David by Michelangelo (1501-1504)
Originally commissioned for the roof of Florence’s cathedral, Michelangelo was only 26 years old when he won the job. One of the most iconic sculptures in history, Michelangelo’s oversized David is calm and collected, with his slingshot slung over his shoulder, confidently waiting to take on Goliath. Michelangelo’s skill is demonstrated in his attention to detail, from the bulging veins in David’s hand to the mastery of contrapposto in his pose.
Statue of Liberty, designed by Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi and built by Gustave Eiffel (1876-1886)
Known to symbolize freedom in the United States, the Statue of Liberty is a copper statue that was a gift from the French government and shows a robbed figure representing the Roman goddess Libertas. In her arms, she holds a tablet with the date of the US Declaration of Independence. The idea for the gift was dreamed up by Édouard René de Laboulaye, president of the French Anti-Slavery Society, to celebrate and honor the Union victory in the Civil War and the abolition of slavery. The green patina now associate with the celebrated sculpture only appeared after 1900 as the copper oxidized.
The Thinker by Rodin (1880, cast in 1904)
This masterpiece by French sculptor Auguste Rodin was originally titled The Poet and was actually meant to be part of a larger composition called The Gates of Hell. The Thinker was actually retitled by foundry workers who found similarities with Michelangelo’s sculpture Il Penseroso (The Thinker) and became an independent work of art. The celebrated sculpture has been cast multiple times, with 28 full figure castings, though many not made during Rodin’s lifetime. The Musée Rodin has the honor of displaying the first full-scale cast of this figure, often used to represent philosophy.
Unique Forms of Continuity in Space by Umberto Boccioni (1913, cast in 1931)Though he died at 33, Italian artist Umberto Boccioni had an enormous impact on the art world. Helping shape the aesthetics of the Futurist movement, he was interested in the dynamism of form and deconstructing solid shapes. Now located in New York’s MoMA, his Unique Forms of Continuity in Space is the apex of his ideas. Suggesting a windswept movement, the sleek bronze at once embraces modern machinery, yet is also a nod to the ancient past. Bursting with energy, it fulfills Boccioni’s wish, “Let us fling open the figure and let it incorporate within itself whatever may surround it.”