The Most Famous Relief Sculptures You Should Know


Relief sculptures stand out in the art world. It often belongs to the wall, or other type of background surface, on which it is carved.

Reliefs are traditionally classified according to how high the figures project from the background. Also known as relievo, relief sculpture is a combination of two-dimensional pictorial art and three-dimensional sculptural art. Thus a relief, like a picture, is dependent on a background surface and its composition must be extended in a plane to be visible. Yet at the same time, a relief also has a degree of real three-dimensionality, just like a proper sculpture.

(1)low relief (basso-relievo, or bas-relief), where the sculpture projects only slightly from the background surface.

(2)high relief (alto-relievo, or alto-relief), where the sculpture projects at least half or more of its natural circumference from the background, and may in parts be wholly disengaged from the ground, thus approximating sculpture in the round.

They can provide both decorative and narrative functions. Here are some of the most famous relief sculptures you should know.

marble relief sculpture 3

Relief Sculptures– 10 Most Famous

1. Confederate Monument Stone Mountain    (1958-70) WK Hancock (high relief)

The massive high-relief sculpture on Stone Mountain depicts the three “heroes” of the Confederacy, President Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and J. Stonewall Jackson. Started in the 1910s, it wasn’t finished until 1972. Located about 15 miles east of downtown Atlanta, the monument is the size of three football fields and is protected by Georgia state law. Stone Mountain is also where the Ku Klux Klan re-emerged in 1915, inspired by the racist film The Birth of a Nation.

confederate monument stone mountain

2. Mount Rushmore National Memorial       (1927-41) South Dakota (high relief)

Mount Rushmore National Memorial is a massive sculpture carved into Mount Rushmore in the Black Hills region of South Dakota. Completed in 1941 under the direction of Gutzon Borglum and his son Lincoln, the sculpture’s roughly 60-ft.-high granite faces depict U.S. presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln. The site also features a museum with interactive exhibits.

mount rushmore national memorial

3. The Last Judgment, Saint-Lazare Cathedral    (1145) Gislebertus (high relief)

The medieval Cathedral of St. Lazare in Autun, France, constructed in about 1120, contained relics of St. Lazarus. Pilgrims to the church were greeted at the entrance by a sculpture of the last judgment. The sculpture is signed “Gislebertus hoc fecit” (Gislebertus made this), confirming the sculptor’s identity in a way that is uncommon in the medieval era. Christ is in the center of the composition in a mandorla, or almond-shaped frame. Below Christ, the dead are rising, and they line up to have their souls weighed. An angel with a trumpet summons all creatures to judgment. Angels and demons fight at the scales where souls are being weighed, as each tries to manipulate the scale for or against a soul.

the last judgment, saint lazare cathedral

4. Ara Pacis Augustae      (c.10 BCE) (Tellus Relief Panel) (high relief)

The Ara Pacis Augustae is an altar in Rome dedicated to the Pax Romana. The monument was commissioned by the Roman Senate on July 4, 13 BC to honor the return of Augustus to Rome after three years in Hispania and Gaul and consecrated on January 30, 9 BC. Originally located on the northern outskirts of Rome, a Roman mile from the boundary of the pomerium on the west side of the Via Flaminia, the Ara Pacis stood in the northeastern corner of the Campus Martius, the former flood plain of the Tiber River and gradually became buried under 4 meters (13 ft) of silt deposits. It was reassembled in its current location, now the Museum of the Ara Pacis, in 1938, turned 90° counterclockwise from its original orientation so that the original western side now faces south.

ara pacis augustae 1ara pacis augustae

5. Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, Amazon Frieze (c.350 BCE) (high relief)

Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. The monument was the tomb of Mausolus, ruler of Caria, in southwestern Asia Minor. It was built in his capital city, Halicarnassus, between about 353 and 351 BCE by his sister and widow, Artemisia II. The building was designed by the Greek architects Pythius (sources spell the name variously, which has cast doubt on his identity) and Satyros. The sculptures that adorned it were the work of four leading Greek artists—Scopas, Bryaxis, Leochares, and (most likely) Timotheus—each of whom was responsible for a single side.

mausoleum of halicarnassus, amazon frieze

6.Ludovisi Battle Sarcophagus

The Ludovisi Battle sarcophagus or “Great” Ludovisi sarcophagus is an ancient Roman sarcophagus dating to around AD 250–260, found in 1621 in the Vigna Bernusconi, a tomb near the Porta Tiburtina. It is also known as the Via Tiburtina Sarcophagus, though other sarcophagi have been found there. It is known for its densely populated, anti-classical composition of “writhing and highly emotive” Romans and Goths. It is an example of the battle scenes favored in Roman art during the Crisis of the Third Century. Discovered in 1621 and named for its first modern owner, Ludovico Ludovisi, the sarcophagus is now displayed at the Palazzo Altemps in Rome, part of the National Museum of Rome as of 1901.

ludovisi battle sarcophagus

7. Madonna of the Stairs

The Madonna of the Stairs (or Madonna of the Steps) is a relief sculpture by Michelangelo in the Casa Buonarroti, Florence. It was sculpted around 1490, when Michelangelo was about fifteen. This and the Battle of the Centaurs were Michelangelo’s first two sculptures. The first reference to the Madonna of the Stairs as a work by Michelangelo was in the 1568 edition of Giorgio Vasari’s Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects.

The sculpture is exhibited at the Casa Buonarroti in Florence, Italy.

madonna of the stairs

8. La Marseillaise (1836) by Francois Rude, Nice (high relief)

“The Marseillaise” is the national anthem of France. The song was made by Rouget de Lisle in Strasbourg on 26 April 1792, after France declared war against Austria. It was first called “Chant de guerre pour l’armée du Rhin” (meaning “Marching Song of the Rhine Army”).

la marseillaise 8

9.Sarcophagus of Junius Bassus

The Sarcophagus of Junius Bassus is a marble Early Christian sarcophagus used for the burial of Junius Bassus, who died in 359. It has been described as “probably the single most famous piece of early Christian relief sculpture.”The sarcophagus was originally placed in or under Old St. Peter’s Basilica, was rediscovered in 1597, and is now below the modern basilica in the Museo Storico del Tesoro della Basilica di San Pietro (Museum of Saint Peter’s Basilica) in the Vatican. The base is approximately 4 x 8 x 4 feet.

Together with the Dogmatic sarcophagus in the same museum, this sarcophagus is one of the oldest surviving high-status sarcophagi with elaborate carvings of Christian themes, and a complicated iconographic program embracing the Old and New Testaments.

sarcophagus of junius bassus

10. Madonna and Child with Four Cherubs

Madonna and Child with Four Cherubs is a c.1440 terracotta sculpture by Donatello, now in the Bode-Museum in Berlin, which was bought in 1888. Still partly medieval in its iconography, Mary and Jesus’ heads touch in a manner also seen in the artist’s Pazzi Madonna. The work was badly damaged in the 1945 fire, with breaks in several places and losing its traces of polychromy.

madonna and child with four cherubs

The Usage and Function of Marble Relief

Decoration: reliefs are often used for architectural decoration, such as the walls of churches, palaces, public buildings, and monuments.

marble relief sculpture 8marble relief sculpture 6

Storytelling: reliefs are often used to depict historical events, religious stories, myths, or important cultural legends.

marble relief sculpture 7

Commemoration and celebration: Many memorial buildings or monuments use reliefs to commemorate major events or important people.

marble relief sculpture 1

Personal and home decoration: In modern times, many people also choose reliefs as part of their home decoration, such as around the fireplace or on the walls of their homes to add an artistic touch to their homes.

marble relief sculpture 4marble relief sculpture 5

If you are very interested in marble relief, want to use the relief to decorate the interior space, or building exterior walls, welcome to contact Trevi factory.

Trevi Art Sculpture Factory provides customized services and could make any marble reliefs depending on the client’s requirement. Our factory uses natural marble to make reliefs, and the reliefs we carve are vivid and lifelike. Our masters understand the works of each artist and express the ideas artists want to express through carving. Our factory stores a large number of reliefs of different designs for customers to choose from. Low price and fast delivery.

Related Posts
Get in Touch with Us Now!

Got questions or feedback? We’d love to hear from you! Just fill out the form below, and our friendly team will respond ASAP.

Scroll to Top



As a factory of Quyang, the famous hometown of sculpture in China, we are always ready to provide you sculptures with better quality and services. Welcome to contact us or visit our factory in the following ways:

Contact Us