Friday, February 19, 2010

Bronze Sculptures: Part One - A Brief History

The desirability to represent an image in three dimensions has existed for centuries.  As you stroll through a museum admiring the remnants of antiquity or visit a bustling contemporary art gallery, you will notice there are many stone, clay and metal materials that have been used faithfully throughout the ages.  There is one material that sticks out from the rest in terms of its durability, longevity and sculpting versatility: Bronze.

Bronze is an alloy of copper and tin, and has great versatility because of its strength and ability to hold its shape.  Unlike marble, stone or clay (which are more brittle) bronze requires less structural support and can be cast into a wider variety of complex forms that are less rigid, such as action poses.  Also, bronze possesses an unusual but desirable physical property that makes it expand during cooling, which allows sculptors to include intricate details into their molds.  When the bronze expands into these voids, the result is a more finely detailed sculpture.
Bronze has been used since the time of ancient Egypt, China, Rome and Greece.  About half of all sculpture produced during antiquity was composed of bronze.  Decoration on temples and other public buildings was among one of the earliest uses of bronze, as was the forging of ancient weapons and currency used by the Greeks and most other cultures of that time.  It became a valuable metal needed by leaders and city states to create armies, which was troublesome to the preservation of sculptures as many were melted down for more functional purposes.  Few ancient bronze statues have survived from this time, though occasionally, some are unearthed from archeological digs or undersea salvage.

 Bronze remained popular as a material used to craft tools until the early part of the Renaissance, when its purpose as an art form saw a revival.  As a sculptural medium, bronze became the rage in the 14th century, particularly in Italy  Donatello brought renewed interest

to bronze sculpture with his famous image of David and Lorenzo Ghiberti became known for his decorative casts that adorned doorways and other architectural elements throughout Florence. 

Lorenzo Ghiberti The Story of Isaac, Esau and Jacob from Porta del Paradiso

Sculpting from bronze saw a continued desirability throughout the Renaissance, with artists aiming for even more life-like qualities, bringing more realism to their work.  It wasn’t until another four centuries later that the Industrial Revolution would provide the tools necessary to make bronze sculptures available in editions. 

In the middle of the 1800’s, foundries sprang up in Paris and artists from all over the world would travel there to study and have their sculptures cast in bronze.  The medium captivated and entranced artists, who kept the art form alive and well, propelling it into the Modern art era. Rodin, Boccioni and, later, Henry Moore applied new ideas like Implied Motion and Abstraction to their work and often made large works that were placed in gardens and public spaces.  Some contemporary artists have even made bronze sculptures that were only about the material itself, showing how chemicals or weather affect the color and texture of the surface.

Matter of Time, Richard Serra, image source Guggenheim Bilbao

Whatever the approach and style may be, artists and artisans have perpetually connected with bronze as an art material, and have bended and molded it into something aesthetically fascinating. 

At Continental, we are privileged to have several fine bronze sculptures in our inventory.  Part two of our bronze blog will explore some of these works, their creators and how they were made.

1 comment:

  1. Since bronze is harder than iron, it's the best material to be used on statues. And it's cheaper than silver and gold. That's why a bronze medal should always be something to be proud of. Well, every podium finish should be something to be proud of. :)

    -> Lawrence Halter