popular tree types for use in wooden sculpture were cedar, cypress,
olive, and ebony.
served as a nice medium for ancient sculptors; most importantly,
it was easy for them to obtain. Trees have never really been uncommon
anywhere, although for sculpture, several types were favored, including
cedar, cypress, olive, and ebony. As marble and bronze sculpture
developed and grew popular around the sixth century (700 BCE), the use
of wood as the primary medium of sculpture diminished. After the
sixth century, wood was almost always used as one of several media.
Other media included stone, ivory, precious metals, and common metals.
Wood was usually used as a supportive inner structure to which all other media
were attached. Chryselephantine, a combination of ivory and gold
typically employed on a large scale (one example is the now lost statue of
Athena from the Parthenon), was often made
by the utilization of such wooden support systems. Sculpture using wood
with stone is termed arcolithic; this type of sculpture was common and
quite versatile. The ease of obtaining wood by any sculptor (whether well
employed or destitute) made for the relatively economical construction of wooden
works, which had a market among the lower-class citizens of Greece. It
is an unfortunate fact that throughout history, nearly all monumental art has
been enjoyed by the wealthy. This has changed only in more modern times
with the advent of the printing press. Wood, especially when hollowed,
is a remarkably light material, given its strength. Its one major drawback is its
impermanence. The secret of wood's strength lies in its molecular
composition, or the structure of its atoms. Wood is not made of a single
type of atom but several (primarily carbon, hydrogen, and nitrogen) which are
bonded together in long strands or fibers. These fibers are cmposed of
the organic polymer cellulose (e.g., such fibers compose the "stringy" strands
found in celery - hence the name of the vegetable). The flaw in wood is
that this organically produced polymer degrades over time; the molecular
strands break apart as the wood reacts with the environment (airborne fungi
aid the decomposition process). Since the Mediterranean climate does not provide a nurturing environment
for wood, most wooden sculpture has been eradicated by the inescapable
and steady turn of time. For this reason, and because of the greater appeal
of their textures, marble and bronze surfaces were favored over wood.
From an art historian's standpoint, it is a good thing that the ancient sculptors
had this preference; otherwise today there would be no sculptural art
history to study!