What Is Relief Sculpture?

Relief sculpture is sculpture that protrudes from a flat surface or plane. These sculptures can be made out of earth, stone or other various hard substances, and they are often carved into the sides of buildings or other objects.

Relief sculptures may project outward in varying degrees and are thereby classified as high relief, mid relief or low relief. If more than 50 percent of the depth of the subjects are shown, the sculpture would be called high relief or alto-rilievo. Low-relief or bas-relief sculptures are very shallow and seem almost two-dimensional. Coins are a common example of low relief sculpture. Mid-relief or mezzo-rilievo sculptures fall between low- and high-relief sculptures.

Examples of relief sculpture include:
  • Ancient Egyptian Temple of Karnak
  • Parthenon Frieze for the Athenian Acropolis
  • Tempio Malatestiano in Rimini, Italy
  • Gates of Paradise at the Florence Baptistery by Lorenzo Ghiberti
  • Mount Rushmore National Memorial in South Dakota, USA