Sculpture techniques: modelling in clay
Stemma of René of Anjou by Luca della Robbia, 1466–78. Museum no. 6740-1860. This enormous roundel was made for Jacopo de’ Pazzi, councillor to René of Anjou, whose many titles included King of Naples and Duke of Anjou. René’s coat of arms appears in the centre. Pazzi displayed the stemma on the exterior of his family villa at Montughi to signify his royal favour and René’s visit there in 1442.
Clay is a very versatile raw material. It is relatively cheap and widely available. It can be modelled by the sculptor to form a unique object, or moulded by workshops for mass production. Sculptors often made rapid sketches in clay to capture initial ideas and then developed more finished models to show to patrons. They also used clay models when transferring compositions into more permanent materials such as marble. Clay can also be pressed into moulds, enabling multiple copies to be made.
Modelling marks are not usually visible in finished pieces of ceramic sculpture but can often be seen in ceramic models made for sculpture in other media. Typical are rough, uneven grooves and ridges caused when clay is pushed to one side as marks are made.
Fired clay is known as 'terracotta' (cooked earth). The firing irreversibly changes the clay, making it stronger and capable of receiving a variety of surface finishes. Clay models were sometimes fired to preserve them. Large European works, such as the ‘stemma’ or coat of arms, made by Luca della Robbia for King Rene of Anjou, were cut into pieces with cheesewire in order to fit into the kiln, and joined together after firing.
These objects explore the nature and working of clay, the role of terracotta models in European sculpture and the acceptance of undisguised terracotta for finished works of art.
Flora, Michael Rysbrack, England, 1759. Terracotta, made from modelled clay. Museum no. A.9-1961. Based on a famous Roman statue, this figure shows the influence of antique marble sculpture on 18th century design. It is a sketch for a large-scale marble statue at Stourhead in Wiltshire. The Bow factory made numerous versions in porcelain. Purchased under the bequest of Dr W.L. Hildburgh FSA.
William Shakespeare, Louis François Roubiliac, England, about 1758. Museum no. 32-1867. Terracotta, made from modelled clay. This is a preliminary sketch model for a marble statue made for the actor David Garrick and now in the British Museum. Garrick may well have posed for the figure. The head was probably taken from the earliest authenticated likeness of Shakespeare, the so-called Chandos portrait, of which Roubiliac had a copy.
A River God, Giovanni Bologna, called Giambologna (1529-1608), Italy (Florence), about 1575. Terracotta. Museum no. 250-1876. In the late 16th century Giambologna was the most influential sculptor in Europe. He was admired especially for the wide range of his works, from monumental public statues to intimate bronzes. This terracotta model probably relates to a plan for a colossal sculpture symbolising the River Nile. It shows Giambologna's mastery of clay modelling. He has worked in wet clay, using his hands and just occasionally a fine tool.
The Rape of the Sabine Women, Giovanni Bologna (called Giambologna), Italy, fired about 1610–50. Museum no.1619-1855. Terracotta, made from modelled clay. This may be a preparatory sketch for a bronze panel on the pedestal of Giambologna's Rape of the Sabines. The group was unveiled in 1583 but the model was not fired until much later. When setting out the composition, the artist worked deftly with his fingers and fine tools, adding clay in small pieces to form the figures.