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A History of Metal Art

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Metallic Artwork Through the Ages...

Metal Art - Intro

Any art work that is crafted from the ‘ores of the earth,’ including bronze, gold, tin, lead, silver and iron is defined as metal art. It is also common to see metal art created from various metal alloys, such as aluminum. Metal art can be either purely decorative or functional and useful. In the Early Bronze Age, for example, cups and bowls were hammered from metal – accomplishing both decorative and functional purposes. Although just about any surviving relic from the Bronze Age might be considered ‘art’ in our day, metalwork certainly has gradually become more and more decorative in nature - and the metal sculptures seen today demonstrate this most clearly.

Importance of Metalwork

Mankind is born with an instinctive desire to design and create things, not only for practical purposes, but also for aesthetic value. Ancient cups and bowls reveal an interest in design, and allow us to see some of the natural stages and progression of art. Seeing this artistic development throughout history allows us to appreciate the ability of mankind to develop the creative mind and translate that into tangible creations. This observation helps us understand the importance of metalwork and how it plays a critical role in anthropological studies.

Fortunately for us, certain metal handle the test of time quite well and maintain their original brilliance for thousands of years. As metal work evolved to more design-centric and decorative in nature, metal artists began to create statues, bracelets, necklaces and other forms of gold and bronze décor discovered from various ancient civilizations.

It is worth noting that all metals do not age equally – for example, one of the most famous pieces of metal art is the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor. This statue is created from copper and wrought iron, but the years of exposure has caused the copper to patina, giving it the green color we see today.

Ancient History of Metal Art

Metal Wall Art - Iranian Due to its resilient nature, metal art can be traced back about as far as archeologists can record – even as far back as 7000 B.C. Crude artistic endeavors (hammered metal) can be seen in the Bronze Age. Iron, gold, silver, lead, bronze and copper artifacts have been found at ancient sites in Troy. Metal tools, utensils, dishes and even human figures and masks date back to some of the earliest known civilizations.

In ancient Egypt, the remarkably advanced Egyptians knew artistic ways of creating fine decorative metal objects from bronze, gold and other metals. Most of the greatest treasures to survive the pyramids and catacombs of Egypt are variations of metal artwork: funeral masks, extravagant necklaces, fine jewelry, gold coins, and metal statues are just a few of the artifacts currently on display in Cairo. Similar praise could be given to the ancient American civilizations as well, with the Incas, Mayans and Aztecs coming to mind.

In Rome and Greece, there were magnificent statues cast in bronze some used, unfortunately, as torture devices. Furniture was also made from metallic substances as well. Household utensils (such as toilet fittings) were produced using alloys of copper and iron.

Metal Works of the Medieval Period

In the Medieval period, metalwork took on a renewed life as part of artistic expression. It was not uncommon to see heavy hardwood doors hung on elaborately carved and patterned metal hinges. In Europe at that time, locksmiths and metal workers took great pride in their craft as they worked tirelessly to build ornate decorations, gates and other metallic hardware for their impressive cathedrals.

Also during this period, ladies employed some metal craft of their own, with gold and silver jewelry, crucifixes and other objects of the faith crafted to exquisite perfection by monks in their monastery cells. Other beautiful metal art was produced with ornamental precious metals enhanced with jewels or enamel motifs.

The Plateresco Period of Metal Craft

The Spanish silversmiths’ efforts were geared towards enhancing the design and aesthetic value of metalwork. They were extremely talented, creating breathtaking metal works and even influencing craftsmen working in other mediums. The Plateresco period was named in honour of these men. During the Spanish and Italian Renaissance, more emphasis was placed on metal ware like heavy hardware for gates and doors, home decor, candlesticks and lighting fixtures.

Italian Renaissance of Decorative Metal Art

Extraordinary reproductions of miniature classical statues were made during the Italian Renaissance. Metal artists crafted these works of art primarily for interior decoration. The process of production is known as the "lost wax" (or cire-perdue) process, where the piece is originally carved from wax and then layered with molten clay and left to harden. Once the clay is entirely dry the object is then heated to melt the wax, which drains out through a small hole in the base of the statue. This results in a cast of the sculpture, whereby liquid bronze can be injected and left to set and cool. Finally, the clay mould is broken away to reveal the bronze statue.

French Metal Artwork

The French artistic metal period occurred simultaneously with the peak of other decorative arts. They produced spectacular ornaments, furniture and clocks from gold and bronze that reached near perfection in design, form and finish. Such precision and careful craftsmanship was soon to be lost, or at least severely declined, by the 19th century.

Metal Art Designs of England and America

America and England both followed suit in terms of using metalwork in conjunction with interior decorating. In the 17th century, both countries had wrought iron hardware products. However, English designs tended to be more intricate than that of the Americans – perhaps a result of their more accessible resources and elaborate history at the time.

In America, the blacksmiths’ responsibilities lied more in functional pieces (tools and hardware for doors, gates, homes, etc.) rather than purely decorative pieces. Eventually fine silverware, ornaments, and clocks became popular commercial products between France, England and America.

Sources:
http://www.ehow.com/about_5435976_history-metal-art.htm http://artsofthetimes.hubpages.com/hub/metal-art-history-of-decorative-metal-works
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