28 Mar Ultimate Guide to Commissioned Bronze Statues | The History of Bronze Statues

Want to know more about the history of commissioned bronze statues?

In this article, we will cover the steps on how to commission custom artwork, the history of bronze statues, and everything you need to know when creating a custom bronze commission.

Let’s begin!

How to Commission a Piece of Custom Artwork

Commissioning a custom statue is a way to bring class and affluence to a public or private space. Whether you want to commemorate an important event or memorialize an important person, a bronze sculpture is a classic way to pay tribute. While numerous people admire the finished product, few people may understand the process that creates a custom, three-dimensional work of art. From conception to completion, the client (also known as the patron) and artist work together.

The process of commissioning a custom statue may include any of the following steps:

  • Choosing the artist or gallery
  • Holding several meetings with the artist (topics include reviewing themes and sketches, statue size, project budget, materials used, and projected deadline). For example, you may provide photographs to give the artist an idea of your overall style. You may also wish to consult with the artist about what metals make up bronze used – classic bronze is an alloy of copper with tin as the main additive, but silicon bronze is also a popular alloy used for modern sculptures.
  • Reviewing a clay model of the sculpture and providing necessary feedback
  • Sending the sculpture to the foundry for the casting process
  • Completion and professional installation of the bronze sculpture

This process allows a skilled artisan create a sculpture that represents your personal style or the character of your organization. In addition, the tensile strength and ductility of bronze enables the artist to incorporate the type of subtlety that would be harder with stone or marble. The following guide can help you make an informed decision in transforming any space for the better.

What is the price difference between a mass-produced sculpture and a custom sculpture?

The price difference between mass-produced sculptures and custom sculptures occurs due to major differences in the design and production process. Mass-produced means that the manufacturer makes a standard size of a product in bulk quantity. This standardization reduces overhead cost, and so mass-produced sculptures tend to be cheaper for the customer. In contrast, a custom job requires artist time and talent, custom mold creation, and other unique attributes. This customization makes the statue more expensive to produce and results in a higher price.

The History of Bronze Statues

Ancient bronzes have a history that date back to around 4500 B.C.E. Around this time, civilizations in China and the Middle East began mining copper. While copper is a malleable and extremely useful metal, these cultures found that using additives of tin or arsenic could make copper stronger. As a result, ancient metallurgists combined pure copper with other metals to produce the metal alloy bronze. This metal alloy became the chief material used for weapons, tools, and sculptures. Ancient bronzes became so ubiquitous in use that historians and anthropologists refer to this era as the Bronze Age.

Timeline

  • 4500 B.C.E.: Archeologists have found bronze figurines and axe heads dating back to this time in Serbia. Cultures during this period began mixing copper with tin to produce bronze. Prior to this era, stone and clay were the most common materials used for weapons, tools, or statues. The bronze casting process meant that people could create more intricate shapes (and thus build better tools and statues)
  • 3500 B.C.E.: The use of bronze appeared in Sumeria and China
  • 3000 B.C.E.: At the height of the Early Bronze Age, Crete and other Mediterranean islands produced bronze statues consisting of around 90-percent copper and 10-percent arsenic additive. Unfortunately, this process led to arsenic poisoning in the ancient world. Within a few centuries, tin became the most important copper additive for making bronze.
  • 2500 B.C.E.: By this era, the Greeks’ bronze casting process became sophisticated enough to produce life-size bronze sculptures depicted gods and warfare. (An example of this human-scale bronze statuary is the saltwater-preserved Victorious Youth statue that dates to the Classical Greece period). Sculptors also produced detailed figurines using lost-wax or investment casting (such as the famous Dancing Girl of Mohenjodaro figurine made in Harappa, India.
  • 2000 B.C.E.: Bronze became the metal alloy of choice for instruments in Egypt and China. These instruments included bells and cymbals. In addition, bronze became one of the most important metal alloys used for statues found alongside mummies in Egyptian tombs. Egyptians considered bronze the best material for cat statuary (animals that guarded owners into the afterlife). Similarly, Chinese sculptors during the Shang Dynasty era produced intricate bronze vessels for ritualistic use in tombs.

Although the Bronze Age ended around the first millennium B.C.E., this metal alloy remained essential to statutory and other uses. For example, the Chinese discovered gunpowder in A.D. 800 when royals discovered bronze’s low metal-on-metal friction in firearms. Bronze also became the official material used in third-place medals for Greek athletic competitions. Between the 14th and 19th centuries, the Kingdom of Benin produced some of the most famous bronze sculptures in the history of West Africa. European cities also experienced an upsurge in foundries in the 15th century (most notably Florence with the production of the works of Donatello).

Bronze remains one of the most important metals used in modern statuary. If you are interested in what metals make up bronze in the modern era, most modern statues consist of 90-percent bronze and a metal additive such as tin, aluminum, nickel or zinc. Some sculptors opt for non-metal or metalloid additives such as phosphorus or silicon.

Three Factors to Consider When Creating a Custom Bronze Commission

1. Artist Time and Talent

A custom project requires payment for both the artist’s time and talent. You should draw comparisons from the artist’s standard rates, length of experience, and level of expertise. (An artist’s associated gallery may also help make suggestions on the required rates.) Larger sculptures and more intricate sculptures may also increase pricing. Keep in mind that a foundry’s scheduling (existing projects or high-demand seasons) may also increase the price of a project.

2. Custom Mold Creation

Since your project is unique, it cannot use a cookie-cutter mold. A custom mold is a hollow frame or matrix made using a pattern or model of your final sculpture. For some projects, the cost of the mold can equal or exceed the bronze casting.

3. Cost of Casting Itself

Casting is the process of delivering liquid or molten bronze into the custom mold to produce the desired shape. After delivering the metal into the custom mold, the factory lets the mold cool and then extracts the metal part (the casting). The modern casting process takes expertise and requires the right scheduling and fees. Casting methods include hot-cast bronze and resin casting.

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The Step-By-Step Process of Making a Bronze Statue

How are bronze sculptures made?

  • 1. Meetings: The client holds meetings with the artist to determine conception and design. Following the initial meeting, the artist usually produces sketches or preliminary drawings for the project.
  • 2. Materials Used: The client then decides which material best conceptualizes the design. Bronze is one of the most perennially popular materials that artists and estates choose. The artist can also produce a clay mold to help demonstrate the final product.
  • 3. Mini-Sculpture Model: In the final step for pre-production, the sculptor may also product a miniature model to give the client a three-dimensional preview of the final product. Some clients use the plaque models to make changes or for fundraising and presentation purposes.
  • 4. Creating the Backbone: Sculptors refer to the backbone of a bronze statue as the armature. It is a steel frame filled with foam that provides the outline or template for the final project. The sculptor then seals the armature with a latex coating before starting the sculpting project itself.
  • 3. The Sculpting Process: This process begins when the sculptor applies hundreds of pounds of hot clay to the armature by hand. The clay blocks in the armature for the first time. With a painstaking process of adding, removing, and molding clay over time, the sculptor produces the final design. The artist then adds additional detailing until the sculpture is complete and ready to be molded and poured.

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Top Questions to Consider When Making a Commissioned Bronze Sculpture:

Does the statue you want already exist?

If you have a general idea of the sculpture that you want, it is possible that a sculpting business has already created that sculpture. You may save yourself time by purchasing a sculpture from existing inventory. However, if you envision a sculpture that is truly innovative and unique, you may need to commission a statue. Compare your ideas to existing statues and create a checklist. This can help you effectively communicate your desires to the artist of your choice.

What styles of sculpture do you like?

Hyper-Realistic

Hyper-realistic art emulates a high-resolution photograph. Many individuals prefer this art form because it can bring life to surroundings. Some of the most famous bronze sculptures include hyper-realistic military or memorial statues. If you like your artwork to feel like a snapshot or live-action moment, hyper-realistic art is an excellent choice for you.

Impressionistic

Impressionistic sculptures convey moods or archetypal concepts. This type of art can range from abstract to thematic. According to many reviews, the best way to describe impressionistic art is the visual depiction or interpretation of a dream. If you like artwork that captures the scope of an idea, then impressionistic may be for you.

Contemporary

Contemporary sculptures reflect current trends and concepts. This artwork can include modish, global, en vogue, or technologically advanced pieces. Bronze contemporary sculptures are a great way to give an area an up-to-date look using materials that will last a lifetime.

What is your budget?

It is important to be clear about your budget from the beginning. This clarity enables artists to know exactly what they have to work with in terms of cost of labor and materials. In addition, an artist can use this budget to give you a clear estimate or quote on the sculpture size and customization you can expect. Keep in mind that in addition to the down payment and labor payments, you should consider costs of transportation (to the display site) and installation.

If you have a low budget, the artist may be able to make suggestions or referrals for you to purchase an existing piece. The artist may also be able to offer a small discount for bulk orders or for religious or non-profit organizations.

How do you feel about working directly with an artist?

Artists can admittedly be quirky individuals. While this may not bother people who have thick skin, it can bother others who are unaccustomed to unconventional personalities. If you want to work with an artist who truly knows how to make a bronze statue, be prepared for a range of personality types. In the end, it is the quality of work that counts. Either way, an artist typically has professional references or reviews that you can consider before making a decision.

Have you taken the time to visit an art gallery and view different sculptures?

An art gallery represents a group of preeminent artists, and the gallery often represents current themes or trends of an art movement or era. Galleries also serve as the primary agents of the art industry. A gallery can recommend an artist for your project and help negotiate contract and financial terms. Keep in mind the galleries can charge up to a 50-percent commission for their services. If you work with an artist directly, you should also note that many artists keep their prices comparable to gallery rates in order to maintain the industry standard and avoid shortchanging professional relationships within the art field.

How quickly would you like your sculpture to be made?

It is important to note that it takes time to achieve a custom sculpture. If you need a statue more quickly, you may wish to browse through an existing selection. Custom sculptures can take must. First, you must articulate your ideas to an artist. Creative individuals who know how to make a bronze statue need time and inspiration to bring your ideas to fruition. Depending on the size and complexity of the statue, this process can take months.

After the initial artist’s work, the sculpture has to undergo lost wax casting at the foundry. Since foundries serve multiple artists and galleries, these factories often have a large backlog. Within the foundry, craftsmen carefully create rubber molds to produce casting wax for the high-quality bronze casting. The rubber-mold process itself can take weeks (especially for larger sculptures). As you can see, the planning, casting, and sculpting process can take weeks or months to get exactly right.

Large Bronze Sculpture vs. Small Bronze Sculpture

Craftsmen use unique techniques to create either large or small bronze sculptures. If you are wondering how are bronze sculptures made, the process differs depending on the size. For a large sculpture, an artist may need to create several small models to perfect the design and proportions. The artist may also need to make a larger intermediate model before creating the full-sized sculpture.

Keep in mind that because bronze is a darker material, bronze sculptures can appear smaller in person than in photographs or sketches. If you want a life-sized or large bronze sculpture, experts recommend adding 10-20 percent to the original size to retain the large appearance.

How to Clean a Bronze Statue

There are several recommended ways to cleanse a bronze statue:

  • Polish with coconut oil: Rich in natural fatty acids, coconut oil can help bronze retain its natural luster. Simply dab the oil on a clean cloth and polish your statue. This natural oil does not tarnish or discolor bronze.
  • Dish soap: Prepare a solution of 2.0 cups distilled water and 1.0 tablespoon dish soap to lightly remove dirt and grime from the statue.
  • Dusting: Use a dry washcloth to dust the statue once a week. You can also use a soft-bristle brush on more intricate statues.
  • Vinegar paste: Blend 1.0 tablespoon each of vinegar, flour, and salt to create a small paste. Use the paste to clean clearly tarnished portions of the bronze statue. Let sit for at least five minutes, and then wipe the mixture away with a damp washcloth. You can also use a dry cloth to polish the statue afterward.
  • Lemon: Dip a lemon-half in salt and use it to rub the tarnished areas of a statue. Use a dry cloth to remove the remaining residue.

Conclusion

Commissioning a bronze statue is a more detailed process than mere window shopping. Approaching the project with patience and willingness to work with an expert will help bring the sculpture of your dreams to fruition. For more information, contact us. We welcome inquiries on projects for commercial, public, and private sculptures.

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