A bas-relief is a type of sculpture in which a part of the convex composition protrudes above the main background by less than half of the volume. Bas-reliefs are widely used to decorate the external and internal decoration of buildings, as well as in the process of creating monumental works of art (monuments, obelisks, steles and memorial complexes). The relief images, in contrast to the round sculpture, are partially surrounded by free space and are intended mainly for viewing from the front.
The bas-relief, together with the solid background of the sculptural composition, is usually made of the same material. Convex reliefs can vary significantly in size: from monumental multi-meter images carved into the rock to miniature objects (coins, medals and jewelry).
Varieties and distinctive features of the bas-relief
Bas-relief or low relief is just one of several existing types of relief sculpture. Along with it, in construction and art, the following are widespread:
- High relief, in which the protruding elements of the composition are mostly above the background.
- A counter-relief in which relief figures and ornaments are in the depths of the main background.
- Koilanalif, which is a deep outline carved into a flat wall.
- A through relief, in which there are gaps and there is no background solid background of the composition.
Artistic monumental sculptures often combine the features of bas-relief and high-relief at the same time. One part of the composition can protrude strongly above the background, while the other – only slightly. Such works of art, in order to avoid confusion with terminology, are simply called reliefs.
Bas-reliefs are classified according to various parameters:
- Genre (historical, religious, mythological, everyday, animalistic).
- Manufacturing material (marble, plaster, wood, granite, bronze).
- Manufacturing method (casting or sculpting).
Purpose (architectural decor, monumental works of art, decorative interior decoration items, decorative elements of tombs and sarcophagi).
Image type (ornamental or figured).
In architecture, bas-reliefs are used to decorate various parts of buildings and structures: pediments; friezes; pylons; metopes; arches; capitals.
In jewelry, craftsmen carve magnificent miniature bas-relief items – cameos from precious or semi-precious stones. Such jewelry is usually worn by the fair sex around the neck instead of a pendant or attached to a dress like a brooch.
The oldest bas-reliefs discovered by archaeologists are more than 11 thousand years old. Numerous relief images were found during excavations of the Göbekli Tepe temple complex in the territory of modern Turkey. Radiocarbon dating confirmed that these works of monumental art were created by Neolithic masters around nine thousand years BC.
In ancient Egypt, the koilanalif or contour relief technique was widespread. And in Babylon, Persia and the Assyrian kingdom, bas-relief images were often decorated with temple buildings and palaces of rulers long before the beginning of our era.
Many bas-relief works of art from the ancient era have survived to this day. In Ancient Greece and Rome, such images were an integral part of the decoration of temple complexes, triumphal arches and gables of buildings.
After the conquest of Rome by the barbarians, the art of creating architectural bas-reliefs was lost in Europe for almost 1000 years. For a long time, only the traditions of making small items with embossed surfaces were preserved: caskets, jewelry, icons and pieces of furniture.
Numerous samples of bas-reliefs of the 1st-10th centuries AD have survived to this day in India and the countries of Southeast Asia (Indonesia, Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand). Such sculptural compositions were in demand during the construction of Buddhist and Hindu temples.
The revival of bas-relief architecture took place in the middle of the 15th century in Italy. The Tempio Malatestiano Church in Rimini was designed by the architect Leon Battista Alberti. And the little-known sculptor Agostino di Duccio for the first time in a long time created wall relief images of allegorical and mythological figures.
In the following centuries, the bas-relief again became widely in demand in European architecture. Skilled architects began to massively decorate the walls of temples and palaces with relief images. And in the industrial era, the scope of convex sculpture quickly expanded thanks to the emergence of new technologies and materials.
In the USSR, bas-reliefs have been an important part of official propaganda for many years. Images on the theme of the October Revolution, the Great Patriotic War and the happy life of Soviet people adorned the gables of buildings, the interiors of metro stations, as well as the foundations of thousands of monuments and steles in all parts of the country.
And in the 21st century, the bas-relief remains a popular type of monumental fine art. Outstanding sculptors of our time successfully continue the traditions of ancient masters and create more and more masterpieces of architectural architecture.
The most famous bas-reliefs
Among the most famous bas-reliefs there are works of monumental art by ancient masters, and works of architects of the new era. These include:
Ishtar Gate (VI century BC) is a perfectly preserved example of the architecture of the Babylonian kingdom. Modern scientists carried out a major restoration of the gate in the 1930s. Today this find takes pride of place in the exposition of the Museum of Western Asia in Berlin.
The Ionian frieze of the Parthenon (5th century BC) is a brilliant creation of ancient Greek architects under the leadership of Phidias. The marble composition of 378 human and 245 animal figures had impressive dimensions (160 meters in length) and was painted with bright colors. No more than 80% of the original frieze has survived to this day.
The Angkor Wat temple complex (XII century) is a unique work in the form of a truncated pyramid, accidentally discovered by French scientists in the middle of the XIX century in the Cambodian jungle. The grandiose architectural ensemble covers an area of more than 200 hectares, and its walls are decorated with impressive relief images.
The frieze of the founding of the Albert Memorial in London (1875) is part of a magnificent Victorian monument. It features 169 figures of renowned British painters, architects, sculptors, musicians and poets.
Mount Rushmore Memorial (1925) is a large-scale sculptural group portrait of four US presidents. The bas-relief is over 18 meters high and carved into a huge rock in South Dakota. Work on the creation of the memorial lasted 14 years, 400 people took part in them.