5 Famous Sculptures That Are Worth the Trip

famous sculptures

There are many different art forms worth exploring in your lifetime, but no other form of art shares the same three-dimensional space with us in the way that sculpture does. If you’ve been struck by a love of sculpture and are dying to see some of the best work from around the world, it’s easy to feel a little overwhelmed.

After all, there are so many different famous sculptures out there, each one more exciting and worth visiting than the last. If you’re looking to make a bucket list of sculptures to hunt down and visit, you’ll have quite a few to choose from.

What are a few of our biggest recommendations? Read on and we’ll walk you through some of the most essential. 

1. Bust of Nefertiti

One of the most famous sculptures of all time is this ode to feminine beauty that was first discovered in 1912 in the ruins of the Egyptian city of Amarna. Amarna was built by one of the more controversial figures in Egyptian history, Pharaoh Akhenaten, who changed the religion of the area and altered the path of Egyptian cultural history.

This sculpture represents his Queen, Nefertiti, who very little is known about. It is known that after Akhenaten’s death, she ruled the land for some time alone. Some believe she is the mother of King Tut. To this day, her mummy has yet to be found, though some believe it might be somewhere within the ruins of King Tut’s tomb.

The bust itself currently resides not in Egypt but in Berlin. German explorers to the area discovered it in 1912 and brought it back to Germany, where it is now considered one of Berlin’s most popular tourist destinations.

The bust is notable as it is made in a more naturalistic style than most Egyptian art of the time. Made from stucco-coated limestone and dating back thousands and thousands of years, this is a must-see if you’re interested in the history of sculpture as art.

There are few art items from the age of antiquity that are more well-known and beloved than the bust of Nefertiti.

2. Michaelangelo’s David

Speaking of fame and iconography, we can’t make a list of the world’s must-see sculptures without speaking of what might be the most famous and recognized of all time: David, by Michaelangelo.

David was originally created as part of a larger project, where artists were to create different sculptures to line the roof at Duomo Cathedral in Florence. Michaelangelo was only 25 when he picked up where others had left off with the statue and began to craft the now iconic imagery of the figure.

However, when Michelangelo finally finished the statue, it weighed a stunning six tons. That meant it was far too heavy to be hoisted to the top of the cathedral and thus was left on display outside of Florence’s town hall. 

As a result, the statue became a symbol of Florence and was much-loved by the people of the city. The statue remained in this spot until 1873, where it was eventually removed and brought to a museum for safe-keeping, with a replacement being placed in its spot.

David is an interesting figure. Unlike all other depictions of the biblical hero up until this time, he was never shown not in battle with the giant, Goliath. Michaelangelos’ decision to present him prior to the battle is an interesting one.

During World War II, David was encased in layers of brick, so as to protect the statue against potential airstrikes happening nearby. You’ll need to see this, one of the most famous sculptures, at one point in your lifetime.

3. Lacoon and His Sons

One of the most famous sculptures from Ancient Rome is Lacoon and His Sons, which depicts a famous figure of mythology at the time. In this old Roman myth, a Trojan priest is killed at sea, alongside his two songs, by sea serpents sent by the god Poseidon.

It’s punishment by Poseidon for Lacoon’s attempt to expose the ruse of the Trojan horse. It’s a tragic story and one that is all the more evocative when translated into three-dimensional space.

It’s hard to state just how old this sculpture is. It’s believed to have been created in the second century B.C., meaning it is nearly four thousand years old, possibly older. It was first unearthed over 500 years ago in Rome.

The Romans who discovered it took it to the Vatican and that is still where it resides to this day. It’s a huge, life-sized structure that creates a stunning image. As far as portraits of grief and suffering go, there are a few works of art that can stand up to it.

The discovery of Lacoon and His Sons in the early 1500s had a huge influence on the artists of the time. Michelangelo himself was said to be quite struck by the artwork, inspired by its massive size and evocative emotions.

There was even a claim at the time made that Lacoon and His Sons was not only the greatest sculpture of all time but the greatest work of art, period. 

In 1980, it was required that the sculpture be somewhat disassembled and reassembled so that it can be properly protected and restored for the years to come. It is currently back on display at the Vatican, revealing itself to hundreds of visitors a day.

Might you be the next to visit and witness its great beauty?

4. Terracotta Army

One of the most exciting archaeological finds of all time took place in 1974, were not one but three different pits were uncovered near the tomb of Shi Huang, the first Emporer of China.

This Terracotta Army is made of 8,000 individual statues, all rendered in close to life-size proportions. As you might imagine, this feels like an immense body of work. They were carved third century BCE in China and were intended to guard the Emporer in death and through the afterlife.

Each of the soldiers in question is perfectly crafted from clay, with individualized facial features. They were made, as historians know today, from an assembly line process in which different facial features were mixed and matched to create unique figures.

The soldiers were outfitted with actual, real-life weapons such as swords and spears, though many of these items have been lost to time. The other thing of note when it comes to these statues is that while they are in shades of gray and brown today, evidence shows that they were likely brightly painted at the time of their original creation.

As time went by, the paint likely flaked away or faded, leaving them in the more Earthy tones they now inhabit. If you want to see some of the most historic and stunning work in terms of scope when it comes to sculpture, you’ll need to swing through China and discover the Terracotta Army for yourself.

5. Leshan Giant Buddha

If you are visiting China, the Terracotta Army won’t be the only place you’ll want to stop and visit. You’ll also want to stop into the Sichuan Province in China and see the Leshan Giant Buddha. 

This enormous statue of the Buddha is 77 meters tall, making it the largest stone statue in the entire world. It is carved into the red rock cliff face of the area and is quite old: it was crafted over the course of one hundred years, from 713 to 803 AD.

The position of the Giant Buddha at the juncture of three rivers was an act of hope and determination by the people of the area. The inhabitants hope that the Buddha could help to tame the often dangerous currents that rivers contained. 

The statue is one item in a long history of fascinating Buddhist work that can be found throughout the region. You can read more about the history of Buddhist art and structure in Buddhist Sculpture: Design and Influence to learn more. 

The entire Leshan Buddha is made from stone with the exception of the ears which were actually made from wood. These wood ears were then affixed to the head of the buddha with clay. 

While the statue has been quite weathered by the elements, the government in China has promised that restoration work will occur soon to help restore and protect the Buddha for the enjoyment of future generations.

Famous Sculptures From Around The World

If you’re a lover of sculpture, you might have a dream of traveling around the world and seeing some of the most famous sculptures that the human species has ever created. There are so many different sculptures to visit and enjoy, the above famous sculptures are just the tip of the iceberg.

Need more entertainment and travel advice? Keep scrolling our blog for more.