Often referred to simply as a “bronze,” bronze sculptures have a history dating back to ancient times. Bronze is the most popular metal used in cast sculptures. Bronze casting is versatile and can be used to create free-standing sculpture, relief, and small figurines, statuettes and smaller components for larger projects.
Bronze is quite durable and stands up well to the elements. It is a particularly popular material for sculptures intended for outdoors. Bronze is an ideal material for garden decorations and equestrian monuments that are prominently displayed in public outdoor spaces. Perhaps the most famous bronze sculpture that lives outdoors would be The Thinker by Auguste Rodin.
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Casting bronze requires artisan techniques, some of which have remained largely the same for centuries. The most popular technique is referred to as the lost wax technique, investment casting being the more modern term. In lost wax casting, the artist begins with a full scale model of the finished sculpture usually made out of a non drying, oil-based clay. A mould is then made from the clay model, usually out of plaster to allow the artist to make refinements to the model sculpture. Some artists cast the model directly in wax, skipping the plater step.
Once the artist is satisfied with the plaster model, a hollow wax mould is then created from the plaster model. If a hollow bronze sculpture is desired, a ‘core’ is cast and suspended in place by pins. One or more wax sprues, or passages through which molten metal is guided through a mould, are added to the sculptures. Typically, the liquid metal is directed from a pouring cup to the bottom of the sculpture, which is then filled from the bottom up in order to avoid splashing. The mould is then filled with the molten bronze. After the metal has cooled, the external mold is chipped away, revealing the internal structure created by the wax. The internal pathways and imperfections are sawed and polished off and interior core material is removed to reduce the likelihood of interior corrosion. Other imperfections can also be welded or ground off.
The Riace Bronzes or Riace Warriors are a pair of large male nude sculptures cast around 460-450 B.C. that garnered fame after being discovered in the sea by a snorkler near Riace. Again, despite being ancient and underwater for what is likely centuries, the condition of both statues is remarkable, particularly after their restoration.
The top three most expensive sculptures ever sold were all bronzes! Created by the Swiss sculptor, Alberto Giacometti, L'Homme au doigt, L'Homme qui marche I, and Chariot sold for $152.4 million, $122.3 million, and $109.1 million respectively.
Depending on the size and era of the bronze that you’re hoping to collect, there are many places where bronze sculptures and statuettes can be found. If you are looking for ancient bronzes, they may be rarely included in antique category auctions at major and mid-level auction houses. Some flea markets, antique stores, and online platforms have bronzes from a variety of time periods. If you can’t find what you want, there are many contemporary artists who work in bronze. You can always commission your own masterwork!
Bronze sculptures’s value is unique in that the value of the raw materials can be a factor in the overall cost of the piece. Bronze is made of copper and tin, so as the values of those materials fluctuate, so can the value of the sculpture. As mentioned, bronze sculptures are remarkably durable and are generally good candidates for restoration, but, as with all commodities, the better the condition, the higher the value. Factors like age and artist will also come into significant play.