Royal Academy of Arts – London, UK
Until 9 December 2012
The Royal Academy’s landmark exhibition, Bronze, celebrates the remarkable historical, geographical and stylistic range of this enduring medium. The exhibition brings together outstanding works from the earliest times to the present in a thematic arrangement that is fresh and unique. With works spanning over 5,000 years, no such cross-cultural exhibition on this scale has ever been attempted. The exhibition features over 150 of the finest bronzes from Asia, Africa and Europe and includes important discoveries from the Mediterranean as well as archaeological excavations. Many of the pieces have never been seen in the UK.
Arranged thematically, Bronze brings together outstanding works from antiquity to the present. Different sections focus on the Human Figure, Animals, Groups, Objects, Reliefs, Gods, Heads and Busts. The exhibition features stunning Ancient Greek, Roman and Etruscan bronzes, through to rare survivals from the Medieval period. The Renaissance is represented with the works of artists such as Ghiberti, Donatello, Cellini, and later Giambologna, De Vries and others. Bronzes by Rodin, Matisse, Picasso, Moore, Bourgeois and Koons are representative of the best from the 19th century to today.
Bronze has been employed as an artistic medium for over five millennia. It is an alloy consisting mainly of copper, with lesser amounts of tin, zinc and lead. Due to its inherent toughness and resistance, the material’s uses over the centuries have been remarkably varied. A section of the exhibition is devoted to the complex processes involved in making bronzes, enabling visitors to explore how models are made, cast and finished by a variety of different techniques. The exhibition offers a unique exploration of artistic practice, an understanding of the physical properties and distinctive qualities of bronze, and the rare opportunity to see the very best examples in one place.
Among the earliest works in the exhibition is the 14th-century BCE bronze and gold Chariot of the Sun (National Museum, Copenhagen), Denmark’s national treasure; ancient Chinese ritual vessels, including one impressively large example of the type ‘zun’ of zoomorphic form, Elephant-shaped vessel, Shang Dynasty, 1100–1050 BCE (Musée Guimet, Paris); and the masterpiece of Etruscan art, the Chimera of Arezzo, c. 400 BCE (Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Florence).
Recent archaeological finds include the magnificent Dancing Satyr, (4th century BCE, Museo del Satiro, Church of Sant’Egidio, Mazara del Vallo) which was discovered off the coast of Sicily in 1998 and acknowledged as one of the most important antiquities retrieved from Italian waters. The impressive Portrait of King Seuthes III, early Hellenistic period (National Archeological Museum, Sofia), found in 2004 during archaeological excavations in Bulgaria is another major highlight, as is the Crosby Garrett Helmet, a Roman cavalry helmet found in Cumbria in 2010 and now in a private collection.
The exhibition benefits from an extremely strong representation of Renaissance bronzes. These include Ghiberti’s St Stephen, 1425–29, made for one of the external niches on the church of Orsanmichele, Florence; Rustici’s monumental ensemble of St John the Baptist Preaching to a Levite and a Pharisee (1506–11) that for nearly 500 years was set above the north door of the Florence Baptistry (Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, Florence); Cellini’s modello for Perseus, c. 1545-54 (Museo del Bargello, Florence); and De Vries’ relief of Vulcan’s Forge, 1611 (Bayerisches Nationalmuseum, Munich).
Works from the 19th century to today include Rodin’s The Age of Bronze, c. 1876 (Victoria and Albert Museum, London), Matisse’s series of four Back Reliefs, 1908–31 (Tate Modern, London), Brancusi’s Danaïde, c. 1918 (Tate Modern, London), Picasso’s witty Baboon and Young, 1951 (Minneapolis Institute of Arts), Johns’ Ale Cans, 1960 (Ludwig Museum, Cologne) and Bourgeois’ Spider IV, 1996 (The Easton Foundation, New York).
Bronze has been organised by the Royal Academy of Arts. The exhibition is curated by Professor David Ekserdjian, University of Leicester, and Cecilia Treves, Exhibitions Curator at the Royal Academy of Arts, with an advisory committee of experts in the relevant fields.
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