Essential Introductions: Bronze Sculpture

Essential Introductions: Bronze Sculpture

When it comes to sculpture – what’s the first thing that springs to mind? Marble? Clay? Wood? There’s one classic material missing from this list… and it’s bronze.

Whilst Bronze is best known today for large public monuments and equestrian statues, it has a fascinating and diverse artistic history. From tiny figurines to jewellery, doorways, classic statues and modern abstraction – this amazing material has been used by sculptors all over the world. Indeed, some of the finest sculptures ever made have been constructed from bronze.

With this in mind, we provide our essential introduction to bronze sculpture. From what exactly bronze is, to the artistic advantages and a brief history of the medium (as well as some stunning contemporary examples) – here’s everything you need to know about this magnificent metal and its role in art…

What is bronze sculpture?

First of all, let’s take a look at just what bronze is exactly.
Typically, modern bronze is composed of 88% copper and 12% tin. These ratios have changed over time, and historic bronze sculptures would have varied greatly in their composition. More often than not, sculptors and metalworkers would use whatever scraps of metal they could source! This meant that bronze often included other metals such as zinc, lead, nickel, iron and arsenic.
Bronze sculptures aren’t just the large scale works we’re familiar with today – but it was originally used for small figurines, weapons, medals and even musical instruments.
One of the most common ways to create bronze sculptures is with the “lost wax” or cire-perdue method of casting. This involves pouring molten metal into a mould, initially created with a wax model. Once the mould has been created, the wax is melted and drained away – leaving a hollow core into which bronze can be poured.
Dating from the 4th millennium BCE (and possibly earlier!), it’s a technique that allows for the creation of beautiful and intricate designs. We’ve previously written about the history and techniques of this meticulous process (used by Tim Cotterill aka Frogman) – but it remains a key component of bronze sculpture to this day.

What are the artistic advantages of bronze?

Because the standard bronze alloy (consisting of copper and tin) has the property of expanding slightly before it sets – bronze is a fantastic metal for achieving the finest details and forms.
As the bronze cools, it then shrinks just a little which further makes sculptures easier to separate from their moulds. 

Bronze also possesses great strength and high ductile qualities (which means it can withstand a certain level of change without breaking). This is one of the reasons that so many bronze sculptures have survived the elements for millennia.
As well as allowing for a consistent finish in terms of form and detail, bronze provides artists with a stunning array of patination. This is the result of a chemical reaction with the copper in the bronze that literally changes the surface colour of the bronze. It can be either natural, man-made or both. A great example of a natural patina can be seen on the Statue of Liberty!
Bronze can also be easily silvered, gilded and coloured – giving it an extraordinary versatility for a whole range of artistic uses.

A short history of bronze sculpture

Image Credit: Dancing Girl of Mohenjodaro (c. 2,500 BCE) via Wikimedia Commons.
The oldest bronze sculpture in existence is the “Dancing Girl” from Mohenjodaro belonging to the Harappan civilization. It dates to 2,500 BCE. Later works include large numbers of small Egyptian figurines, Chinese ritual burial items and later Greek life-size statues.
Bronze sculpture continued throughout the Roman empire, with images of Gods, heroes, athletes and philosophers filling temples and palaces. With the success of the “lost wax” casting method, Bronze sculpture continued to be of great significance during the Renaissance (especially in Italy with the work of masters such as Lorenzo Ghiberti, Giambologna and Donatello).
Whilst Bronze sculpture was less common during the 1700s, it enjoyed a “second renaissance” with the Industrial Revolution. Bronze foundries appeared all over Europe, with Paris being a particular hot-spot for sculptors studying the technique.

Bronze sculpture in the modern era

Image Credit
: Auguste Rodin, The Thinker (1904), via Wikimedia Commons.
Modern bronze sculpture is often said to have started with Auguste Rodin. His astoundingly expressive works (especially known for their facial expressions and hand gestures) have since inspired generations of artists working in bronze. The Thinker, Monument to Balzac, The Kiss, The Burghers of Calais, and The Gates of Hell are just some of his most well-known works! Described as the “founder of modern sculpture”, Rodin took a craftsman-like approach to his work – deeply influenced by earlier Renaissance sculptors.
Twentieth century bronze works include Henry Moore’s monumental semi-abstract shapes, the elongated figures of Alberto Giacommetti and iconic works such as Jacob Epstein’s machine-like visored and menacing Rock Drill – created during the horrors of World War One. Testing the very definitions of sculpture, these bronze works have gone on to restore bronze to its pre-eminent position within the sculptural genre.

Spotlight on: Contemporary Bronze Sculptors

At the ArtMarket Gallery, we proudly represent some of the best contemporary bronze sculptors working today. This includes Tim Cotterill, Chris Barela and Jose Munoz’s and their wonderful animal creations – with frogs, birds, geckos and all forms of marine-life making an appearance. What links all three artists is the amazing attention to detail, a truly joyful approach and the unique patinas that adorn their jewel-like creations.

Reflecting the massive versatility of bronze as a medium, it has been used with almost diametrically-opposed aesthetic qualities by artists such as Daisy Boman. Her “Bo-men” characters are created entirely from bronze, but their rough unadorned surfaces speak to wider social issues.
Having lived in South Africa during the 1980s, Daisy Boman was deeply troubled by the racial discrimination and segregation that was the product of apartheid. Each “Bo-man” has a face without features and a form that transcends race and nationality – connecting our common thread of humanity in a way that harks back to Rodin’s powerfully emotive figures.
The ArtMarket Gallery is an award-winning independent gallery based in East Yorkshire. We display and sell paintings, sculpture, photography (and more!) from both well-known and up-and-coming artists. We pride ourselves on assisting people find artworks they truly love, so why not get in touch today? Our approachable, expert team would be delighted to help.
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