While visiting friends and family during a trip to California over Labor Day weekend, I squeezed in a half-day visit to the Getty Center in Los Angeles. The elevated view of the city was remarkable as well as the French Bronzes exhibit, a Renaissance to Revolution display of sculptures. The corresponding Foundry to Finish exhibit detailed the how bronze sculptures of the period were created, including different stages of the process.
Coming from an analytical and engineering background, I was particularly interested in the process of crafting a large piece such as the casting of the 30-foot-high statue of Louis XIV in 1692 Paris. The architect used the lost-wax casting technique, which is also used for creating custom jewelry. A rough base model was formed and coated with wax, providing the artist with a workable surface for fine detail. Upon completion of the wax exterior detail, a fire-resistant mold with an iron grid was constructed in and around the model. The molten bronze was carefully poured into this exterior model, melting away the wax and forming a new exterior. A sculpture of this size required an on-site foundry for pouring the material.
What grabbed my attention was how the exterior mold was constructed to distribute the molten bronze throughout the model. A series of arteries and capillaries (sprues) were created to reach every point of detail where it would be impossible to fill without their deployment. It reminds me of plastic resin cast toys attached to a grid where you need to pop them out and trim the excess material. Multiply that by one hundred.
I now have a new appreciation for how traditional bronze sculptures were created with the lost-wax technique. I will observe pieces in parks and museums envisioning the network of sprues that may have made up the lifeline of the model.
Have you had a “Wow! So that’s how they do it.” moment with art or technology? Chime in. I am curious to see different perspectives.
Adrian Forbes is a software engineer and technology consultant in Ann Arbor, Michigan.