Bronze exhibition at the Royal Academy

A huge collection of bronzes from all over the world and all over history, with a room dedicated to explaining, with models and videos, how these amazing objects are created. “Cire perdue” (“lost wax”) is the commonest, and oldest:

wax model
cover with plaster
melt out wax
pour in wax to make a thin model
?fill with plaster to make a hard core
chip off plaster
cover with plaster again
fix outer plaster to core with pins
attach rods for getting rid of molten wax and gases
bake – wax pours out
pour molten bronze into the thin gap left by the Lost Wax

African, Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Egyptian, Greek, Etruscan, Roman, and later European and American. Highlights:

huge Roman ram
Herculanean standing toga’d man
Renaissance huge Perseus standing over Medusa’s corpse, spewing out bronze blood spumes from its severed neck
the reason I went: the Thracian King’s head – life-size, eye-to-alabaster-eye with a real ancient king’s powerstare
Picasso’s baboon with its children – its head made from two toy cars
Anish Kapoor’s circular bronze mirror, reflecting everything and nothing: impossible to focus, so you get confused, as if drowning in metallic murk
bizarrely elongated Etruscan votive statue, about 18″ high – a proto-Giacometti
the dancing Shiva with the absolutely-perfectly-raised thigh, victoriously treading on the baby Ignorance, which I’m sure I saw here a few years ago
a chimaera (Etruscan? I forget), with its snake tail biting the horns of the impala growing out of its lion’s back
Jasper Johns’ two beer cans

And, immediately as you enter, a Greek-Sicilian dancing satyr, crazed in its fragmented stance. I nearly forgot this one, because it occasioned a minor embarrassment: as we gave in our tickets we were pressed quite hard to buy audio guides, which I usually don’t like. We succumbed; the satyr was duly described through headphones, but in such patronising and directive ways that I went back through the doors and got a refund. It made the exhibition like watching a documentary on tv, something I usually really dislike. The headphones-touts warned that there wasn’t a lot on the labels, but there was plenty enough to set the bronzes in context.

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