What is Bas-Relief?

Bas-relief sculpture is a type of sculpture in which objects are carved out of a solid piece of material, almost as if they are trapped inside the stone, metal, wood, or other materials used. This carving technique is quite old, and it has been used many cultures all over the world, from Mesoamerica to India. Many beautiful examples of bas-relief can be found in museums as well as in situ at various archaeological sites.

A bas-relief is distinguished the fact that it is not free-standing. This art form is also known as “low relief,” referring to the fact that the objects do not project very far from the background. Bas-relief is referred to as “high relief” when objects protrude more prominently. Carving wood, hammering or casting metal, and casting materials such as ceramics can all be used to create the sculpture. It can also be done in stone, with precious and semiprecious stones being used.

The objects in a typical bas-relief stand out against the background. Sunk relief, a type of relief in which the figures are created shadows carved into the background, with the background appearing raised or projected, is created when this norm is reversed. Because the fine details are preserved in the sunken stone rather than being projected out into space, sunk relief can be quite beautiful and also quite durable.

This type of sculpture is frequently used as a decorative element in architecture. Depending on the desires and architectural trends, bas-relief panels could be attached to a structure or integrated into its structural supports. Many temples around the world have religious bas-relief scenes depicting various figures and events in religious history, and Muslim architecture also has stunning geometric and floral designs.

Bas-relief can also be found on smaller objects like boxes and furniture, and much of the art on display in museums is of this type. In other cases, architectural bas-relief sections have been removed and restored for museum display. This practice is divisive, as some believe that architecture and sculpture should remain in their country of origin, and many historical, religious, and cultural artifacts end up in American and European museums regardless of where they came from.