What Is Full-Round Sculpture?

Full-round sculpture, also called sculpture in the round, is sculpture that is intended for viewing from any side. This contrasts with relief sculpture, which is designed to be seen only from one side. Large full-round sculpture often involves engineering and science as much as art, as it must also be free-standing and take perspective into consideration.

Full-round sculpture is one of the earliest forms of human art, created well before the written word and possibly before even cave painting. Every culture has expressed itself in sculpture, both in relief and in the round. In ancient Egypt, full-round sculpture was an important ceremonial art, because unlike relief sculpture or paintings, the entire represented figure could be shown in a realistic fashion. During the Renaissance, the development of realistic full-round sculpture contributed to sciences such as anatomy, mechanical physics and optical perspective because of the unique challenges it presented. For instance, sculptors creating full-round sculpture have to consider the center of gravity of the piece so that it does not fall over.

Famous examples of full-round sculpture include Michelangelo's "David," which also incorporated theories of perspective in its design; and the giant sculpted heads of Easter Island called "moai." Although modern sculptors have developed new types of sculpture, such as mobiles and sound sculptures, sculpture in the round using new techniques and materials remains a vital element of visual art.