Materials & Techniques

Bronze in the Ancient Mediterranean

Copper, and its more adaptable alloy bronze, which is a mixture of copper, tin and lead, were the basic metals of the ancient Mediterranean world until the spread of iron working after 1000 A.D. Even when iron was common for making tools and weapons, bronze remained the most important metal for luxury objects and for fine sculptures to the end of the ancient period. Metalworkers were adept at cold-hammering, lost-wax casting, and the use of molds for bronze objects. They used many types of surface ornamentation once the basic object was produced, including chasing, engraving, inlay, gilding, and open-work.

While the great bronze statues so famous in Antiquity have almost all been melted down or destroyed, small bronze sculptures and decorative metal work survive in quantity, to attest to the superb skills of Greco-Roman and Etruscan craftsmen. Deities like Aphrodite, Herakles, or Hygeia were made as votive offerings or supplied protection to their worshipers. Mythic animals decorated small objects like jewelry boxes or furniture. A practical object like the strigil used by athletes to clean their bodies could have sculptural form. The couches on which Greeks reclined for banquets were ornamented with fine bronze fittings. Many small figures from the Minoan to the Classical period testified to the Greek artist's love for the nude male figure. Realistic Roman portraits were made in bronze, as well as marble.

Excerpt from

DMA unpublished material, Label copy.