This piece of bronze, made by Guillaume Charlier, is a portrait of his wife, Marie Charlier. The bronze is meticulously crafted to imitate the chiaroscuro that adds depth to the image.
In contrast to iron, which can be forged with a hammer after it is rendered red-hot and may take the appropriate shape, bronze can only be worked via casting. A piece of bronze would indeed break at the first hammer blow if it were overheated, but if it were cast and placed into a hollow vessel, it would take on the shape. Tradition holds that Reco and Theodore from the island of Samos, using technical knowledge passed down from ancient Egypt, invented the practise of smelting as early as the sixth century BC. The method of casting distinct pieces separately and afterwards welding them was also developed over time. As time went on, the application methods improved steadily, reaching perfection as early as the first half of the 5th century BC. The artefacts’ sizes evolved throughout time as well; from the smallest bronzes arose the grandiose, frequently gilded colossi, which were highly regarded in Roman art.
The so-called «lost-wax» technique, which comprises several operational phases and of which we are aware as a result of numerous documented testimonies, is one of the most often utilised techniques. The Riace Bronzes, which are among the best-preserved examples, are among the massive hollow statues that have been made using this technique since antiquity. But, during the Middle Ages, it was outmoded and only survived in the Byzantine Empire.
Little bronze castings of objects were always used as an alternative, but these were «complete» works that could not be produced on a large scale. According to the Renaissance period’s inspiration from elements of antique civilization, the technique was resurrected. One The Saint John the Baptist statue by Lorenzo Ghiberti (1412–1416), which was created in numerous different parts and afterward put together, was the first significant statue cast utilising the lost-wax method.
The bronze technique had many advantages over stone, chief among them being the material’s greater compactness, which allowed the subject to move more freely in space without worrying about breaking; as a result, the results were more realistic and natural-looking.