A Brief History
On October 28, 1886, President Grover Cleveland dedicated the Statue of Liberty (Liberty Enlightening the World), that great beacon of freedom welcoming immigrants into New York Harbor, for many, the gateway to a better life in the United States. Today we list 10 statues that we think are the most famous, most notable, and most significant. What artworks would you add to this list? (Note: The order listed has no significance, and we only considered statues that still exist.)
1. The Statue of Liberty, New York City.
A gift to the people of the United States from the people of France, a smaller version in Paris faces the larger more famous one on Liberty Island in New York Harbor. The dedication was marked by the first ticker tape parade in history, as New Yorkers spontaneously threw ticker tape out windows above the procession to the dedication. The statue depicts Libertas, a Roman goddess of liberty, and the statue itself soars 151 feet above its pedestal, and the torch is held over 305 feet above ground level. Created by the artist Frederic Bartholdi and engineered by Gustave Eiffel (the guy that built the famous tower), the landmark and symbol of the United States attracts over 3 million visitors per year. Even at a glance, almost anyone in the civilized world would immediately recognize Lady Liberty, the tallest statue in the world today, counting the pedestal.
2. Venus de Milo, Paris.
The beautiful, armless, marble statue of a topless woman that was found on the Greek island of Milos, was sculpted by an unknown artist around 130 to 100 BC. Although often called “Venus,” the statue is of course of the Greek Goddess Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love. Or at least that is what most scholars think! It is on display at the Louvre art museum in Paris. The statue is about 80 inches tall.
3. David, Florence, Italy.
Although other great artists have created sculptures of the greatest King of Israel, it is the Michelangelo creation that immediately comes to mind when “David” is mentioned. The marble nude of David stands an imposing 5.17 meters tall on a pedestal 2.5 meters high, not colossal but rather large for a marble sculpture. David’s glaring countenance faces Rome with a seeming defiance. One digression from history about the statue is that the finely carved genitalia of David feature an uncircumcised penis, which is at odds with the Jewish practice of circumcision.
4. The Sphinx, Egypt.
Located at Giza near the Great Pyramids, this giant reclining mythical creature was sculpted from limestone some time before 2500 BC. The body of a lion topped by a human head, the statue stretches 238 feet long, 66.3 feet high, and 62.6 feet wide, facing directly East. The face is believed to be that of the Pharaoh Kafre, and the Sphinx is carved from a solid piece of limestone. The years have clouded the exact information about who carved the Sphinx and what it was made for. Authorities differ on their analysis of both questions. A temple was included in the original Sphinx complex. The Sphinx remains one of the oldest statues on Earth, especially ones of any considerable size. Even today, it may be the most recognizable statue in the world.
5. Christ the Redeemer, Rio de Janeiro.
Standing 98 feet tall atop a 26 foot pedestal with arms stretching out 92 feet, Christ seems much larger than the actual dimensions by being placed on a hilltop 2300 feet high overlooking Rio de Janeiro. Completed in 1931, you may be surprised to find it is only the 5th largest statue of Jesus Christ in the World today! (Although it is considered the largest “art deco” statue in the world.) The sculptor was Paul Landowski of France, the son of a Polish refugee father. (Landowski created 35 monuments in Paris and another dozen in the surrounding area.) The statue is made of soapstone. In 2008 the giant statue was struck by lightning and suffered some damage, which has been repaired. In 2014 a finger was knocked off by another lightning strike, despite the fact that the statue is equipped with lightning rods.
6. The Thinker, Worldwide.
Conceived by French artist Auguste Rodin, many casts have been made of the nude man seated on a rock with his chin on his hand, obviously thinking about something. The first cast, made in 1902, is in its own museum in Paris, but many other cities boast their own original copy, helping to contribute to the widespread familiarity with the work of art. At least 28 giant versions exist around the world of the original mold, and even more, newer and un-original versions exist. The first version of The Thinker was part of a larger work called The Gates of Hell, an 1880 commission based on The Divine Comedy by Dante and made of plaster. Some art historians believe the Thinker in that setting represents Dante, while others disagree. The television character, Dobie Gillis (The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, 1959-1963, a show I used to watch!) famously would take the contemplative pose of The Thinker regularly on the show.
7. Iwo Jima Memorial, Arlington, Virginia.
Based on the most famous photograph in history, the Joe Rosenthal capture of Marines raising the American flag above Mount Suribachi in World War II (1945), the memorial was completed in 1954 and stands in tribute to all US Marines that have given their lives in battle since 1775. The sculpture itself is 32 feet tall, though it also has a 60 foot flag pole added to it. The base is black granite and the material is bronze castings. It is the creation of artist Felix de Weldon and architect Horace Pealee.
8. Lincoln Memorial, Washington, D.C.
Designed by artist Daniel Chester French and architect Henry Bacon, the actual carvings were done by the Piccirilli brothers. Completed in 1920, the statue sits inside the memorial. The grave, serious visage of a brooding Lincoln sitting in a grand chair has become a mecca for African Americans over the years, and is another instantly recognizable statue, at least in the United States. The sacred statue is made of blocks of white Georgia marble and is 30 feet tall. A parody of the famous work appeared at the ironic end of the movie Planet of the Apes (2001 version) where Lincoln is replaced by a brooding ape!
9. Mount Rushmore, South Dakota.
Located in the Black Hills of South Dakota (land sacred to Native Americans), this National Memorial is the work of sculptor Gutzon Borglum, an Idaho native. Carved with jackhammers and dynamite right into the face of the mountain, the sculpture features 60 foot tall heads of former Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Teddy Roosevelt, meant to portray our “greatest” presidents as seen by the sculptor. The project took 14 years to complete, from 1927 to 1941, and was finished with the help of Borglum’s son, Lincoln Borglum. Over 2 million visitors per year visit the giant sculpture (okay, it’s not really a statue, but it is so impressive we had to include it). Controversy surrounding the choice of a scared Native American site has colored the history of this fantastic memorial. (Honorable mention to the gigantic Crazy Horse Memorial statue being completed nearby. Over 600 feet wide and over 500 feet tall, this creation of Polish-American artist Korczak Zoilkoski has been worked on since 1948, and will be the largest sculpture ever made when complete. The head of Crazy Horse is 78 feet tall, much larger than the heads on Mount Rushmore. When complete, it will have to be on this list!)
10. The Motherland Calls, Volgograd, Russia.
At 171 feet tall without the pedestal, it is the tallest statue of a woman in the world. With her left arm outstretched and her right hand holding a menacing sword, this colossal work stands in tribute to the Soviet people and Army in World War II that withstood months of siege by the German Army in perhaps the pivotal battle of the European Theater. Made of concrete (5500 metric tons) and metal (2400 metric tons), “Mother” was the tallest statue in the world when completed in 1967. Even the sword alone weighs 14 tons! Groundwater, shifting soil, and deterioration have led to an extensive renovation in 2017.
Question for students (and subscribers): What is your favorite statue? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
Charles River Editors. The Statue of Liberty: The History and Legacy of America’s Most Famous Statue. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2014.
The featured image in this article, a stereoscopic image of right arm and torch of the Statue of Liberty, 1876 Centennial Exposition, is in the public domain in the United States. This applies to U.S. works where the copyright has expired, often because its first publication occurred prior to January 1, 1924, and if not then due to lack of notice or renewal. See this page for further explanation. This image is available from the New York Public Library‘s Digital Library under the digital ID G91F380_025F: digitalgallery.nypl.org → digitalcollections.nypl.org