An interesting bit of sculpture trivia

Posted by Lisa Benson on


Have you ever gazed upon a sculpture - say, a bust such as our Alexander Hamilton Reduction  - and admired the decorative base that it stands on? Some of history’s greatest works of art literally stand on the shoulders of the mighty “socle base”! 
Photo of cast of Alexander Hamilton Bust reduction in white plaster


How and when a socle is used

Pronounced “sō-kəl” or “sä-kel”, the socle’s most frequent usage in language tends to lean more towards its use in architecture, where it is defined as “a projecting usually molded member at the foot of a wall or pier or beneath the base of a column, pedestal, or superstructure.” In artistic terms, a socle is similar to a plinth (or pedestal), though it is generally reserved for smaller sculptures. For example, our Hermes bust sits atop a socle, while Boston Common’s George Washington statue features a large plinth.

Photo of George Washington bronze sculpture on a stone plinth, located in Boston Common, MA

George Washington bronze sculpture on plinth, located in Boston Common; Boston, MA

Origin of the word

According to Merriam-Webster, “socle” is a word of French origin, circa 1704, and is derived from the Italian zoccolo, or Latin socculus - both of which refer to types of footwear. With that in mind, it’s easy to see how the term came to be applied to a sculpture’s stylish means of support.

Unfortunately, not much specific research exists on the socle base, so it is difficult to pinpoint when exactly they began being incorporated into original artworks. It is, however, a common practice to add them onto restorations and reproductions, as seen on this marble portrait head and marble bust. If you browse through the busts in our collection and historic catalogs, you’ll notice that many of the casts feature socle bases.

We hope this interesting bit of sculpture trivia really knocked your “socles” off! Jokes aside, it’s always fun to learn more about your favorite pieces of art. Why not check out our entire collection and add a new favorite to your own home gallery?


Michael Fletcher



socle. (2022). The Merriam-Webster.Com Dictionary.

Wikipedia contributors. (2021, October 5). Equestrian statue of George Washington (Boston). Wikipedia.

portrait head | British Museum. (2022). The British Museum.

portrait bust | British Museum. (2022). The British Museum.

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