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Sculpture is the branch of the visual arts that operates in three dimensions. Durable sculptural processes originally used carving (the removal of material) and modelling (the addition of material, as clay), in stone, metal, ceramics, wood and other materials but, since Modernism, there has been an almost complete freedom of materials and process.A wide variety of materials may be worked by removal such as carving, assembled by welding or modelling, or molded, or cast.

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Sculpture has been central in religious devotion in many cultures, and until recent centuries large sculptures, too expensive for private individuals to create, were usually an expression of religion or politics.Those cultures whose sculptures have survived in quantities include the cultures of the ancient Mediterranean, India and China, as well as many in South America and Africa.The Western tradition of sculpture began in ancient Greece, and Greece is widely seen as producing great masterpieces in the classical period.During the Middle Ages, Gothic sculpture represented the agonies and passions of the Christian faith.The revival of classical models in the Renaissance produced famous sculptures such as Michelangelo's David.

Modernist sculpture moved away from traditional processes and the emphasis on the depiction of the human body, with the making of constructed sculpture, and the presentation of found objects as finished art works.A basic distinction is between sculpture in the round, free-standing sculpture, such as statues, not attached (except possibly at the base) to any other surface, and the various types of relief, which are at least partly attached to a background surface.Relief is often classified by the degree of projection from the wall into low or bas-relief, high relief, and sometimes an intermediate mid-relief.Sunk-relief is a technique restricted to ancient Egypt.Relief is the usual sculptural medium for large figure groups and narrative subjects, which are difficult to accomplish in the round, and is the typical technique used both for architectural sculpture, which is attached to buildings, and for small-scale sculpture decorating other objects, as in much pottery, metalwork and jewellery.Relief sculpture may also decorate steles, upright slabs, usually of stone, often also containing inscriptions.