Sculpting Glossary

What is a Relief Sculpture? (The 4 Types to Know)

March 20, 2023 by

This is a guide covering everything you need to know about relief sculptures.

We’ll be covering the following topics (click on a bullet point to jump to that section):

Table of Contents

What is a Relief Sculpture

Relief is a method of sculpting in which the carved elements remain attached to a solid base of the same material. It is an art form that combines many aspects of two-dimensional graphic art and three-dimensional sculpture and are often used on wall, or some other type of background, on which it is engraved.

The word ‘relief’ comes from the Latin verb relevo, to raise.

What is actually done when the release is cut on a flat surface of a carved image of stone or wood (wood carving) is a reduction of the field, leaving the uncovered parts to appear to be elevated.

Relief Sculpture example

Types of Relief Sculptures

Relief sculptures have the following types:

1. Low Relief

Low relief is an expressive image with a shallow depth. Examples can be seen with coins. Some versions distort the depth very little. The word comes from the Italian basso relevo in French bas-relief.

To further explore low relief, we also recommend this video by Fakeero:

2. Mid Relief

Mid-relief, half-relief, or mezzo-relief is defined indirectly, and the word is rarely used in English. Works are often described as low relief instead.

Middle relief falls between high and low forms.

3. High Relief

This is usually more than half the weight of sculptural projects from the background.

Indeed, the most prominent elements of formation, especially the heads and limbs, are often completely reduced, removing them from the field.

Visual title elements are often expressed in their full depth, in contrast to the low liberalization where the visual elements are stripped flat.

Most large sculptures were built using this process in monuments and architecture.

Check out this example of a high relief sculpture by Kyle Vannoy:

4. Sunken Relief

The sunken relief is very limited in ancient Egyptian art where it is most common.

It has been used for large paintings on exterior walls, as well as hieroglyphs and cartouches.

To see sunken relief in action, we recommend this video by Miss Williams:

History of Relief Sculpture

In simple terms, the development of sculpture (relief) was noted for the fluctuations between figurative and engraved dominance.

Prehistoric Relief Sculpture

The first sculpture goes back to the art of the Upper Paleolithic cave, about 25,000 BCE

The oldest statues in France are Venus of Laussel (23,000 BCE), limestone bas-relief of the woman, found in Dordogne. Also, the unusual Abril du Poisson Cave Salmon Carving.

Ancient Relief Sculpture

During the civilization of the Ancient World (c.3,500-600 BCE), paintings were common in the stone architecture of ancient Egypt, Assyria, and other Middle Eastern cultures.

An example of a Mesopotamian sculpture is a group of lions and dragons from the Ishtar Gate of Babylon, slaughtered with relative ease.

See also alabaster lion sculptures depicting Ashurnasirpal II and Ashurbanipal, a typical example of Assyrian art c.1500-612 BCE.

To see the relief sculptures of ancient Egypt, we also recommend this video by Ashraf Ezzat:

Famous Relief Sculptures

It includes the following:

  • The Great Pergamum Altar, now housed in the Pergamum Museum, Berlin, especially the upper respite
  • Lions and dragons from the Ishtar Gate, Babylon, a lowly relief
  • Karnak Temple in Egypt, dead rest
  • Bayon, Angkor show Cham soldiers on board and Khmer fighters dead in water
  • Angkor Watt in Cambodia, especially for low relaxation
  • Images of elephant, horse, bull and lion below the Asoka Lion of the Capital of India, the national emblem of India (the capital itself is a complete portrait)
  • Glyphs and the artwork of the Maya civilization, low liberty
  • Confederacy Monument in Stone Mountain, Georgia
  • Borobudur Temple, Java Island Java, Indonesia
  • Elgin Marbles from Parthenon, now living in the British Museum, is comfortable and downstairs
  • Frieze of Parnassus, high relief
  • Robert Gould Shaw Memorial, Boston, especially high school help

Final Remarks

This sculpture has been in use many times now and is providing valuable new things to the already developed art of sculpting.