The Bronze Age
A by-word for strength & timeless glamour, bronze is having a moment in interior design. This beautiful, versatile metal complements most colour schemes and works as well in a modern interior as it does in a traditional one.
Bronze is enjoying a renaissance, riding the wave of rustic industrial style where it is a key feature in light fittings and furniture, often combined with complementary materials like glass and distressed wood. Bronze details lend strength and style to sideboards and storage chests to make them statement features in a living space but this ancient of metals has also found its way into contemporary kitchens and bathrooms. Bronze stands out when combined with white, cream or taupe-based colour schemes where it is often introduced to lend contrast and heft. It can be rough and ready, like the weathered legs of a time-worn table, or elegant and sophisticated in sculptural form.
Bronze is an alloy: a mixture of copper with a small amount of tin or other metals. It is harder than copper and easier to melt. It is also harder than iron and much more resistant to corrosion. It is more resilient than stone and offers greater scope for expression and detail: qualities which make it favoured as a medium for sculpture. But why are bronze sculptures so expensive?
It comes down to technique. Most bronzes are cast by the Lost-Wax process which dates back to the Bronze Age. It is an extremely labour-intensive, highly technical process which requires specialist equipment and facilities. The artist creates a sculpture, usually in clay, then a mould is made of the sculpture and the inside coated with a layer of molten wax. Once the wax has cooled and set hard, it is filled with a heat-resistant material which forms a core. The mould is removed, and the wax replica coated in a sloppy clay mixture and coated with silicon-based sand. It is built up slowly, layer by layer with (a process which can take weeks). This results in the production of a rigid ceramic shell mould which will be used only once to cast the bronze.
This ‘sandwich’ is heated in a kiln until the wax ‘filling’ melts and leaches out leaving a void between the empty shell and the core (hence the term ‘lost-wax’). Further heating in the kiln at more than 1000 degrees Celsius burns off any residual wax and vitrifies the mould into a brittle but resilient ceramic (a glassy material that can withstand molten bronze). The liquid metal is poured into the void, allowed to cool then the ceramic mould chipped and broken off to reveal the bronze.
The bronze sculpture is hand-worked by the artist and skilled artisans to remove imperfections, smoothen surfaces and chisel in fine detail. Large or complex sculptures are made in sections which will be joined together at this point. Finally, a patina is applied: a chemical process which causes oxidisation of the metal and changes its appearance. Heat and salts can be applied to alter the surface colour in different ways under the direction of the artist to give the sculpture its final finish. Voila!