30 Apr The History of Bronze Statues
The great civilizations of the old world worked in bronze for art, from the time of the introduction of the alloy for edged weapons. The Greeks were the first to scale the figures up to life size. Few examples exist in good condition; one is the seawater-preserved bronze now called “The Victorious Athlete,” which required painstaking efforts to bring it to its present state for museum display. Far more Roman bronze statues have survived. The ancient Chinese, from at least 1200BC, knew both lost-wax casting and section mold casting, and in the Shang dynasty created large ritual vessels covered with complex decoration which have survived in tombs. Over the long creative period of Egyptian dynastic art, small lost-wax bronze figurines were made in large numbers; several thousand of them have been conserved in museum collections. From these beginnings, bronze art has continued to flourish, with large bronze statues being the centerpiece.
Common bronze alloys have the unusual and desirable property of expanding slightly just before they set, thus filling the finest details of a mold. Their strength and ductility (lack of brittleness) is an advantage when figures in action are to be created, especially when compared to various ceramic or stone materials. These qualities allow the creation of extended figures, as in Jeté, or figures that have small cross sections in their support, such as the equestrian statue of Richard the Lionheart. Modern statuary bronze is 90% copper and 10% tin; older bronze alloys varied only slightly from this composition.
But the value of the bronze for other uses is disadvantageous to the preservation of sculptures; few large ancient bronzes have survived, as many were melted down to make weapons in times of war or to create new sculptures commemorating the victors, while far more stone and ceramic works have come through the centuries, even if only in fragments.