Architectural sculptures is an expression used for depicting the statutes and idols used by the sculptors while constructing temples, building, museums, bridges, tombs and graves. The statutes are generally integrated into the building; however other sculptors forming part of the buildings are also regarded as architectural sculptures. The same can be identified as a vital constituent of the building primarily done for ornamental reasons. Our ancestors have been using architectural sculptures in buildings across the history of mankind. This paper confers the uses, style, significance, distinctiveness and comparison of the architectural sculptures as they relate to Egyptian and Greek temples, Islamic mosques and Byzantine churches.
The Greek temples were constructed to keep and accommodate their idol sculptures. As the ritual and sacrifices pertaining to their idol deities were offered outside the temples, he same were not built to serve religious functions. In the temples people gave offerings to the Gods during the olden days. In Greek architecture, their temples were the most pervasive structures. The temple of Aphaia constructed during the 7 B.C. is one such example. The temples which were generally constructed in sacred regions were known as the temenos. The sacred enclosure largely revealed the rural environment of the Greek cults. The early Greek temples were primarily built with mud bricks that were laid on foundations using stones.
The architectural sculptors found in the Greek temples were symbolic of their religion. As the Greek population were ardent believers of religion, it is hardly surprising that their temples were the most spectacular and massive in the country. The architectural sculptors were also representative of the Greek political system. Gods, kings of the wars, soldiers were represented through the sculptors for instance the Apollo statue in 372 B.C. The sculptors were also symbolic of a political meaning as these were erected to display civic pride, command and offer gratefulness to the idol gods of the cities for their success in battles. Artistic values were also communicated through these architectural sculptures where the human form was used as a representation of the form of God. It was believed that artistic representation of form in human and god are fused into one. A glaring example is the Replica of Phidias statute of Zeus found in Parthenon whose replica was constructed during 570 B.C. Architectural sculptors in the ancient period of Greece were used for aesthetic functions. For instance the Athena Parthenos erected during the 5th century B.C. was symbolic of a connection between harmony and order that contributed significantly in the Greek architecture. Similarly, classical sculptures such as the Caryatid Porch of 421-407 BC were symbolic of love and romance in the society (Fagan, 22).
Egyptian temples are the seat of ancient, foremost and prominent civilization that lead to the development of huge and different structures comprising the Egyptian architecture. Some of the eminent architecture includes the Great Pyramid & the Sphinx at Giza. And the Luxor temple is also an extensive ancient temple located on the east banks of the river Nile. It is situated in the eastern city of Luxor earlier called Thebes. Amenhotep, the third Ashpitel built the temple during the 14th Century B.C. The Sculptors were crafted to symbolize the Egyptian Gods, the Pharaohs who were the kings and queen as the physical form. Crafting the sculptures was a dignified livelihood in itself and also an art form for the Egyptians.
This is since it comprised of preparing huge structures which were a blend of beauty and period of time. They depicted the striking quality of the Pharaohs in character, size and also their thoughts. The gigantic structures of the statutes were built to bear a resemblance to famous emperors, queens and Gods. The point of building the sculptures were meant to render eternal life to the kings and queens beyond their natural lives. In order to fulfill the rituals, the subjects desired to view the king and the queen in physical forms. While designing the architectural sculptures, rigid conventions were followed. For instance the male sculptures were crafted to be darker than their female counterparts. In case of sitting posture of the architectural sculptures, the hands were made to position on the knees. Appropriate and specific laws, rules and regulation were applied while deciding on the appearance of every Egyptian god, king and queen. For instance, Anubis (2850 B.C.) who represented the god of burial rites was always symbolized by the head of a jackal whereas Horus (2875 B.C.)
God of the Sky was shown representing a falcon head. The artistic contributions of the people were also represented through the Egyptian architectural sculptures. The conventions were regulated diligently to ensure that the appearance of the statutes did not undergo changes over a long period of time. These architectural sculptures symbolized and expressed a continuity and timelessness and journey to the eternal life after death. Hence the sculptures symbolized the ingress into the spiritual world and starting of a long afterlife.
The application of architectural sculptures in Islamic mosques is commanded by the dictates of the religion. A few instances of architectural sculptures are seen in the minarets. Minarets are pointed or thin projections emanating from the mosques. The Muslim members are called for performing Adhans from these minarets. Earlier the mosques were devoid of minarets and adhans were called from any high points in the mosques.
During the Umayyad period, mosques found in Damascus, Fustat and Medina used to have towers. However during the reign of Abbasid in 750 A.D., minarets began to be part of the mosques. Six towers constructed during the ninth century had a single tower of minarets connected to the wall opposite the mihrab. The minarets in the mosques were symbolic and display of power of the Abbasid religious authority. But the areas opposed to the Abbasid power did not approve to the sign of conformity. Besides, the minarets also signified a change of leadership during the early period. The period after the Fatimid period (1245 AD) under the reign of Mamluk, several buildings also had minarets. During the administration of Abbasid in 750 A.D., the minarets were restricted to just congregational mosques. These minarets were constructed for performing aesthetic functions in the mosques. It was obvious from the manner in which these minarets were adorned and designed to form a cylindrical structure.
The Byzantine Empire laid the design of the Byzantine architectural sculptures found in the churches. The Byzantine Empire emerged because of its distinctive and artistic body formed after 330 AD that is currently referred to as the Roman Empire. Ancient Byzantine architectural sculptures were constructed as an extension of the Roman architecture. A good example of the architectural sculpture in the Byzantine church includes the Cappadocia (357 A.D.). The Byzantine churches possesses the collection of the outstanding architectural sculptures constructed at the time of the Byzantine era. (Fagan, 117).
The architectural sculptures built in the churches were primarily for aesthetic reasons. The early churches in Cilicia during the power of Byzantine Emperor Zeno (476-491) were using architectural sculptures exclusively for decorative reasons. Basilica decorations were normally used in the sculptures. It is obvious because of the extensive decorations used by the Byzantine people. The architectural sculptures symbolized the economic proficiency of the Byzantine Empire. The architectural sculptures signified the economic source of power since gold, bronze and copper were used in its making. Besides, sculptures were used to signify religious symbolism. And the sculptures characterized the association between the people and God in the churches.
A good number of Greek architectural sculptures did not last long because of the use of wood and mud bricks. The sculptures were normally used to improve the decoration of figures. The Greeks used relief and sub relief slabs. Similarly, use of pediment triangle was made to facilitate the architectural sculptures to get a freestanding figure. Since the archaic period, the relief beautification style was used for decoration that is manifested in the Apollo statute (2nd B.C.). The Greek sculptors even used human and animal combination to build the sculpted figures. It is conspicuous that the frieze was the most decorated portion of the sculpture. (Jodge & Balen, 112)
Stone, limestone, sandstones and sun-baked mud bricks were the most common material used for construction of the sculptures as mud was in short supply. Since the Egyptian architectural sculptures were constructed primarily for religious purposes, the statutes were marked by steep walls having small openings and thick structures which was a mechanism employed to prolong stability of the mud sculptures. Almost all the architectural sculptures made use of the lintel and post construction that formed of huge slabs of stones or baked mud. The massive slabs of stones and mud are used as the foundation of the architectural sculptures. Construction of arches and decoration in the sculptures was universal and used to mark historical events.
The shape of the minarets was square, round, octagonal, and rectangular in design and had a pointed roof. Three dimensional perceptive was the common decorative theme represented therein. The application of shinny equipments, glazers, design repetition and distinctive texture is normally applied. The muqarnas technique was used in the structure of the minarets which is the honeycomb decoration both reflecting as well as refracting light.
The Byzantine architectural sculptures embodied the roman sarcophagi and sarcophagi style and designs. It represented the statutes, figures and ornaments holding its roots from the Eastern Roman Empire. It signified their stylistic differences, development and diversity. Because of Greek influence, the Byzantine Empire made use of the Doric, ionic and Corinthian style to construct their architectural sculptures (Muller, 145). The architectural sculptures from the four categories are generally used for religious purposes. It is obvious since every society have strong belief in their Gods. Also, architectural sculptures were used for serving aesthetic functions. They were used for beautification of temples, churches and mosques during the ancient periods. The same materials were not used and each was distinct. The Egyptian and Greeks primarily used baked mud mixed with granite to build the sculptures whereas the Byzantines and Muslims made use of stone slabs. The architectural sculptures were all used for varied purposes inclusive of religious functions, aesthetic purpose and artistic purposes by all the groups.
The paper has discussed the uses, style, meaning, characteristics as also the comparison of the architectural sculptures as used in relation with Greek and Egyptian temples, Islamic mosques and finally Byzantine churches.
Ashpitel, Arthur. Treatise on Architecture: including the arts of construction, building, stone-masonry, arch, carpentry, roof, joinery, and strength of materials. London: A. and C, 2011.
Fagan, Garrett. Archaeological Fantasies: How pseudoarchaeology misrepresents the past and misleads the public. New York: Routledge, 2006.
Jodge, Krista & Balen,Van. Preparatory architectural investigation in the restoration of historical buildings. London: Leuven University Press, 2002.