of this famous stuff?
It’s a great question – and the answer may be a little frustrating. Because the real answer is all over the world!
But, to narrow it down a little, it depends on what you want to see. Because if it is prehistoric stuff you are after, you’ll need to head somewhere different to the place you’d go if you fancied some baroque. Just as if you wanted to see the modern forms of sculpture – kinetic sculpture, snow sculpture, site specific work, glass sculpture, abstract sculpture, or an assemblage – you wouldn’t really want to go to a place focusing on the Paleolithic.
There are many different types of sculpture, and you need to decide which one you prefer!
Here we list some of the best sculpture museums in the world, and it will be up to you to decide which one tickles your fancy.
We hope you enjoy it!
Rome, really, is a very special place. Not only does it hold some of the most beautiful churches, cathedrals, and museums in the world, but it is, in itself, a museum. Just walking down the street you are going to see things more beautiful than anything you’ve ever seen in your life.
There’s only one reason for that. Rome was, of course, the capital of the Roman Empire. It became then the seat of the Catholic Church. And then it became the capital city of one of the richest countries on the planet. So, of course there is plenty of stuff there to see.
So, go there for Roman art and Roman sculpture. Go there to see works by Bernini and Leonardo da Vinci – and other works by those in the High Renaissance and afterwards. Go to see colossal pieces of public art and architectural sculpture.
And read our article about the world famous sculptures!
And don’t forget, some of the most amazing carving, reliefs, Roman statues, and ancient art are to be found in the Vatican.
There’s also an excellent collection of modern art, a sarcophagus or two, and paintings by all the famous people you know. Don’t forget the Sistine Chapel of Michelangelo too.
In this series on sculpture, we’ve mainly focused on the art of sculpture in the western canon. Yet, obviously, there is so much more to the medium than that produced these little civilizations in Europe.
Whilst we’ve been fixated on the Hellenistic and the Romanesque, the Brancusi and Picasso, the Greek and Roman and modernism, there’s been a lot more going on about the world. Mexico’s National Museum of Anthropology is one place that proves this – and it shows, really, how limited our view has been.
The NMA showcases art, sculpture, and artefacts from pre-Columbian times in Mexico – depicting deities, animals, and all sorts of other things.
Due to the ‘controversial’ (to put it mildly) history of the British Empire, London has become home to historical treasures from across the world. It is, in fact, one of the largest museums in the world – with over eight million objects.
From colossal granite sculptures from Ancient Egypt to one of the oldest musical instruments in the world, from the Parthenon Marbles to Spartan bronze sculpture, from amazing varieties of figurative sculpture to contemporary art.
For the arts world, this is a hugely important place. In very few places in the world will you be able to find all these things in one place. And it’s got work by some of history’s greatest sculptors.
For sculpture artists from across the centuries, the British Museum is your best bet.
If there is a museum in the world that competes with the British Museum for vastness and value of its collection, it’s the Louvre, in Paris.
Whilst all of the works after 1850 are now in the Musée D’Orsay (which you should visit too whilst you’re in town), the Louvre houses all sorts of exquisite work from antiquity to the eighteenth century.
So, check out some of the most famous work from Ancient Greece and Mesopotamia. And then walk along the hall and see work from Michelangelo and Antonio Canova. It’s a treasure trove for those interested in the history of sculpture.
It’s a privilege to be in this place – so appreciate it.
The history of modern and contemporary sculpture can really be traced back to one man, Auguste Rodin, who transformed, in the late nineteenth century, the way that people made sculpture.
The Musée Rodin, another sculpture museum in Paris, holds the largest collection of his work, including great pieces such as The Thinker, The Kiss, and The Gates of Hell.
As the museum hosts many of Rodin’s drawings too, one can follow the principles of design, the reconstructions, and thought that went into this great artist’s work.
The chief of modernist sculpture
Italians are pretty lucky, honestly. Thanks to the fact that it was in Italy that grew the majority of the artistic developments up until the nineteenth century, the country is full of a lot of cool stuff.
After Rome, Florence is another a city that may as well have a wall built around it and be called a museum itself.
Head towards Piazza della Signora (you just have to follow the crowds) and you’ll find Cellini’s famous Perseus, and you’ll find Michelangelo’s David in town too.
Check out the Galleria dell’Accademia and the Uffizi Museum for concentrated doses of art. Walk around the Uffizi and you’ll see statues of the all the biggest names of the Renaissance.
Learn everything about sculpture.
Holland’s Kröller-Müller Museum is a sprawling landscape of sculptures, winding paths, forests, and cycling tourists. In itself, without the sculpture, it is a gorgeous place to be.
It was set up back in the thirties as a home for the founder’s mammoth collection of Van Gogh paintings – and today it has the second-largest collect of the Dutch painter’s work in the world.
Yet, we’re talking about sculpture – and you’ll need to go into the garden for that. Here, you’ll find work by Rodin, Henry Moore, Jean Dubuffet, and more.
Ancient Greece is a by-word for artistic and cultural excellence and innovation – and it’s no surprise then that contemporary Athens holds a remarkable selection of fascinating artefacts, statues, masks, jewellery, and sculptures.
The museum runs from the prehistoric section to late antiquity and holds plenty of ancient Greek sculpture (and Roman replicas!).
The Mask of Agamemnon is particularly cool.
New York, to state the obvious, is New York. And, given that it is still the centre of the world, it has probably the best collection of art museums and galleries in the world too.
Check out the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Guggenheim Museum – the latter of which is like a sculpture in itself. Across the three museums you’ll find work by Constantic Brancusi, Alberto Giacometti, Henry Moore, Rodin, and Bernini.
And, of course, one the city’s most famous landmarks is the Statue of Liberty – one of the most recognised pieces of sculpture on the planet.
From body sculpture to wire sculpture, New York has everything
If you like your sculpture to take your breath away with sheer scale, jump on a flight to Xi’an, China.
Here, you’ll find the largest collection of terracotta sculptures in the world. You’ve probably heard of them: the Terracotta Warriors.
These were made to defend an ancient emperor in the afterlife, and they were buried with him. This Qin Shi Huang had a retinue of over eight thousand terracotta warriors after death.
It’s quite an impressive sight.
The largest and oldest museum in India is Kolkata’s Indian Museum. It covers everything from art and archaeology to zoology and botany.
It has an amazing collection of sculpture from across India – from Buddhist sculpture to Hindu deities.