The Sculptural “Bust” As Decoration

The mere idea of a bust as decor brings to mind references of historical nobility within an interior. In fact it is said that the bust references history, civility and culture. Agreed. According to Wikipedia, “A bust is a sculpted or cast representation of the upper part of the human figure, depicting a person’s head and neck, as well as a variable portion of the chest and shoulders. The piece is normally supported by a plinth. These forms recreate the likeness of an individual. These may be of any suitable material (such as marble, bronze or clay)”. Throughout the centuries, sculptural busts have indeed been formed from many substances, including limestone, bronze, alabaster, wood, stone, precious metals and glazed earthenware. It is perhaps the more common classic marble, limestone, alabaster and bronze that often seem to take the center stage.

The tradition of the sculptural bust is historic and vast. Historically, the bust was the customary form of portraiture in many civilizations. The Renaissance, influenced by Humanist thinking, in which prime importance was placed on the human rather than the divine or supernatural, led to an appreciation and fascination of Greek and Roman antiquity in art and culture. The Greeks were known to idealize the face and the Romans were known as Realists that created lifelike renderings. A Former Chief Curator at the National Academy Museum in New York City had stated of the Romans “They showed every bump, wrinkle and wart… Portraiture was practically dead from the lapse of the Roman Empire until the Renaissance”. Bust sculpture is said to have reached its climax in pre-revolutionary France and the Italian Renaissance. During this period, sculpture and painting were closely related, however, the 3-dimensional art form of the bust went beyond what an artist could compose upon a canvas. The bust that simulated oneself was indeed, a favored lasting and decorative approach. Busts were truly elevated mortals, put upon a pedestal in public spaces or in private homes. Often, multiple copies were cast in plaster and given as gifts! Imagine! Perhaps the element of vanity is what adds interest to the eternal art of the bust? An unknown scholar has stated eloquently that “Sculpture is the portrait of immortals, for a bust portrait is often stripped to the essential to represent the dominant trait which though particularly that of one man, yet is nevertheless of universal value: grandeur, nobility, courage, force of character, profundity of thought, esprit, genius, intelligence….” Well stated. Eventually, the bust was exchanged for the painted surface. But the immortalization of the bust lives on.

Vincente Wolf, a modern luxe Designer, states“It’s like having somebody from the past sitting there. It can bring great drama, incredible detail, and a wonderful human scale to the space”. Designer Victoria Hagan reveals that “Living with art is different from seeing it in a museum. A bust is obvious, and you have to be sure that it does not take over a room, even a grand hall. I’ve removed busts from pedestals, which are imposing and create distance. I’ve put them in niches, on tabletops, on library shelves, where they add to the richness of books and the atmosphere of learning. Basically, I view a bust as sculpture, and I may move it around the room. I don’t think art should be stagnant. I like my rooms to speak, and a bust is one voice.

Sculptural Busts Within The Interior
Sculptural Busts Within The Interior

This ancient form linked to antiquity can be incorporated in artful placement and perhaps even used as a whimsical display. The sculptural bust provides old world charm and adds an intriguing element and accent when included in an attractive interior or even exterior vignette. Pairing modern with classical elements is a perfect marriage. This conversation piece can become the perfect ornamentation to adorn the tops of so many surfaces. Interspersed among the basic elements of our interior domains, this object d’art can be a focal point or an element of surprise for those that meander through our spaces. A monument of the past honored in the present. Bust sculptures add character and a sense of timelessness. The ageless appeal of the sculptural bust will always live on, immortalized. Indeed, a bust is one voice.


“All objects have their givens, their natural environment, whether it’s a candlestick or sofa. I like to go against type. When something is put in an expected setting, it’s not demanding anything of you, and you stop seeing it. You must allow a viewer to communicate with it.”
– Vincente Wolfe


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