Metalwork is used for useful and decorative objects fashioned of various metals, including copper, iron, silver, bronze, lead, gold, and brass. The earliest man-made objects were of stone, wood, bone, and earth. It was only later that humans learned to extract metals from the earth and to hammer them into objects. Metalwork includes vessels, utensils, ceremonial and ritualistic objects, decorative objects, architectural ornamentation, personal ornament, sculpture, and weapons.
After about 2500 BC, the two standard methods
of fabricating metal--hammering and casting--were developed side by side.
The lost-wax, or cire perdue (casting with a wax mold), process was being
employed in Egypt by about 2500 BC, the Egyptians probably having learned
the technique from Sumerian craftsmen (see sculpture). Long after the method
of casting statues in molds with cores had superseded the primitive and
tedious rivetting process, the hammer continued as the main instrument
for producing art works in precious metals. Everything attributable to
Assyrian, Etruscan, and Greek goldsmiths was wrought by the hammer and
Niello is the process of inlaying engraved ornamental designs with niello, a silver sulfide or mixture of sulfides. The first authors to write on the preparation of niello and its application to silver were Eraclius and Theophilus, in or about the 12th century, and Benvenuto Cellini, during the 16th. According to each of these authors, niello is made by fusing together silver, copper, and lead and then mixing the molten alloy with sulfur. The black product (a mixture of the sulfides of silver, copper, and lead) is powdered; and after the engraved metal, usually silver, has been moistened with a flux (a substance used to promote fusion), some of the powder is spread on it and the metal strongly heated; the niello melts and runs into the engraved channels. The excess niello is removed by scraping until the filled channels are visible, and finally the surface is polished.
The earliest of historical peoples had masterly gilders, as evidenced by overlays of thin gold leaf on royal mummy cases and furniture of ancient Egypt. From early times, the Chinese ornamented wood, pottery, and textiles with beautiful designs in gold. The Greeks not only gilded wood, masonry, and marble sculpture but also fire-gilded metal by applying a gold amalgam to it and driving off the mercury with heat, leaving a coating of gold on the metal surface. From the Greeks, the Romans acquired the art that made their temples and palaces resplendent with brilliant gilding. Extant examples of ancient gilding reveal that the gold was applied to a ground prepared with chalk or marble dust and an animal size or glue. (See Roman Republic and Empire.)
Beating mint gold into leaves as thin as
1/280,000 inch (0.00001 centimetre) is done largely
by hand, though machines are utilized to some extent. After being cut to
a standard 3
The many substances to which the gilder can apply his art and the novel and beautiful effects he can produce may require special modifications and applications of his methods and materials. Certain basic procedures, however, are pertinent to all types of gilding. For example, the ground to be gilded must be carefully prepared by priming. Flat paints, lacquers, or sealing glues are used, according to the nature of the ground material. Metals subject to corrosion may be primed (and protected) by red lead or iron oxide paints. With pencil or chalk the gilder lays out his design on the ground after the ground has been prepared and is thoroughly dry. Patterns may also be laid down by forcing, or pouncing, powdered chalk or dry pigment through paper containing perforations made with pricking wheels mounted on swivels; the swivel arrangement permits the attainment of the most intricate of designs.
To create an adhesive surface to which the gold will be securely held, the area to be gilded is sized. The type of size used depends on the kind of surface to be gilded and on whether it is desirable for the size to dry quickly or slowly. When the size has dried enough so that it just adheres to the fingertips, it is ready to receive and retain the gold leaf or powder. (See sizing.)
Gold leaf may be rolled onto the sized surface from the tissue book. Generally, however, the gilder holds the book firmly in his left hand with the tissue folded back to expose as much leaf as is needed and detaches that amount with a pointed tool, such as a sharpened skewer. He then picks up the leaf segment with his gilder's tip, a brush of camel's hair set in a thin cardboard holder, and carefully transfers it to its place in his design. The leaf is held to the tip by static electricity, which the gilder generates by brushing the tip gently over his hair. For some gilding operations the gilder uses a cushion to hold his pieces of leaf. This is a rectangular piece of wood, about 9 by 6 inches (23 by 15 centimetres) in size, which is padded with flannel and covered with dressed calfskin; a parchment shield around one end protects the delicate leaf from disturbance by drafts of air. When the gilding is completed, the leaf-covered area should be pounced with a wad of soft cotton of surgical grade. Rubbing with cotton burnishes the gold to a high lustre. Application of a gilder's burnisher--that is, a highly polished agate stone set in a handle--also imparts a fine, high finish to the metal. Loose bits of gold, or skewings, may be removed from the finished work with a camel's hair brush.
Leaf gold may be powdered by being rubbed
through a fine-mesh sieve. Powdered gold is so costly, however, that bronze
powders have been substituted almost universally for the precious metal.
When gold leaf is employed in the gilding of domes and the roofs of buildings,
it is used in ribbon form. For finishing processes, such as burnishing
and polishing, see sculpture.
Pure copper is a reddish colour and has a metallic glow. When it is exposed to damp, it becomes coated with green basic copper carbonate (incorrectly known as verdigris). This patina is a drawback if copper is to be used for functional objects, for the oxide is poisonous to man. This means that utensils that come into contact with food must be lined with tin.
As copper is a relatively soft metal, it is sensitive to such influences as stress and impact. But unlike bronze it is malleable and can be hammered and chased in much the same way as silver. The surface of copper can be successfully gilded, and its reddish colouring makes the gilding seem even brighter. Because of these properties, copper was sometimes able to compete somewhat with silver.
Pure copper is not particularly good for
casting, as it can easily become blistered when the gases escape. The surface
of sheet copper can be engraved, however, and this technique was often
used for decorating purely ornamental objects. In copperplate etching,
engraving became the basis of printing. Enamel is often applied to copper,
using both the champlevé and cloisonné techniques. Sheet
copper was also used as a base for painted enamel.
The malleability of unalloyed copper, which renders it too soft for weapons, is peculiarly valuable in the formation of vessels of every variety of form; and it has been put to this use in almost every age. Copper domestic vessels were regularly made in Sumer during the 4th millennium BC and in Egypt a little later.
Nearly every fashionable Egyptian, man
or woman, possessed a hand mirror of polished copper, bronze, or silver.
Copper pitchers and basins for hand washing at meals were placed in the
tombs. An unusual example in the Metropolitan Museum of Art is plated with
antimony to imitate silver, which was very rare in the Old Kingdom (c.
2686-c. 2160 BC). The basins and the bodies of the ewers were hammered
from single sheets of copper. The spouts of the ewers were cast in molds
and attached to the bodies by means of copper rivets or were simply inserted
in place and crimped to the bodies by cold hammering.
Decrees issued by the church synods held in the 8th and 9th centuries invariably expressly prohibited the use of copper and bronze for consecrated chalices, but in fact a few copper-gilt chalices like the "Tassilo Chalice" (Kremsmünster Abbey, Austria) have survived. The care and artistry with which they were worked and their rich engraved and niello decoration show that they were valued as highly as altar vessels made of precious metals.
From the 12th century onward, but particularly
in the 13th and 14th centuries, copper-gilt chalices were relatively common,
especially in Italy, where they were virtually mass-produced. Reliquaries,
portable altars, shrines, and processional crosses dating from the Ottonian
and Romanesque periods are also very frequently made of gilded copper and
are generally decorated with enamel, niello work, or engraving or set with
precious stones. One group of copper-gilt reliquaries, dating from the
12th century and after, takes the form of the head, or head and shoulders,
of a saint. Others are in the shape of various parts of the body, such
as an arm or a foot. These were also made in silver and in cast bronze.
Ciboria (covered vessels for holding the wafers of the Eucharist), monstrances
(receptacles for the Host), incense vessels, and other liturgical implements
were also made in copper gilt, as well as in bronze and silver. Some of
these copper-gilt implements were made as late as the Baroque period.
In the late 16th century, Italian smiths used copper for water beakers and water jugs, decorating the surfaces with chased ornaments, whereas the rest of Europe used brass.
High-quality copper objects dating from the 17th and 18th centuries were sometimes designed and worked in the same way as the silver of the period. Most were probably trial pieces made for the guild rank of journeyman or master by silversmiths who were too poor to supply objects in precious metal. Some may have been used as workshop models or given to clients as specimen pieces.
Another type of copper vessel, known as a "Herrengrund cup," is purely ornamental and resembles the showpieces made in the 16th and 17th centuries. These mugs are made of copper that was extracted by a process known as cementation, in which water containing copper forms a deposit on iron. Production was limited to three places in the county of Sohl in Hungary. In those days the process seemed mysterious to many people; many of the inscriptions on "Herrengrund cups" refer to this mystery. The design of the beakers is modelled closely on that of silver vessels produced in southern Germany, Bohemia, and Silesia. The best examples are chased, engraved, or gilded or, more rarely, enamelled or set with precious stones. Many of them are decorated with mining scenes peopled with little figures. Most were made in the 17th century; a decline set in in the 18th century, though individual pieces continued to be made until the Empire period.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, copper enjoyed a period of relative prosperity in middle class households on the continent of Europe. For example, copper bread bins lined with tin were used; they were often richly decorated with chased motifs or brass fittings. There were also sumptuous wine coolers, cake and pudding molds, bowls, buckets, jugs, jars, screw-top flasks, sausage pans, and many other items, all polished until they shone and thus used as kitchen decorations as well as utility items.
In 18th-century Holland, jugs for tea and coffee were made in copper with a dark-brown patina and with various parts, such as the handle and the knob, in brass gilt. The sides were chased with interlaced foliage and other Rococo decorative motifs.
Copper was also the main metal used for Sheffield plate, which has a silvered surface. In 1742 Thomas Bolsover invented a method of fusing copper and silver together so that the result was highly durable, and he produced this type of silver-plated ware on a large scale. Although 18th-century England was a relatively wealthy society and solid silver utensils of all kinds were used fairly widely, the middle classes, who were not all that well off, liked to buy these implements that looked like silver yet cost only a third of the price. The makers of Sheffield plate therefore adopted the designs used for English silverware at that date, and their work was often as courtly and elegant as that of the silversmiths.
Copper ware was no longer important in the 19th century, though it was occasionally used for pieces designed to follow earlier styles or for copies of historical pieces. The method now used was electroplating, which is a purely technical process and has nothing to do with craftsmanship.
Toward the end of the 19th century, attempts
were made to create a new and individual style for copper; and there were
occasional signs that its inherent properties were understood and used
to full effect. But there was no renaissance in the true sense of the word.
It is often very difficult to distinguish
between bronze and brass merely by their appearance. The colour of the
different alloys ranges over various shades from gold to a reddish tinge,
to silvery, greenish, and yellowish shades, according to the proportions
of the basic constituents. The patina on both alloys ranges from dark brown
to a dark greenish tinge, particularly in the earliest pieces. Since it
is often difficult to differentiate between bronze and brass with the naked
eye and since metalworkers and metal casters of previous centuries did
not make an express distinction between them, they will be considered together
here. From a very early date bronze was used mainly for casting. Because
it is so brittle, it has only rarely been hammered or chased; brass or
copper were preferred for such work because they are more malleable. Down
to the Middle Ages, bronze was cast by the cire perdue, or lost-wax, method.
By this process, the mold can be used only once. This method of casting
is the most exclusive, not only because it is the most expensive but also
because it produces the finest work from the aesthetic point of view. Later,
the casting process used models made up of a number of different pieces
that could be taken apart and therefore re-used. These were generally made
of wood and could be pressed down into a sand mold so that the shape of
the object being cast emerged as a hollow. The hollow was then filled with
molten bronze, which was poured in through casting ducts. When the resulting
piece had been removed from the sand mold, the surface was smoothed over
and the casting seams removed. The wooden model could then be used again
to make as many copies as were required, which meant that economical production
was possible. Brass was cast by the same methods but over and above this
a process of hammering and chasing was used to fashion sheet brass. Brass
platters were often decorated with relief work ornament, which was embossed
from the reverse side by means of a type of die. The brass worker could
also create an ornamental frieze made up of small motifs by using a series
of punches made of iron. The surface of bronze or brass objects was also
occasionally decorated with engraving.
It was in the time of Lysippus, the distinguished sculptor who flourished about 330 BC, that the fine Greek beaten work for decoration of armour, vases, and objects of domestic use reached its perfection. It was executed by a hammer worked from behind, the outlines being afterward emphasized by chisel or punch; or metal plate was beaten into a mold formed by carving the subject in intaglio upon a resisting material. The embossed shoulder straps of a cuirass, called the "Bronzes of Siris" (4th century BC; British Museum, London), are in exceedingly high relief and are beaten into form with wonderful skill with the hammer. The relief depicts the combat between the Greeks and the Amazons.
Greek bronze statuettes--originally dedicatory
offerings in shrines, ornamental figures on utensils, or decorative works
of art--have survived in large numbers. They were usually cast solid, rarely
hollow. Sometimes even large statuettes were cast solid. (The advantage
of solid casting is that the mold can be used repeatedly, whereas in the
hollow-casting process the mold is destroyed.) Greek bronzes were originally
golden and bright, and they were often decorated with silver or niello
for colour contrast. Bronze statuary hardly existed before the introduction
of hollow casting, about the middle of the 6th century BC, after which
bronze became the most important medium of monumental sculpture; its strength
and lightness admitted poses that could not be reproduced in stone.
Much Roman small work was exceedingly fine, though it is generally conceded that Roman productions are less aesthetically attractive than those of the Greeks. Pompeii and Herculaneum were essentially Greek towns, and the many beautiful bronzes in the Museo e Gallerie Nazionali di Capodimonte, Naples, collected from the ruins of private houses there, are of Greek workmanship. These included statuettes, mirrors, and all kinds of bronze work useful in a house. Many of these pieces were originally attached to pieces of furniture.
During the closing years of the republic, brass, produced by what came later to be known as the calamine (zinc-carbonate) method, became an important material for the first time. Its various uses included parade armour, as may be seen in a Roman embossed brass helmet in the Castle Museum, Norwich, England.
The art of bronze casting had been preserved
in the Byzantine Empire. The first bronze doors to be made after the art
had died out in Rome were those for Hagia Sophia at Constantinople, which
bear the date 838; the panels, with monograms and other ornament damascened
in silver, are framed in borders cast in relief and enriched with bosses
and scrolls, the whole in an admirable style. Two sets of doors in St.
Mark's, Venice, of Greek workmanship and considerable but uncertain antiquity,
are supposed by some to have been removed from St. Mark's at Alexandria.
Next in date among surviving doors of Byzantine workmanship is a series
ordered by the Pantaleone family (about 1066-87) and destined for cities
in southern Italy--Amalfi, Trani, Salerno, Canosa di Puglia, and Monte
Early vessels, such as mugs, were ornamented with animals in low relief, but engraving quickly supplanted this. Under the later Seljuqs (particularly the Artuqid atabegs of Mosul) and the Mamluks, engraving became almost the only form of decoration, but only to serve as a basis for the yet richer technique of inlaying, or damascening: small silver plates and wires, themselves delicately engraved, were hammered into the ribs and surfaces, which were hollowed out and undercut at the edges.
In place of this, in an Artuqid bowl in the provincial museum at Innsbruck the spaces are filled in with cellular enamel. This was a method of evading the prohibition of precious metals, just as gold lustre was in pottery. The ornament consisted of friezes and medallions in lattice work and arabesque work, the interstices being filled with figures of warriors, hunters, musicians, animals, and astrological symbols. These were superseded later by Mamluk coats of arms and inscriptions. In the 15th century the technique was imported from Syria to Venice, where productions of the same kind, alla damaschina or all'azzimina, were made right into the 16th century by Islamic masters and were in great demand. In the East the process is still common, but both technically and artistically it has decayed. (See enamelwork.)
In the 15th century there was a renaissance
of pure metal engraving, but the design--inscriptions and arabesques in
the Timurid and Safavid styles--was not cut into the material
but left free in the manner of a relief, the background being etched in
black. Decoration was applied to bowls, basins, mugs, vases, mortars, braziers,
warming pans, candlesticks, smoking utensils, inkstands, jewel cases, Qur'an
holders, and mosque lamps. These are generally in the simplest possible
forms--spherical, cylindrical, prismatic; the subjects include motifs of
vegetation and animal life, the former mainly in the necks and feet of
vessels, the latter for handles and ears, feet, and sometimes small spouts.
For many centuries the Christian Church remained the bronze caster's chief patron. Like the stonemasons, who also were heavily patronized by the church, they joined together to form associations, or foundries. These casting foundries hired themselves out to the large ecclesiastical building sites. They cast bells--almost every church had at least one bell--and monumental doors decorated with relief work; for instance, doors for Mainz (c. 1000) and Hildesheim (1015) cathedrals, for the cathedrals at Gneissen and Augsburg (11th century), and for St. Zeno Maggiore in Verona (12th century). They also made large fonts, the most famous being the one made by Renier de Huy in 1107-18 for the church of Notre Dame aux Fonts in Liège (now in the church of St. Barthélemy in Liège). The Dinant workshops, which formed the main centre for bronze casting in the Meuse district in the Middle Ages, specialized in what are known as "eagle lecterns." These are book stands with ornamental pedestals, with the panel supporting the enormous missals taking the form of the outspread wings of an eagle, a griffin, or a pelican. The earliest documented eagle lectern was made in 965, but the earliest example to have survived dates from 1372. It was made by Jean Joses of Dinant for the Church of Our Lady at Tongeren (Tongres), near Liège.
Records show that from the 11th to the 15th century there were more than 50 monumental seven-branched candlesticks (menorah) in various churches in Germany, England, France, Bohemia, and Italy, though only a few of these have survived. Documents relating to the Carolingian period speak of monumental bronze crucifixes and statues of the Virgin and of the saints, though the earliest surviving statues date from the 11th century; the crucifix in the abbey church at Werden, for example, dates from c. 1060 and was probably cast in a foundry in Lower Saxony.
Among the most outstanding examples of figurative bronze sculpture dating from the Romanesque period are a group of reliquaries designed in the shape of heads or heads and shoulders or occasionally arms, hands, or feet, according to the type of relics they contain. They were made in Lower Saxony or in France.
A few large chandeliers have survived from the 11th and 12th centuries, representing a sort of halfway stage between sculpture and functional objects. A far larger number are known to have existed from documents and contemporary accounts, but these have disappeared over the centuries. Examples from Germany, the southern half of the Low Countries, and France have survived or are documented. Romanesque chandeliers are always designed in the form of a crown. Candleholders, with architectonic structures and figures placed in between them, project from the crown.
Besides the monumental bronzes that have survived from the 8th to the 12th century, there are also a number of smaller pieces, such as processional crosses, altar crucifixes, chests, reliquaries, and similar articles. Another group of liturgical objects consists of candlesticks used to adorn altars. Their design often shows a wealth of invention, and they are decorated in the most sumptuous fashion. There was yet another group of candlesticks, which were secular in nature, that embodied the ideal of chivalry. They are cast in the shape of human figures: an armed warrior on horseback bearing a candleholder with a spike on which the candle is placed; a kneeling page in court dress holding a candle socket in his outstretched hands; or Samson perched on the lion's back, brandishing a candleholder. These candlestick figures are rare and precious examples of courtly life in the Romanesque period in Germany, France, England, and Scandinavia. Even at that time they were thought of as rare, deluxe articles within the reach of only a few privileged people.
Toward the end of the Romanesque period a simpler type of candlestick appeared, mainly intended for religious purposes, though they were found in private homes as well. They are circular, with a round base, a slender column-like shaft, and a large grease pan with a spike for the candle. This design exercised a strong influence throughout the Gothic period and right down to the Baroque period, though it varied considerably over the years according to the styles then prevailing.
Some of the finest bronze articles of the High Middle Ages were modelled on Oriental pieces brought back from the Holy Land by the crusaders. They are known as aquamaniles, a type of ewer used for pouring water for washing one's hands. Made by bronze casters in France, Germany, England, and Scandinavia, they are usually in the shape of lions--symbols of valour, pride, physical strength, and power. Also common are those shaped like knights in armour, with a wealth of courtly detail that was obviously popular. A few aquamaniles are in the shape of winged dragons, doves, cockerels, centaurs, or sirens; but such designs are rare. Christian themes, too, played a part, some examples depicting Samson overcoming the lion with his knee planted on its back. The golden age of these vessels was the 12th, 13th, and 14th centuries. The end of the age of chivalry also saw a decline in such work, for the emergent bourgeoisie found other ways of marking the ceremony of hand washing.
Basins were also needed for washing one's hands; they are often mentioned in medieval documents, where they are referred to as bacina, pelves, or pelvicula. The majority of these bowls--which date from the 12th and 13th centuries--have been found in the cultural area that extends from the Baltic down to the Lower Rhine district and across to England. Because this area was once dominated by the Hanseatic League (a commercial association of free towns), the basins are known as Hanseatic bowls. They are round, some being more convex than others; and the inside is engraved with scenes from classical mythology, with themes from the Old and New Testaments and the legends of the saints, or with allegorical figures personifying the virtues and the vices, the liberal arts, the seasons, and so on. Hanseatic bowls were probably made in the bronze-casting centres where candlesticks and aquamaniles (and indeed all medieval cast bronze) were made: in the Meuse district and Lorraine, in Lower Saxony and the Harz Mountains, and also in England. The decoration on these bowls may have been added elsewhere.
In the Romanesque period and later, in the Gothic period, the churches and their patrons were still the bronze caster's main clients, ordering both functional objects and decorative pieces. Bronze fonts were relatively common in the 14th and 15th centuries, particularly in churches in northern Germany. Another common item, which was made mainly in England and in the Netherlands, was a large brass tombstone decorated with engraving. Other objects included door fittings, candlesticks, candelabra, chandeliers, pulpits, and sculptured tombs portraying the deceased.
Lorenzo Ghiberti's doors for the Baptistery in Florence, made in 1403-24 and 1425-52, marked the beginning of a golden age of bronze casting in Florence that lasted throughout the Renaissance and right down to the Baroque era. Whereas bronze sculpture had been relatively rare before the 15th century, many Italian artists of the Renaissance now designed cast bronze statues, statuettes, reliefs, and various objects in the shape of human figures. Among the sculptors who worked in full-scale bronzes were Lorenzo Ghiberti, Donatello, Andrea del Verrocchio, Antonio Pollaiuolo, and Lucca della Robbia. Besides large-scale cast-bronze work there were also small figures, statuettes, busts, plaques, and functional objects such as candelabra, mortars, candlesticks, and inkwells. Dating from the middle of the 15th century onward, they are characterized by rich figural and ornamental design. Their style influenced work produced in northern Europe, particularly in the 16th century. (See "Gates of Paradise,".)
In the first half of the 16th century, bronze casting declined somewhat in Italy, though it found a new lease on life in the middle of the century and, indeed, became even more important than before. Benvenuto Cellini and Giovanni da Bologna are two of the most famous artists of this period. Cellini designed a number of statues, one of the best known being his "Perseus" in the Loggia dei Lanzi in Florence, as well as portrait busts, reliefs, and smaller articles in bronze. Giovanna da Bologna, a Fleming by birth, was active in Rome and Florence, where he made fountains, equestrian monuments, allegorical figures, crucifixes, statuettes, groups of figures, animals, and many other objects. He founded a school of sculptors who were influenced by his work for many years. Many other bronze sculptors were active in the 16th and 17th centuries, notably in Venice, which was a particularly fruitful area for bronze casting, and at a school in Padua led by Andrea Riccio (Briosco). Italian bronze casters worked abroad as well as in their homeland, working on commission for foreign potentates, mainly in France and England.
In the 16th century, beautifully made bronze
pieces, which were very much more than functional objects, played an important
part in the art of the bronze caster. For instance, sumptuous mortars were
designed and made by artists whose names have been handed down to posterity,
such as Cavadini, Lenotti, Juliano da Navi, Alessandro Leopardi, Antonio
Viteni, and Crescimbeni da Perugia. Elaborate brass dishes were made in
Venice, under the influence of Eastern art (to which Venice had always
been very receptive); indeed, the first people to produce these large dishes
with engraved motifs were Islamic artists who had settled in the
town, though the local artists soon adopted both their style and their
The Dinant workshops, in the Meuse district, continued to dominate production until well past the middle of the 15th century, just as they had since the days of Charlemagne. But when Philip III the Good, duke of Burgundy, laid siege to the town in 1466, then took it by storm and eventually completely destroyed it, the bronze casters who survived moved elsewhere, settling mainly in the Low Countries. As a result, from that date onward the trade enjoyed a sudden upsurge in Brussels and Namur, in Tournai and Bruges (Flemish Brugges), in Malines (Flemish Mechelen), Louvain (Flemish Leuven), and Middelburg. There was another centre of the bronze trade in Lower Saxony, since the mines in the Harz Mountains produced a generous supply of copper and calamine. The chief bronze-working towns in this area were Hildesheim, Goslar, and Minden. In the 16th century, a period when trade and commerce were developing very rapidly in Germany, the bronze-casting trade was no longer compelled to function close to the place where the raw material was extracted. Thus, Nürnberg, at this time the most powerful and lively town in Germany, not only traded in copper, bronze, and brass but also soon allowed its bronze casters and metalworkers to develop a flourishing industry. Brass articles from Nürnberg became famous throughout the world.
The earliest documented brass workers were those known as "basin-beaters" (Beckenschläger), who were first referred to as such in 1373. They made bowls and dishes with various types of relief decoration on the bottom. In the late Gothic period, religious themes were very popular for this decoration and were more common than secular images. During the Renaissance, beginning in about 1520, the design changed; instead of deep bowls there were large, flat dishes with decoration that consists of purely ornamental motifs or friezes as well as scenes and figures. The decoration includes the typically Gothic "fishbladder" design and also interlaced motifs and bands of lettering. The trade of the basin beaters continued to flourish in Nürnberg down to about 1550, when a decline set in, culminating in its eventual collapse just before the Thirty Years' War in 1618. The reason for this decline may have been the emergence of what is known as display pewter (see below Pewter), which, from about 1570 onward, swept the wealthy bourgeoisie market.
Until the Gothic era, bronze chandeliers were made solely for the churches; it was not until the 15th century that people began to consider lighting their homes by means of a central source of light hanging from the ceiling. In the Low Countries, one of the centres of the art of bronze casting, a type of chandelier was developed at this time that remained standard for many years. It is a type of hoop with a shaft, made up of a molded vertical centrepiece and a series of curving branches bearing drip trays and spikes. The arms, or branches, are decorated with tracery, foliage scrolls, and other motifs characteristic of the late Gothic style. In the middle of the 16th century, the central shaft took on the shape of a spherical baluster, with a large sphere jutting out just below the point where the curving arms branch off. This design continued to predominate in the Baroque period and is found as late as the 18th century. Because chandeliers of this type were most common in the Low Countries, one can assume that they originated there and were produced in large numbers and that they spread to England and Germany. Another centre was in Poland, presumably because brass founders had moved there from Nürnberg.
Besides these chandeliers--which until the 19th century were exclusive to court circles, the aristocracy, and the upper ranks of the bourgeoisie--there were also candlesticks. Their design was a later development of that used for altar candlesticks. The principle of a disk-shaped foot and a baluster shaft with a spike on top remained standard from the Middle Ages well into the 19th century, though the design of the individual components was affected by the styles current in any particular period. In Dinant and Flanders in the 15th century, for instance, the shaft began to be fashioned into the shape of a human figure. This style also became popular in Germany.
Whereas bronze sculpture reached its peak in Italy in the 15th century, monumental bronze figures were still rare in northern Europe at this time. Thus, the full-length equestrian statue of St. George (1373) on Hradcany Castle in Prague, which was cast by Martin and Georg von Klausenberg, did not set a trend, though rich figure decoration is often found on large fonts dating from the 13th to the 15th century. Engraved tombstones and entire tombs based on earlier traditions continued to be made until the late Gothic era (the beginning of the 16th century), as did tabernacles and lecterns.
The intellectual content of the Renaissance
and the styles it engendered entered the world of the northern sculptors
in the second decade of the 16th century. The Nürnberg workshop run
by the Vischer family, which had been flourishing since the 15th century,
continued to work in the late Gothic style until it had completed the St.
Sebald's Shrine (1516), but shortly after this the style and intellectual
concepts current in Italy were adopted by bronze casters in northern art
centres as well. Small-scale bronze sculpture was particularly popular
at this time, though some workshops were still casting monumental bronzes
as late as the 18th century.
There remain in England 10 effigies cast in bronze over a period of two centuries (1290-1518), among them some of the finest examples of figure work and metal casting to be found in Europe. In several instances, particulars for the contracts of the tombs survive, together with the names of the artists who designed and made them. The earliest examples are the effigies of Queen Eleanor, wife of Edward I (1290), and that of Henry III (1291), both in Westminster Abbey. They are the work of William Torel, goldsmith of London; and it is evident that they are the first English attempt to produce large figures in metal. Torel cast his large figures by the same process (lost-wax) he had employed for small shrines and images.
Monumental brasses were exceedingly numerous
in England, where some 4,000 still exist. From the 13th through the 16th
centuries, in France, northern Germany, Belgium, and particularly England,
it became the vogue to set into the stone slab covering a floor tomb a
brass plate engraved with the figure of the deceased. The art began in
Flanders and Germany, and many of the English brasses were of foreign origin;
in some cases, brass sheets were imported and engraved by English artists.
The manufacture of unornamented brass plates centred chiefly at Cologne.
The oldest English brass in existence is that of Sir John D'Abernon (died
1277) at Stoke d'Abernon, Surrey. Traces can still be seen in many brasses
of the colours that originally enlivened them.
The second quarter of the 19th century
and, with it, the onset of industrialization, brought about a decline in
bronze casting, as it did in all spheres of craftsmanship. The age of steel
production now began. At the end of the 19th century, during the Art Nouveau
period, attempts were made to revive the craft of casting bronze articles;
but these did not have any lasting success. Bronze continued to be used
by a few individual sculptors, however, throughout the 19th century and
into the present day.
Aegean lands were rich in precious metals.
The considerable deposits of treasure found in the earliest prehistoric
strata on the site of Troy are not likely to be later than 2000 BC. The
largest of them, called Priam's Treasure, is a representative collection
of jewels and plate. Packed in a large silver cup were gold ornaments consisting
of elaborate diadems or pectorals, six bracelets, 60 earrings or hair rings,
and nearly 9,000 beads. Trojan vases have bold and simple forms, mostly
without ornament; but some are lightly fluted. Many are wrought from single
sheets of metal. The characteristic handle is a heavy rolled loop, soldered
or rivetted to the body. Bases are sometimes round or pointed, sometimes
fitted with separate collars but more often slightly cupped to make a low
ring foot. One oddly shaped vessel in gold is an oval bowl or cup with
a broad lip at each end and two large roll handles in the middle. The oval
body has Sumerian affinities. A plain, spouted bowl in the Louvre is a
typical specimen of goldsmith's work from pre-Mycenaean Greece. The scarcity
of precious metals points to lack of wealth as prime cause of the artistic
backwardness of these regions. Silver seems to have been more plentiful
in the Greek islands; but only a few simple vessels, headbands, pins, and
Gold cups from Mycenae are of two main types: plain curved or carinated forms related to the silverware and pottery of Troy and embossed conical vessels of the Minoan tradition. Some of the plain pieces, such as the so-called Nestor's cup, have handles ending in animals, which bite the rim or peer into the cup. The embossed ornament consists of vertical and horizontal bands of rosettes and spiral coils and of floral, foliate, marine, and animal figures. The designs are beaten through the walls and are consequently visible on the insides of most of the vessels; but the finest examples of their class, two gold cups from the Vaphio tomb near Sparta, have a plain gold lining that overlaps the embossed sides at the lip. The reliefs on the Vaphio cups represent men handling wild and domesticated cattle among trees in a rocky landscape. (Steatite vases carved with similar pictorial reliefs were evidently made to imitate embossed gold.) The handles show the typical Minoan form: two horizontal plates rivetted to the body at one end and joined at the other by a vertical cylinder.
Cretan and mainland tombs have produced
many examples of weapons adorned with gold. Modest ornaments are gold caps
on the rivets that join hilt and blade, but the whole hilt is often cased
in gold. An example from Mycenae has a cylindrical grip of openwork gold
flowers with lapis lazuli in their petals and crystal filling between them;
the guard is formed by dragons, similarly inlaid. The most splendid Mycenaean
blades are bronze inlaid with gold, electrum, silver, and niello. Here
again the work is done on inserted copper plates. This kind of flat inlay
seems to have been originally Egyptian; it occurs on daggers from the tomb
of Queen Aah-Hotep, which are contemporary with the Mycenaean (c.
1600 BC). Moreover, it is significant that two of the Mycenaean designs
have Egyptian subjects (cats hunting ducks among papyrus clumps beside
a river in which fish are swimming), though their style is purely Minoan.
Another blade bears Minoan warriors fighting lions and lions chasing deer.
A dagger from Thira has inlaid ax heads; one from Argos, dolphins; and
fragments from the Vaphio tomb show men swimming among flying fish. These
are masterpieces of Minoan craftsmanship. In the long, subsequent decadence
of the Mycenaean age, however, there seems to have been no invention, and
later pieces of goldsmiths' work repeat conventional forms and ornaments.
(E.J.F./M.C.R.)(See Egyptian art.)
Silver vases and toilet articles have been found beside the more common bronze in Etruscan tombs; for example, a chased powder box of the 4th century BC in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Bronze reliefs of an archaic chariot in the same collection have their opulent counterparts in some hammered silver and electrum fragments in London, Munich, and Perugia. The electrum details are attached with rivets.
The scholar Pliny the Elder (1st century AD) names Greek silversmiths whose work was valued highly at Rome and laments the disappearance of the art in his own day. He must refer only to its quality, for Roman silverware has been abundantly preserved. Many rich hoards in modern collections were buried by design during the calamitous last centuries of the ancient world; and the most sumptuous, the Boscoreale treasure (mostly in the Louvre), was accidentally saved by the same volcanic catastrophe that destroyed Herculaneum and killed Pliny in AD 79. A slightly smaller hoard found at Hildesheim (now in Berlin) also belongs to the early empire. The acquisition and appreciation of silver plate was a sort of cult in Rome. Technical names for various kinds of reliefs were in common use (emblemata, sigilla, crustae); weights were recorded and compared and ostentatiously exaggerated. Large quantities of bullion came to Rome with the spoils of Greece and Asia in the 2nd century BC; and Pliny says that even in republican times there were more than 150 silver dishes of a hundredweight apiece in the city. (Weights of vessels are often marked on their bases.)
Cups and jugs of Augustan style are usually
covered with ornament in high relief. The subjects are very diverse: historical,
mythological, and mystic scenes, formal and naturalistic designs of flowers
and foliage, graceful studies of animals and birds. Some cups and jugs
have conventional fluting, petals, or gadroons (ornamental bands embellished
with continuous patterns); Bacchic masks; and embossed or engraved wreaths,
gilt or inlaid with niello. Silver and niello inlay was commonly applied
to bronze plates. A singular type of silver bowl (patera clipeata)
has a central ornament in high relief or even in the round; the ornament
frequently contains a portrait bust. In time the ornament was restricted;
and later Roman plate is plain with narrow border friezes, small central
medallions, and handles embossed in low relief. One of the very few gold
pieces that survive, a shallow bowl found at Rennes (Bibliothèque
Nationale), is exceedingly elaborate. It measures 10 inches across and
weighs 46 ounces. The central medallion and its surrounding frieze contain
scenes of a drinking contest between Bacchus and Hercules; between the
frieze and the edge of the bowl is a row of 16 gold coins, each framed
in a foliate wreath. The coins range from Hadrian to Caracalla. In the
same collection are several examples of very large silver plates (clipei
or missoria), in which the whole field is embossed with mythological
or historical subjects. The largest (called the Shield of Scipio) is 28
inches in diameter and weighs 363 ounces. (E.J.F./M.C.R.)(See
Most of the silver of the latter part of the period has been found in the Christian East--in Syria, Egypt, Cyprus, Asia Minor, and Russia--and is mostly "church" plate (chalices, censers, candlesticks, and bowls and dishes probably used to hold the eucharistic bread). Secular plate was also decorated with religious subjects--for example, dishes depicting the life of David (Cyprus Treasure, Cyprus Museum, Nicosia, and Metropolitan Museum); both dishes and vessels were produced with pagan subjects--for example, the Concesti amphora and the Silenus Dish (both in the Hermitage, Leningrad). The figure style is often harder and flatter than previously, characterized by strictly frontal positions and symmetry. The techniques of chasing and embossing still predominated, but abstract patterns and Christian symbols inlaid in niello were used increasingly. The appearance of imperial "control stamps," early forerunners of hallmarks, show most of this material to be of the 6th and 7th centuries. It is not known which cities were important centres of production; but the Eastern capital, Constantinople, must have been foremost among them.
Of work in gold of the earliest Christian period, only personal jewelry has survived; but from the 6th and 7th centuries onward other pieces are also extant. Among the most important of the latter are votive crowns and crosses offered to churches in Spain and Italy by royal patrons. The finest of these pieces are those found in Guarrazar in Toledo Province (National Archaeological Museum, Madrid, and Musée de Cluny, Paris), inlaid with garnets and jewels; the cross of King Agilulf (cathedral of Monza, Italy); and a pair of gold book covers inscribed by Queen Theodolinda (cathedral of Monza, Italy). The book covers are set with pearls, gems, and cameos and decorated with gold cloisonné work inlaid with garnets, a popular style among the Germanic peoples. Inlaid cloisonné jewelry reached an especially high standard of workmanship in Britain, as is shown by a purse lid, a sword, and jewelry from the cenotaph (monument honouring a dead person whose body lies elsewhere) to a 7th-century East Anglian king discovered at Sutton Hoo, Suffolk (British Museum). Major works in silver and gold were also produced in the northern Hiberno-Saxon school and in the service of the Celtic Church; work in precious metal, such as the buckle on the Moylough belt reliquary and the Ardagh Chalice in the National Museum of Ireland, Dublin, displays a masterly synthesis of the northern arts and humanist Mediterranean tradition.(See Theodelinda.)
Patronage throughout this period was mainly
in the hands of the emperors and great princes of the church; and the form
of liturgical plate and reliquaries, altar crosses, and the like underwent
no fundamental change; Ottonian work of the later 10th and 11th centuries
can be distinguished from that of the 9th only in the development of style.
For example, the larger, more massive figures, with their strict pattern
of folds, on the golden altar (c. 1023) given by Henry II to Basel
Minster (Musée de Cluny, Paris), are markedly different from the
nervous, elongated figures of the Carolingian period.
The masterpieces of the period are great house-shaped shrines made to contain the relics of saints; for example, the shrine of St. Heribert at Deutz (c. 1160) and Nicholas of Verdun's Shrine of the Three Kings at Cologne (c. 1200). In the latter, the figures are almost freestanding, and in their fine, rhythmic draperies and naturalistic movement they approach the new Gothic style.
The increasing wealth of the royal courts, of the aristocracy, and, later, of the merchants led to the establishment of secular workshops in the great cities and the foundation of confraternities, or guilds, of goldsmiths and silversmiths, the first being that of Paris in 1202.
As in architecture, monumental sculpture, and ivory carving, the lead held by Germany and the Low Countries during the Romanesque period now passed to France. Architectural forms continued to be the basis of design in precious metal; the silver shrine of St. Taurin at Évreux (c. 1250), for example, is a Gothic chapel in miniature, with saints under pointed arches, clustered columns, and small turrets. In England, the few pieces that survived the dissolution of the monasteries in the 16th century follow the same architectural pattern. Notable examples are the 14th-century Ramsey Abbey censer and the magnificent crosier made for William of Wykeham (New College, Oxford). Germany first produced work in the Gothic style in the second half of the 14th century with a large Gothic head reliquary of Charlemagne and the splendid "Three-Tower" reliquary, both still at Aachen. In Italy, despite the undercurrent of classical taste, the Gothic style predominated in the 14th century, especially at Siena; it was also probably in Italy around 1280 that basse-taille enamel--a technique in which intaglio relief carving in the metal below its surface is filled with translucent enamel--originated, whence it spread rapidly through the upper Rhine region to France and England. The Parisian school of enamellers predominated in the latter half of the 14th century. For the first time, enough secular plate survives to show that it equalled the ecclesiastical in opulence: two fine pieces are the Royal Gold Cup made in Paris around 1380 (British Museum) and the so-called King John's Cup, probably English work of around 1340 (King's Lynn, Norfolk).
The late Gothic period produced court treasures such as the "Goldenes Rössel" (1403; Stiftskirche, Altötting, West Germany), and the Thorn reliquary (British Museum), both early 15th century. There was also an increased output of secular silver because of the rise of the middle classes; the English mazers (wooden drinking bowls with silver mounts) and the silver spoons with a large variety of finials are examples of this more modest plate. Numerous large reliquaries and altar plate of all kinds were still produced. At the end of the Middle Ages the style of these pieces and of secular plate developed more distinctive national characteristics, strongly influenced by architectural style: in England, by the geometric patterns of the Perpendicular; in Germany, by heavy and bizarre themes of almost Baroque exuberance; and in France, by the fragile elegance of the Flamboyant.
The purity standards of silver became rigorously
controlled, and "hallmarking" was enforced; the marking of silver in England,
especially, was carefully observed.
Little French goldwork is extant, and most of the surviving material is in the Galerie d'Apollon in the Louvre. Among the most sumptuous pieces are a sardonyx (a type of onyx) and gold ewer, the gold St. Michael's Cup (both at the Kunsthistorisches Museum), and a sardonyx-covered cup in the Louvre, all of which display northern features. The massive plate of the Ordre du Saint-Esprit (Louvre), dating from 1581-82, is of quite individual character; and an enamelled gold helmet and shield of Charles IX (1560-74) in the Louvre have no parallel either for quality or opulence.
In other parts of Europe, goldsmiths clung to Gothic forms until well into the first half of the century, especially in the provincial towns. Immensely rich in ecclesiastical silver, Spain has little early domestic silver; Spanish silversmiths, platería, gave their name to the heavily ornamented style of the period, Plateresque. Using precious metal from the New World, goldsmiths such as Enrique and Juan de Arfe produced vast containers for the Host known as custodia. The most important Portuguese work, the Belém monstrance, created by Gil Vicente in 1506 for Belém Monastery near Lisbon, is still Gothic in style; later, Portugal developed its own style, related to Spanish work but not copied from it. (See Portugal.)
Some of the finest 16th-century goldsmiths' work was executed in Antwerp and elsewhere by such Flemish goldsmiths as Hans of Antwerp, goldsmith to Henry VIII, and Jacopo Delfe, called Biliverti, goldsmith to Cosimo I. The Flemish masters showed particular sympathy for the Mannerist style, derived from Italy but transformed by such native engravers as Cornelis Bos and Cornelis Floris. By about 1580, Dutch goldsmiths had begun to rival the Flemish; the van Vianen family of Utrecht won international renown, especially Adam, who excelled at embossing, and his brother Paulus, who worked in Italy, Munich, and in the workshop of Rudolph II at Prague.
The principal centres in the north were Nürnberg and Augsburg, the former particularly notable for the exuberant Mannerism of the Jamnitzer family, the latter for its ebony caskets with silver-gilt mounts. Many German princes, especially the dukes of Bavaria, maintained their own court workshops. Production was on a vast scale, and great quantities survive. Characteristic German forms are columbine cups (the trial piece for entry into the Nürnberg Goldsmith's Guild) and standing cups such as the Diana Cup by Hans Petzolt.
England is rich in 16th-century secular
silver, but church plate was mostly destroyed during the Reformation. The
Renaissance style, introduced by the painter Hans Holbein the Younger,
who designed vessels for the court, follows that of the Low Countries and
Germany. Certain individual forms also were produced, such as standing
saltcellars with tiered covers and "steeple" cups, which had a tall finial
on the cover.
After the Thirty Years' War, Germany did not regain its eminence; even the enamelled goldwork from the court workshops at Prague and Munich, which became larger and more ostentatious in colour, was inferior in design and finish. In Scandinavia, particularly Sweden, goldsmiths evolved forms of beakers and tankards showing strong German influence. Spanish silver was of massive architectural design, oval champlevé enamelled bosses being set at intervals over the surface of the larger pieces. The few extant Italian pieces suggest that the goldsmiths worked their material with the skill of sculptors.
In France, provincial goldsmiths competed successfully with those of the capital; but in England all the best artists went to London. In the early 1730s the French Rococo style was imported to England and adopted by goldsmiths of both Huguenot and English descent, one of the latter being Thomas Heming, goldsmith to George III. English silver in the 18th-century classical style of Robert and James Adam is of unequal merit owing to the use of industrial methods by some large producers.
In France, Robert Auguste created pieces
of great refinement in the Neoclassical style, which was copied in Turin
and in Rome, for example, by L. Valadier. A notable workshop was founded
in Madrid in 1778 by D. Antonio Martínez, who favoured severely
classical designs. In both the northern and southern Netherlands, local
production followed French precept, but more individuality survived in
Germany. In Augsburg, excellent table silver was produced, but more important
were the pictorial panels embossed in the highest relief by members of
the Thelot family and the silver furniture made by the Billers and the
Drentwetts. At Dresden, Augustus II the Strong established under Johann
Melchior Dinglinger a court workshop that produced jewels and enamelled
goldwork unequalled since the Renaissance; and the gold snuffboxes made
by Johann Christian Neuber rivalled those of the Parisian goldsmiths.
By midcentury most of the earlier styles
had been revived fleetingly and a recognizable Victorian style evolved,
based on details drawn from diverse sources. Craftsmanship was at its best,
but the design of domestic silver was derivative and selective, while that
of presentation pieces strove too consciously for naturalistic effect.
In the latter half-century the craft became an industry and the goldsmith
a factory worker. In this respect Matthew Boulton was the great pioneer:
his Soho manufactory near Birmingham, which dominated the British "toy"
industry from the 1770s, produced high-quality steel buckles, buttons,
coins, sterling silver, and Sheffield plate, establishing standards of
design and of factory management and welfare services that rivalled those
of the 20th century. At the end of the 19th century, standards deteriorated,
and a second pioneering movement started--the craft revival associated
with William Morris and the Art Nouveau style (see below Modern), which
led to the production of original pieces, some of highly mannered design.
In England the most interesting work was done by the sculptor Sir Alfred
Gilbert, who, following the lead of William Burges, the architect and designer,
combined silver with ivory and semiprecious stones in romantic confections.
In Paris, designs by René Lalique
inspired Art Nouveau, which spread to Belgium and then through Europe and
the United States. In Moscow, Peter Carl Fabergé set a superb standard
of craftsmanship for small ornaments. In Denmark, Georg Jensen, with Johan
Rohde and others, achieved not only an individual Danish style but built
up several factories with retail outlets across the world, thus proving
that good modern design in silver and jewelry need not be confined to artists'
studios; their influence spread throughout Scandinavia. In the 1960s only
Germany approached Scandinavia in the number and quality of its artist-craftsmen;
WMF (Württembergische Metallwarenfabrik) at Geislingen
is probably the biggest silverware factory in Europe. In England, notable
for the most varied work, the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths has helped
a vigorous group of designers to emerge since 1945, including Gerald Benney,
Eric Clements, David Mellor, John Donald, and Andrew Grima.
Pewter ware is cast in molds. It is not suitable for chasing or stamping. Molds for simple utensils such as plates, bowls, and jugs were made of clay mixed with calves' hair or of plaster, stone, or slate. From the 16th century, when pewter ware began to be decorated with relief work, molds made of brass or copper were used instead. Relief decoration can be applied by two different methods. The pewterer could either chisel the relief decoration (consisting of little scenes, figures, or decorative motifs) into the copper mold in intaglio, which enabled him to make the details as three-dimensional as he wished; or he could etch it in, which involved covering the plain copper mold with wax, scratching the decoration into it, and then allowing caustic acid to act on it. This second method resulted in a rather flat, two-dimensional relief, which is reminiscent of woodcuts in its sharp outlines and overall style; thus, the technique is known as the "woodcut style." It was common practice in Nürnberg in the last quarter of the 16th century. Pewter utensils (exclusively plates and dishes at this time) were cast in molds prepared in this manner. It was very seldom that decorative motifs were etched straight onto the pewter surface.
Another type of decoration is engraving, which involves cutting decorative motifs, figures, or inscriptions with a burin into the surface of pewter objects. The most expensive and aesthetically important pieces of engraved pewter were produced in the late Gothic period, about 1500. In the 16th and 17th centuries, engraving was common for guild articles; and in the 18th century engraved mottoes, names, dates, and motifs taken from popular art were widely used. The type of strokes used fall into three categories: long, engraved lines; dots set close together to form a pattern; and a technique known in German as Flecheln, in which the straight line made by the burin is broken up into a series of long or short zigzag strokes. The last method makes the design look fuller and broader and also makes it stand out more sharply. This type of decoration first appeared in the 16th century and was very popular in the 17th and 18th centuries.
After they had been cast and then turned on a lathe, many pewter articles, especially plates and dishes, were hammered. The idea was to smooth over the surface of the object and strengthen the material by means of a series of light and regular blows. Sometimes pewterers punched their wares with decorative motifs stamped close together to form a sort of frieze. This technique is known as tooling and is commonly found on bronze and silver articles. Occasionally, pewter pieces were embellished by the addition of brass fittings, such as handles, knobs, spouts, or scroll panels. But pewter ware has rarely been gilded, partly because it is difficult to make a layer of gilding adhere to the surface, partly because there seems little point in covering a material that is attractive in itself with a metal that is ostensibly more precious. This is also why pewter ware has rarely been painted. (See hammering.)
A type of pewter inlay is found on what are known as Lichtenhain tankards. Most of these tankards were made in Lower Franconia and in Thüringia in the 18th and 19th centuries. They have wooden staves running down them, and their sides are inlaid with decorative motifs and figures made of thin sheets of engraved pewter. In the early 18th century, furniture was also occasionally inlaid with pewter. Such furniture was clearly inspired by the inlay work of the French cabinetmaker André-Charles Boulle.
A number of pewter ampullae (flasks with a globular body and two handles) with inscriptions or highly stylized images or symbols date from the Early Christian period. They were sold to pilgrims and were used to hold water from the Jordan River, consecrated water, or oil. (Similar pouch-shaped ampullae reappeared in France in the 14th and 15th centuries; but unlike the early Christian examples, they are ornamented with abstract motifs rather than figure decoration.)
Instead of jewelry made of gold, silver, or precious stones, the less wealthy people of the Middle Ages wore pewter badges sewn onto their clothes or hats. The badges often took the form of amulets.
Because pewter was highly prized in all periods, damaged or old-fashioned utensils were melted down over and over again to make new ones. Thus, the earliest surviving functional objects and vessels made of pewter date from the Gothic era, though a few written sources refer to pewter being used earlier than this. Most of these documents are concerned with the question of whether communion chalices should be made of anything other than gold or silver. Pewter Communion chalices were permitted in certain periods and prohibited in others, and the church never managed to draw up an absolute ruling that applied to all religious communities.
Some of the finest and most important pewter pieces ever cast were made in Silesia in about 1500. Large guild flagons of a characteristic polygonal design, only 11 of them have been preserved. Their facetted surfaces are engraved with figures of saints surrounded by interlaced foliage scrolls, arches, arcades, and other late Gothic decorative motifs. Hidden among these motifs, one sometimes finds secular scenes, some of which are downright lewd. Pewterers in the neighbouring districts of Moravia and Bohemia also made guild flagons; but theirs were cylindrical, with raised horizontal bands. The areas between the bands were generally decorated with friezelike inscriptions made up of Gothic or Gothic-style characters.
The 15th century saw the emergence of a jug set on a slender stem, easily recognizable by its disk-shaped base, surmounted by another slender stem; the main body of the vessel is generally spherical and has a long, thin neck. The municipal authorities often possessed a set of six or 12 flagons of this kind. They came back into fashion in the 17th century and were very widely used, as they had been at the beginning of the 15th century. Unfortunately, only a very few have survived from the earlier periods.
Another early type of vessel belongs to a group known as Hanseatic tankards. These tankards have a heavy-looking, potbellied body set on a shallow circular base and a slightly convex lid. They were used in the coastal regions of Germany--that is, along the North Sea and Baltic coasts--and also in the Low Countries and Scandinavia. These regions comprise the area dominated by the Hanseatic League in the Middle Ages, hence the name of the tankards. Other regions of Europe were evolving their own special types of vessels for beer and wine, which, with a few modifications, remained standard for centuries. Thus, it is a very simple matter to distinguish between baluster jugs from London and pichets from Paris or between wine flagons from Switzerland and those made in the Low Countries, Burgundy, the Main regions of Franconia, southern Germany, and the Rhineland. The type of a baluster jug made in the region around Frankfurt-am-Oder and in Brandenburg in northeastern Germany is particularly elegant and distinguished looking. The few jugs of this type that have survived date from about 1500.
In all of the districts bordering the Rhine, vessels with flat lenticular (the shape of a double-convex lens) bodies are relatively common. They were used as canteens--sometimes as tankards, in which case they had a base that acted as a stand.
Far fewer plain everyday plates have survived from the 15th and 16th centuries than drinking vessels and containers of the same period. The earliest pewter plates and bowls to have survived in any quantity date from the 17th century.
In the last half of the 16th century two places in Europe evolved quite independently, though simultaneously, a new technique for casting pewter. The product was a type of relief-decorated ware known as "display pewter" (Edelzinn), and it gave a new and brilliant impetus to the trade. The first examples were made between 1560 and 1570, and the main centres of production were Nürnberg and Lyon. In the beginning the technique used was not the same in both towns. Whereas in France, relief pewter was cast in engraved brass molds worked with a burin, in Nürnberg etched molds were used. This suggests that the two towns were not influenced by each other in any way. Later on, however, Nürnberg pewterers were strongly influenced by the work of a celebrated French pewterer, François Briot, who was active in Montbeliard, in the county of Württemberg.
The first master pewterer documented to have made relief pieces in Lyon is Roland Greffet, between 1528 and 1568. One can assume that it was he who invented this type of work. A school producing tankards and dishes with relief decoration soon grew up in Lyon. The most common decorative motif was an arabesque, which was used in a variety of ways and can be thought of as the leitmotif for the work of this group of artists. The master of relief pewter was François Briot. His most famous piece is the Temperantia Dish, which takes its name from the allegorical figure of Temperance or Temperantia that appears in the centre of it. It dates from 1585-90.
Pewter with etched relief decoration was made by Nürnberg pewterers from the last third of the 16th century onward. The earliest piece made by Nicholas Horchhaimer, bearing the date 1567, is a dish cast in an etched mold with an allegorical figure representing Fame, or Fama, in the centre and historical scenes or incidents from classical mythology around the edge. Other large dishes made by Horchhaimer and his contemporary Albrecht Preissensin are again decorated with themes from classical antiquity or sometimes with biblical scenes; for smaller plates they kept to abstract decoration.
The use of etched molds did not remain fashionable in Nürnberg for long, and toward the end of the 16th century engraved molds were being used here as well. The work of François Briot was copied by Caspar Enderlein, who modelled his own Temperantia Dish directly on Briot's. The decoration on the ewer that went with it was modelled on Briot's Mars Dish and on a piece known as the Suzannah Dish, which is also attributed to Briot.
In the second quarter of the 17th century, smaller relief plates superseded the big dishes and jugs made in Nürnberg. The Mannerist allegories that had been in favour completely disappeared, to be replaced by scenes from the Old and New Testaments, equestrian portraits of the German emperors with the electors round the edge, and luxuriant floral decorations. These plates are no more than about seven inches (18 centimetres) in diameter and are generally flat and disk-shaped. The molds were no longer made by the pewterers themselves but by professional mold cutters, who occasionally added their own monograms. Since molds were often sold by one workshop to another and then to another, one sometimes finds plates cast in the same mold but with different touches. Small decorative plates of this type were so popular that they continued to be made as late as the 18th century. There are no less than nine different models for a plate with an equestrian portrait of Ferdinand III of the House of Habsburg, who was crowned emperor of Germany in Nürnberg in 1637. Similar plates depicting Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden, the Emperor of Turkey, and Duke Eberhard im Bart of Württemberg were also produced.
Few places, apart from Nürnberg and France, had a flourishing trade in relief pewter. A few master pewterers in Saxony did execute relief decoration, however, mainly on jugs; they adapted their motifs from lead or bronze plaquettes made in southern Germany. Plates bearing the arms of Switzerland were also produced by Swiss pewterers in the 17th century. They have scenes taken from the history of Switzerland. The golden age of relief pewter, which had begun about 1570, ended in the third quarter of the 17th century. During this period, individual craftsmen had elevated pewter from its humble status as a material from which functional articles were made to one in which brilliant artistic feats could be performed. Relief pewter pieces were solely works of art, nonfunctional objects valued as showpieces.
Pewter dishes made in Italy in the 16th and 17th centuries have chased, etched, engraved, or chiselled decoration and lean heavily on artists working in brass or bronze for their designs. An independent pewter trade does not seem to have existed in Italy on anything like a large scale until the 18th century. (See engraving.)
After the Thirty Years' War the production of functional articles in pewter noticeably increased in northern Europe. Besides a very large number of different types of jugs, each region specializing in its own characteristic design, there were plates and dishes used at table and also basins and bowls, drinking mugs, and screw-top flasks.
Yet pewter was already feeling the draught of competition by the end of the 17th century. In this time pewter began to be superseded by products of other branches of the decorative arts. Its first rival, faience ware, was initially no more than an inferior substitute for porcelain; but because the factories that were soon springing up everywhere were able to produce very large quantities of faience, they inflicted heavy damage on the pewter trade. Faced with this situation, the pewterers switched to imitating the designs used by the silversmiths, in the hope of gaining favor in the more ambitious middle class circles. This attempt was successful; and, from the first quarter of the 18th century onward, "silver-type pewter" gained a firm hold, soon influencing the production and appearance of pewter ware made in the Regency and Rococo periods.
By about the middle of the 18th century, an ever-widening variety of articles was being made: the pewterers were able to supply anything from a spoon to a whole dinner service, including mustard pots, sauceboats, and spoons for serving punch. But this period of prosperity was short-lived. By the third quarter of the 18th century, pewter was rivalled both by porcelain, which could now be produced relatively cheaply by several factories in Europe, and by the even cheaper English earthenware that flooded markets on the Continent. This new development sealed the fate of the pewter trade. Towns that once had 20 or 30 busy and successful workshops had no more than one or two by the beginning of the 19th century. (See England.)
Although in Germany the demand for pewter seems to have increased for a few years after the Napoleonic era, particularly in country districts, by the middle of the 19th century industrialization finally put an end to a trade that had flourished for centuries.
In the second half of the century, when
stylistic imitations were all the rage, pewter vessels were produced in
the Neo-Baroque, Neo-Rococo, Neo-Gothic, Neo-Renaissance, and other styles
that followed the many historicizing trends that emerged. Yet these pieces
were made more often by mechanized metalworking factories than by pewterers.
The Art Nouveau style that became fashionable at the end of the 19th century
brought about a revival of pewter production; and individual firms succeeded
in making original, well-designed pieces that are often of considerable
aesthetic importance. The firm of Kayser in Oppum near Krefeld played a
leading part in this revival. But the outbreak of World War I spelled the
end of Art Nouveau--whose heady run of success had anyway been short-lived--and
with it the end of old pewter.
Wrought iron is fibrous in structure and light gray in colour. It can be hammered, twisted, or stretched when hot or cold. The more it is hammered, the more brittle and hard it becomes; but it can be brought back to its original state by annealing (heating and then cooling slowly). It will not shatter when dropped.
From earliest times, the smith has had a forge to heat the iron, an adjacent water tank in which to cool it, an anvil on which to form it, in addition to a wide assortment of hammers and tools. The most important tool is the anvil. The English type, generally used for forging wrought iron, has a flat top surface, which is used as a solid base for hammering the heated iron into shape, for welding, for splitting, or for incising decorative chisel marks in the hot iron. One end of the anvil is shaped like a pointed cone and is used for forming curved surfaces. The other blunt end, or heel, has one or two square or rectangular holes on top, into which fit various tools. From the anvil is derived the expression "to strike while the iron is hot," and this implies spontaneity and rapid hammer blows. The wrought-iron craftsman should not be expected to repeat with meticulous exactitude one intricate component after another. In fact, wrought iron by a master craftsman is esteemed for the variations that naturally occur.
The individual components of a wrought-iron design are often plain or twisted rods, with or without chisel-mark incisions. They are frequently composed as a series of straight, parallel members or in combination with scrolls, or as a repeat design of some geometric shape such as the quatrefoil. Where two curved members are tangent, they are characteristically secured together by bands or collars, rather than by welding. Where two straight bars intersect, it is accredited craftsmanship to make the vertical bar pierce or thread the horizontal member. Grilles consisting of two series of parallel small-diameter rods, one series at right angles to the other, were sometimes interlaced or woven.
Depending upon the depth of the relief,
various fabrication techniques may be employed for repoussé, or
three-dimensional, ornamental wrought ironwork. Sheets
The most difficult way of decorating iron
is to carve it. This involves fashioning figurative or decorative motifs
out of the metal ingot with especially strengthened tools, using the material
in the same way that the sculptor handles wood or stone. Only very precious
iron articles are carved, such as coats of arms or pieces that are specifically
designed to be displayed as works of art.
(H.-U.H.) (See carving.)
Cast iron is melted in a furnace or cupola, stoked with alternate layers of coking iron, then poured into prepared sand molds. After the cast iron cools in the mold, the sand is cleaned off, and the work is virtually complete. Its shape is fixed, and while a casting can be slightly trued up by the judicious use of a hammer, it is in no sense as workable as wrought iron. Thus, ornamental features in cast iron cannot be chased and polished as in cast bronze. If the ornamental cast-iron details are not replicas of the original pattern, the only recourse is to make a new casting. Because it is brittle, cast iron is almost certain to shatter if dropped.
Since it is cast in a mold, certain forms
are more suitable to cast iron than to wrought iron. For example, if repetitive
balusters, or columns, or panels with low-relief ornamentation are desired,
cast iron is the most suitable material.
From the ancient Near East the knowledge of iron working was transmitted to Greece and the Aegean, probably at the beginning of the 1st millennium BC, whence it spread gradually to the rest of Europe. By the 6th century BC, it had been widely disseminated over central and western Europe. (See Greek art.)
Iron was at first apparently regarded as a precious, semi-magical material, presumably because of its rarity and its connection with meteorites. But once it had become common, as a result of increased knowledge of the technique of smelting ore, it seems to have been used, at least in Europe, almost exclusively for objects of utility. A few Belgic firedogs and at least one amphora, skillfully forged in iron, with decorative terminals in the form of animal heads, are known; but the practice of forging iron into decorative shapes does not seem to have become general until the Middle Ages.
A few cast-iron objects dating from classical
times have been found in Europe. The extreme rarity of these, however,
suggests that they were only produced experimentally. The earliest known
evidence for the general use of cast iron comes from China (see below East
Asia: China: Iron), and it does not seem to have been produced regularly
in Europe before the 15th century.
During the first half of the 16th century, before the Spanish occupation, there were diversified forms of ironwork, such as protective grilles for doors, windows, and chapels, often in fleur-de-lis patterns; window gratings of vertical bars, frequently octagonal in section; and interlacing bars, producing rectangular or lozenge-shaped patterns. Only a few examples still exist: some lunettes in the Hôtel de Ville of Brussels; a tabernacle grille from the chapel of the counts of Flanders and a window grille from the Cathedral of St. Bavon, both from Ghent (Victoria and Albert Museum); and hinges at the Hôtels de Ville of Bruges and Ypres (Flemish Ieper). Few Renaissance screens have survived.
During the second half of the 16th century,
the cruelty of the Duke of Alba and his 20,000 troops, together with the
threat of the Inquisition, drove hundreds of artisans to England. After
the Spanish domination there was little indigenous design in Holland and
Belgium, and such ironwork as was produced fell under the spell of French
(G.K.Ge.) (See Netherlands, The.)
The development of the art of smithing during the Renaissance period was very uneven in the various countries of Europe. In 16th-century England the smith fell behind and seemed to have lost interest, producing no very great or important work. He continued to make iron railings, balconies, and small objects for architectural application, such as hinges, latches, locks, and weathercocks. But toward the end of the 17th century, there was a growing interest in beautifying houses and laying out gardens and squares, with a commensurate demand for balconies, staircases, and garden gates. The man to whom the credit is usually given for the revival of ironwork in England was Jean Tijou, a Frenchman who, together with many of his Protestant fellow craftsmen, had been forced to leave his country owing to the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685. After some years in The Netherlands he went to England in 1689, where he enjoyed the patronage and favour of William III. His most important works for his royal patron are to be seen in the immense mass of screens and gates with which he embellished Hampton Court palace. He also executed work at Burleigh house, Stamford. Probably by the Queen's wish he was associated with the architect Sir Christopher Wren, then engaged on the rebuilding of St. Paul's Cathedral. Wren apparently did not particularly like ironwork and probably exercised some restraint on Tijou, with the result that his work at St. Paul's is more dignified and freer from appendages than that of Hampton Court.
There is a great amount of fine ironwork of the 18th century in London in the form of gates, railings, lamp holders, door brackets, balconies, and staircases; in almost every suburb there are gates and brackets. The precincts of the colleges of Oxford and Cambridge, as well as almost every old town in England, furnish a variety of handsome work. Throughout the 18th century the smith was a busy man; the general tendency of his work, unaffected by the Rococo movement on the Continent, was toward a less ornate but more characteristically English style--perpendicular, severe, lofty, and commanding, as contrasted with Tijou's French love of richness and mass of details.
At the end of the 18th century the work of the architect brothers Adam shows a departure from true smithing; its slender delicate bars are enriched with rosettes, anthemia, and other ornament in brass or lead. The effect is pleasing and harmonizes with the architecture with which it is incorporated.
During the first half of the 19th century, the art of the smith was largely eclipsed by that of the iron caster. But under the stimulus of the Victorian Gothic revival and later of the Art Nouveau movement, there was a renewal of interest in the decorative use of wrought iron, and much excellent work was produced.
The Gothic tradition survived in France until well into the 16th century and was marked by the production of work of the highest skill, largely in the form of locks, knockers, and caskets of chiselled iron. The introduction of the Renaissance style did not radically alter the direction of the smith's art--a strange fact when it is remembered that Germany and Spain were fabricating works of enormous size and magnificence in wrought iron. France, like England at that time, was content to make door furniture, in the form of locks, keys, bolts, escutcheons, and the like, but did little ironwork of any great size. A school of locksmiths came into being under Francis I and Henry II, working from designs by Androuet du Cerceau in the 16th century and those by Mathurin Jousse and Antoine Jacquard in the 17th. The bows (a loop forming the handle) and wards (notches) of keys were of unusually intricate design and the locks of corresponding richness. Representative pieces may be seen at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Among them is the famous Strozzi key, said to have been made for the apartments of Henry III, the bow of which takes the favoured form of two grotesque figures back to back. But as far as architectural ironwork was concerned, France remained almost at a standstill until the accession of Louis XIII in 1610. Under that monarch, a worker at the forge himself, came a great revival, which, by the end of the 17th century, had attained a marvellous pitch of perfection. It proved to be the beginning of a new movement, the force of which made itself felt in the adjoining countries and inspired ironworkers with new energy. From the accession of Louis XIV, the French ironworkers must be acknowledged as the cleverest in Europe, combining as they did good and fitting design with masterly execution. Their designs were often very daring, exploiting all the latent and previously unexplored possibilities of iron. They recognized its great adaptability and took every advantage of it, at the same time being conscious of its limitations. Their forms of expression were endless.
Screens and gates were needed for parks, gardens, and avenues, staircases for mansions and palaces, screens for churches and cathedrals. Among celebrated designers were Jean Lepautre, Daniel Marot, and Jean Berain. Earlier work had been of a simple character--balconies, for instance, being in the form of a succession of balusters--but as the smith became more versatile and imaginative, they took the form of panels of flowing curved scrolls, rendered with a freedom never attained before, while constructive strength was observed and symmetry maintained. Enrichments were usually attached in hammered sheet iron. These may be considered the distinguishing features of Louis XIV work, such as that at St. Cloud, Chantilly, Fontainebleau, and elsewhere. But under Louis XIV all previous efforts were surpassed in the work for his palace at Versailles.
The art of ironwork received a further impetus by the introduction of the Rococo style. The movement, initiated in 1723, was due principally to the imagination of two artists, Just-Aurèle Meissonier, architect, and Gilles-Marie Oppenordt. There was a balanced asymmetry in the design and fantastic curves with a luxury of applied ornamentation. To the French smith it furnished the opportunity for a yet greater display of his skill. He was clever enough to secure a feeling of stability in his work by counterbalancing swirling masses of ornament with straight constructional lines; he knew how to introduce an iron screen of Rococo style into a Gothic church or cathedral without giving offense to the eye or arousing any uncomfortable feeling of incongruity.
Later in the 18th century, ironwork took on a more classical appearance as a result of the general revival of interest in ancient art; and many Greek and Roman details were introduced into the ornamentation. The amount of work executed was prodigious, and its beauty and craftsmanship may be seen in most cities of France. Nearly all of the adjacent countries, with the exception of England, were seized with the desire to imitate the French Rococo style.
There were no new marked developments in ironwork during the 14th century. Smiths confined their efforts mostly to hinges. Until this period the vine had been the only motif for elaborate hinges; but flat, lozenge-shaped leaves were introduced, such as those at Schloss Lahneck on the Rhine.
During the 15th century, grilles became more popular. One of the best examples is the grille in the Monument of Bishop Ernst of Bavaria, Magdeburg cathedral (c. 1495), with elaborate Gothic tracery, nine columns, and a cornice. In hinges the cinquefoil displaced the quatrefoil, as at Orb, Oppenheim, and Magdeburg. The Erfurt cathedral was enriched with notable hinges having the vine pattern interpolated with rosettes and escutcheons of arms. Hinges for houses usually were the plain strap type, but when ornamented they consisted of superimposed layers of sheet iron. As in other parts of Europe at this time, pierced sheet iron was fashioned into tracery of a semi-architectural nature, much like Gothic windows. Pierced ornament and twisted rods were often combined to form grilles, with their extremities beaten into complicated foliage forms.
During the Renaissance, ironwork in Germany was in use everywhere and for every purpose: for screens in churches, window grilles, stove guards, gates, fountain railings, well heads, grave crosses, door knockers, handles, locks, iron signs, and small objects for domestic use. Smiths were their own designers and more often than not planned intricate devices merely to show their skill in executing them. They set no limits to their problems; and so far as manipulative excellence went, the German smiths were the foremost in Europe. But clever as their workmanship undoubtedly was, their designs frequently showed a lack of stability and a tendency to run riot. Thus, many of their most imposing works consist largely of filling panels with elaborate, interlacing scrollwork, and the sense of constructional and protective strength is missing.
An abundance of smiths' work is to be found in the southern parts of Germany. Iron bars, circular in section, were most frequently used; and the most common features are interlacing bars and terminations of flowers with petals and twisted centres, foliage, or human heads. All of these characteristics occur with almost monotonous repetition, witnessing to skill but also to lack of imagination and sense of design. The style may be studied in many German and Austrian cities, such as Augsburg, Nürnberg, Frankfurt, Salzburg, Munich, and Innsbruck.
The German smith gave much attention to door knockers and handles, enclosing them in pierced and embossed escutcheons, and devised locks with very involved mechanism. German influence made itself strongly felt in Switzerland, Austria, and Czechoslovakia.
The Baroque and Rococo periods are distinguished by a perfection of detail that exceeded that of German Medieval or Renaissance ironwork. Smiths used wrought iron as though it were a plastic material, meant to be employed in extravagant forms wherever possible. Some examples are at Zwiefalten, Weingarten, and Klosterneuburg. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, cast ironwork of outstanding quality was produced in Germany, notably at the Prussian royal foundry established in 1804.
Until the 16th century, Italian smiths respected the natural characteristics of wrought iron by relying almost entirely upon those forms that could be wrought with hammer and anvil. The grille was usually made by dividing it into regular panels with vertical and horizontal bars (sometimes triangular in section and enriched with dentils, or small, projecting triangular blocks). Often the quatrefoil filled some or all of these panels; they were made in Tuscany from a pierced plate and in Venice from separate scrolls collared together. A noted example is in the Palazzo della Signoria, Siena, crowned by a repoussé frieze and surmounted by a cresting of flowers, spikes, and some animal heads.
It might have been thought that in the fountainhead of the Renaissance, ironwork would have proceeded at the same pace and with the same brilliant success as architecture, sculpture, bronze casting, and the other arts. Strangely enough, little use of it is found in connection with the fine buildings of the revival. Bronze was favoured; and what in other countries is found in iron has its counterpart in Italy in bronze. As time went on the smiths grew less inclined toward the more difficult processes of hammering and welding and contented themselves ultimately with thin ribbon iron, the various parts of which were fastened together by collars. Work of the later periods may be distinguished, apart from the design, by this feature, whereas the English and French smiths vigorously faced the hardest methods of work, and the German and Spanish smiths invented difficulties for the sheer pleasure of overcoming them.
Notable centres of artistic ironwork were Florence, Siena, Vicenza, Venice, Lucca, and Rome, where important pieces may be found in the form of gates, balconies, screens, fanlights (semicircular windows with radiating sash bars like the ribs of a fan), well covers, and a mass of objects for domestic use, such as bowl stands, brackets, and candlesticks.
In screenwork the favourite motif was the quatrefoil, which has been found with many variations ever since the 14th century. Early examples are strong and virile, but later ones tend to weakness. The C-shaped scroll is also used in many combinations. The churches and palaces of Venice contain many examples of these popular designs. Peculiar to Italy are the lanterns and banner holders such as may still be seen at Florence, Siena, and elsewhere, and the rare gondola prows of Venice. Of the ironworkers of the early Renaissance, the most famous was the late-15th-century craftsman Niccolo Grosso of Florence, nicknamed "Il Caparra" because he gave no credit but insisted on money on account. From his hand is the well-known lantern on the Palazzo Strozzi in Florence, repeated with variations elsewhere in the same city. Siena has lanterns and banner holders attached to the facades of its palaces, and lanterns are still to be seen at Lucca and a few other towns.
The decadence of 17th- and 18th-century
ironwork paralleled that of architecture. Designs were borrowed directly
from France and Germany. The metal was too often worked cold, using thin
members; and the resulting construction was flimsy. Scrolls were often
encased in thin, grasslike leaves. Conventional or naturalistic flowers
were tacked on as seeming afterthoughts. Instead of using rods and bars,
ribbonlike bands were used, with cast ornaments pinned on. Intersecting
tracery was copied from Germany. The best examples of this period are confined
to Venice and northern Italy, such as the screen in the south aisle chapel
of S. Ambrogio, Milan; the chapel enclosure in S. Pietro, Mantua; and the
screen in the Palazzo Capodilista, Padua.
Ironwork of the Renaissance period from about 1450 to 1525 reached a height of grandeur and magnificence attained in no other country. Of all the Spanish craftsmen the smiths were the busiest, especially during the 16th century. The ironwork products that for more than a century dominated the craft are the monumental screens (rejas) found in all the great cathedrals of Spain. These immense structures, rising 25 to 30 feet (7.5 to nine metres) show several horizontal bands, or tiers, of balusters, sometimes divided vertically by columns of hammered work and horizontally by friezes of hammered arabesque ornament. Usually such screens are surmounted by a cresting, which is sometimes of simple ornament but more often a very elaborate design into which are introduced a large number of human figures. Shields of arms are freely incorporated; and the use of bright colour, silvering, and gilding adds to their impressive beauty. The great balusters were always forged from the solid, and their presence in hundreds demonstrates the extraordinary skill and power of the Spanish smith. In many cathedrals two of these monumental rejas are found facing one another. There is at least one in every large cathedral--Barcelona, Saragossa, Toledo, Seville, Burgos, Granada, Córdoba, and many others.
Ironwork on a smaller scale is found in
gates, balconies, and window screens; wrought-iron pulpits also exist.
Panels of hammered and pierced iron, heightened with colours and gilding,
were used in connection with domestic architecture; and many doors were
ornamented with elaborate nailheads or embossed studs.
Gradually, ironwork designs tended to develop characteristics of an American or composite nature, as a logical consequence of the diverse origins of colonists and smiths. An innovation that appeared toward the end of the 18th century was the combination of structural wrought-iron rods or bars with lead or cast-iron ornamental features. While the use of wrought iron declined in the 19th century, during its last quarter the use of cast-iron columns and panels for nonresidential buildings increased. These designs, timid or bold, decorative or structural, engendered the prototypes of commercial buildings for the ensuing decades.
Because the life of structures in U.S. cities has been short, there are few examples of 18th- or early 19th-century ironwork extant in New York City, not many more in Boston, some in Philadelphia, but more in and near Washington, D.C., such as the excellent balconies and railings at the Octagon (headquarters of the American Institute of Architects). Charleston, South Carolina, has a rich legacy in gates, notably those at numbers 12, 23, and 36 Legare Street, 63 Meeting Street, and an unusually beautiful pair at St. Michael's Church.
New Orleans has more ironwork than other U.S. cities, thanks to a group of citizens dedicated to the preservation of the old French Quarter. Its earliest ironwork was forged by Spanish and French smiths. Unfortunately, fires, rust, and remodelling have so taken their toll of the Spanish ironwork that almost the only remaining example of importance is the gateway of the Cabildo (town hall). It has moldings beaten from solid bars, like many of the old rejas in Spanish cathedrals. After the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, the influx of ironworkers from northern states brought about a broadening of influences that is apparent in designs and techniques. Ironwork of New Orleans can be roughly divided into three periods: (1) forged wrought iron by French and Spanish artisans with strongly marked European characteristics; (2) a transitional period with wrought-iron structural members embellished with cast-iron ornaments in the Directoire and Empire styles of France, plus some U.S. innovations; and (3) entire grilles, screens, and trellises made entirely of cast iron. No other city in the U.S. has two- and even three-story iron porches and balconies that can compare with those of New Orleans. Some of these lacy structures, such as those on St. Peter Street, were built above the sidewalks. Balconies sometimes not only extended across an entire facade but continued around a corner.
The increased mechanization of all forms of manufacture understandably affected the character and use of ironwork. As the cost of cast iron came down, its use increased. Because wrought iron is produced by hand by beating red-hot iron on an anvil, not much change was possible through increased mechanization, whereas the casting of molten iron lent itself to improved equipment and techniques. The lowered cost of duplicating ornamental cast-iron components and the introduction of structural steel parts expanded the usage of ironwork to the modest building, whereas it had been generally confined to public or monumental structures. Foundries in the U.S. established a flourishing business in pierced cast-iron panels, modelled after Louisiana porch trellises.
Compared with prior periods, the last half of the 19th century will scarcely be commemorated as introducing enduring or beautiful ironwork forms. It was not until the first quarter of the 20th century that a master craftsman-designer gave impetus to a new conception of design forms and textures. Edgar Brandt of Paris broadened the scope of decorative usage by the rich inventiveness of his compositions and by an entirely original approach that resulted in a wrought-iron texture that is akin to beaten silver. Examples of his work at the Exposition des Arts Décoratifs Modernes at Paris in 1925 had an immediate effect upon ironwork designed and executed in the U.S. during the great building boom that lasted until about 1930. During this period, both wrought and cast iron enjoyed an unprecedented period of popularity not only in the form of bank screens, entrance doors, and grilles in public buildings but as decorative grilles and gates in private homes. In many cases the craftsmanship equaled that of representative examples of the Gothic or Renaissance periods in Europe.
One of the most gifted and dedicated iron
craftsmen in the U.S., Samuel Yellin of Philadelphia, raised the standards
of wrought-iron craftsmanship to its apex during the 1920s. He not only
trained an atelier of craftsmen for the first time in the U.S., but by
his efforts wrought iron was recognized as capable of enriching even the
most monumental building. Yellin's influence, however, was ended by the
Depression of the early 1930s. As building activity declined after 1930,
so did the use of ironwork; and it did not increase with the revival of
building after World War II.
An extension of the use of lead took place
with the introduction of lead garden sculpture--figures, vases, and urns--in
the late 17th century. An example of this work is a pair of garden vases
15 feet high at Schloss Scheissheim in Bavaria. The silvery gray colour
of such sculpture and its resistance to the weather made it suitable for
use in the many formal gardens that were created at this time. English
garden sculpture rarely achieves any particular aesthetic status; but in
18th-century Germany and Austria lead was used for more serious sculpture
by a group of artists of high standing. In the 19th century, lead was out
of favour with sculptors, partly because improved transport made it possible
to bring marble from Italy at low cost. Its soft colouring and the fact
that it does not reflect light give it advantages, however, and it has
been used in the 20th century by Aristide Maillol and by Sir Jacob Epstein,
who executed the lead figure of the Virgin and Child in Cavendish Square,
(J.F.Ha.) (See Renaissance art.)
During the Gupta period (AD 320-647), vessels of Hellenistic and Persian shapes were evidently made, for they are represented in the sculpture and frescoes of the period. More Indian in style are a silver dish of the 3rd or 4th century, decorated with a Bacchanalian scene of a yaksa drinking (see photograph), and a silver bowl of the 7th century from northern India, which is embellished with medallions in low relief (both in the British Museum). Jewelry played a very important role, and, although no original pieces have survived, it can be studied in frescoes at Ajanta and on contemporary sculptures.
In spite of the fact that gold and silver vessels have been common in India since classical times, there is very little material extant before the 17th century, when all kinds of vessels were produced in bronze, brass, copper, and, for the royal houses, in silver. Shapes and decorations vary in different regions. Delhi was famous for its craftsmen, especially in the time of Akbar in the 16th century and Jahangir and Shah Jahan in the 17th. Much work was done in precious metal, and vessels and ornaments of jade were inlaid with gold and gems. Northern India is famous for its enamels. Enamellers from Lahore were brought to Jaipur in the 16th century by Man Singh, and enamel was employed extensively in combination with goldwork and silverwork in the 17th and 18th centuries there and elsewhere. The Punjab, Lucknow, and the districts of Chanda and Cutch in Gujarat state were long celebrated for their metalworkers. In the south, silverwork in svamin-style is characterized by religious-figure scenes in relief, executed in three different techniques. Craftsmen in Tirupati put silver sheet on copper; Madras, Bangalore, and Tiruchirappalli are known for hammered vessels with traced decoration; and Thanjavur (Tanjore) produced a more Baroque effect with inlays of silver in copper. From the former Travancore state, Mysore, and Bijaipur in the southwest come chased vessels with floral patterns, the lotus predominating. In the north the Hindu style is well represented by works from Varanasi (Benares). (See enamelwork.)
Persian-Islamic influence is found in several vessel shapes; for example, ewers and basins for water and smoking furniture, such as hookas, which also have Islamic patterns. Jewelry from the later periods employs precious stones, pearls, gold, and silver in great variety. The old types are repeated, with symmetrical arrangements of rosettes and leaves for bracelets, necklaces, pendants, rings, and foot ornaments. Very fine work in silver filigree was executed at Cuttack in Orissa and was used on jewelry and various larger items.
In Tibet copper and brass were usually used for vessels, but these metals were often decorated with applied silver or gold ornaments; and in eastern Tibet, especially, teapots were made of silver with gilt appliqué. While many of the ornaments are Chinese, Buddhist shapes and patterns of Indian origin were used for ritual vessels. Other ritual objects were sometimes made of silver or, more rarely, of gold, though bronze is again the common material. Silver is used for amulets and jewelry with rich settings of turquoises, carnelian, and lapis lazuli. (See Buddhism, ceremonial object.)
In Thailand, Buddhist vessels were made out of chased silver, very often in the shape of a lotus flower whose petals are decorated with other, embossed, floral and figure motifs.
Burma is known for its chased silver vessels heavily decorated with figures and floral patterns in relief, related to the south Indian svamin work. The use of gold and silver vessels for domestic purposes was denied to all but those of royal blood. Good examples of earlier golden regalia are in the Victoria and Albert Museum.
In Vietnam, goldwork and silverwork of
the Cham culture are preserved from the 10th century. It is exemplified
by a crown and heavy jewelry made for a life-size statue found in the ruin
of a temple at Mison. From later times there is a royal treasure with four
crowns, various amulets, arm rings, and table services of gold, richly
decorated with embossing and openwork.
Vast numbers of secular bronzes were cast.
These include weapons, such as the chih and ko dagger axes
and the short sword; chariot and harness fittings; trigger mechanisms for
bows; weights, scales, and measures; belt hooks; and mirrors. The last
appear in great numbers from the 5th century BC onward. They are flat disks,
with a central perforated boss by which they could be mounted on a stand.
Their backs are covered with a maze of intricate relief designs and feature
a diversified series of well-defined subjects.
From the 9th century, iron increasingly took the place of bronze in China as a material for sculpture, especially in the north and under the Sung dynasty. The few extant examples from the 11th century and later show work done on a larger scale and in coarser technique than the bronzes, though the modelling is usually more naturalistic.
Several iron pagodas, dating from the 10th to the 14th century and ranging in size from miniature models to towers 100 feet or more in height, give further evidence of the dexterity of the Chinese iron caster. The pagodas imitate, in detail, both the structural and decorative effects of the more common tile-roofed brick pagodas. Iron for temple furniture has long been in use, and a large number of the braziers, censers, caldrons, and bells found today in the temples are of iron.
In China in the 17th century the iron picture
was developed, the craftsmen seeking to reproduce in permanent form through
the medium of wrought iron the effects of the popular ink sketches of the
master painters. When completed, these pictorial compositions were mounted
in windows, in lanterns, or in frames as pictures. When in the latter form,
a paper or silk background often bore the signature and seal of the maker,
heightening the resemblance to a painting. The craft flourished in Anhwei
Province and is still practiced, though with less patience and fineness
Silverwork first became important during the T'ang dynasty (AD 618-907), when the Chinese had learned from the Sasanid Persians how to chase the silver. In the beginning, they followed their teachers very closely in the forms of the bowls and larger vessels as well as in the patterns. T'ang drinking vessels, ewers, trays, and lobed oval dishes on a stem are Persian shapes transformed by Chinese taste. Among the patterns are vine and palmette scrolls of great variety, hunting scenes, and landscapes of symmetrical flowers and trees with birds and animals; all of these have parallels in Persian silver and textiles but are more delicate in their Chinese version. The techniques used by the Sasanid silversmiths were adopted by the Chinese; for example, double sheets for a bowl and tracing of the patterns on ring-matted ground. T'ang jewelry is made of gold or gilt silver.
During the Sung dynasty (960-1279), silverwork declined in technical quality but jewelry played a more dominant role. Hair ornaments became increasingly intricate, with elaborate naturalistic flowers and various auspicious symbols.
During the Yüan (1206-1368) and Ming (1368-1644) periods, skill in silverwork revived, and once again the smiths followed many Near Eastern styles. Drinking vessels (ewers and cups), boxes, and even large ceremonial gold vessels have been found in Ming tombs. During the excavation of the tomb of Emperor Wan-li (1572-1620), a series of gold vessels set with precious stones was found. All of the gold items are decorated with incised patterns of dragons, phoenixes, and similar subjects.
During the Ch'ing period (1644-1911/12), both silver and gold were used lavishly, and gold filigree work especially is common in the 18th century. Most of the forms and ornaments employed, however, are borrowed from lacquer and porcelain ware; and only jewelry has its own style, rich combinations of kingfisher feathers glued to the metal.
At first these efforts were devoted to
the embellishment of defensive armour, but from the 15th century the sword
became the centre of attention. The blade is not properly part of the subject
of this article; but in the mountings, especially the guards (tsuba),
is found exquisite artistry expressed chiefly in iron. A remarkably soft
and pure variety of the metal especially free from sulfur was employed.
It was worked by casting, hammering, and chiselling; and innumerable surface
effects were obtained by tooling, inlaying, incrustation, combination with
other metals, and patination by various, usually secret, processes. Simple
conventional patterns, crests, and pictorial designs were the bases for
the decoration. As these were often furnished by painters or designers,
the criterion of connoisseurship in Japan is the unsurpassed technical
quality of the handling of the iron itself. With the promulgation of the
edict of 1876, prohibiting the wearing of swords, this art came to an end,
but the skill of the Japanese ironworker may still be noted in numerous
small decorative objects.
A truly great technological and artistic triumph of the pre-Hispanic workers in Ecuador was the making of complex beads of microscopic fineness from an alloy of gold and platinum. This feat was achieved by sintering (to combine by alternately hammering and heating without melting) gold dust and small grains of alluvial platinum. (Platinum was a metal not to be used in Europe until 500 or 600 years later.)
As in other early cultures, the pre-Hispanic goldsmiths were a privileged and highly respected group, sometimes having their own patron deity such as Xipe Totec in Mexico or Chibchachun in Colombia. In Peru just before and at the time of the Conquest, the goldsmith (kori-camayoc) is said to have been a full-time government worker, who was supported by the state and who produced exclusively for the Inca. According to early Mexican picture writings (codices) and accounts of the Spanish chroniclers, the craft was hereditary, the secrets passed on from father to son.
The earliest examples of metalwork in the New World come from the "Old Copper" culture that flourished in the upper Great Lakes region of North America beginning about 4000 BC and continuing over the course of the next 2,000 years. The earliest goldwork is considerably later and consists of sheet-gold adornments with embossed decoration from Chongoyape, Peru, that were made sometime between 1000 and 500 BC. Casting seems to have begun in Mochica times early in the Christian Era in northern Peru, whence it is thought to have spread northward into Ecuador, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, and finally Mexico. Dating in the intervening areas is problematical, but it is generally accepted that fine metalwork in gold, silver, and copper did not reach the valley of Oaxaca in Mexico until about AD 900. Some finds in western Mexico suggest an earlier beginning date there and also that knowledge of the craft came by sea rather than overland from South America. (See Old Copper culture.)
It is said that the Spaniards saw some pre-Columbian goldwork when they first arrived in Florida, but none seems to have survived. Some pre-European North American copper work, however, has survived. Metalwork was limited to a few regions in pre-European times. The "Old Copper" culture people took advantage of deposits of native copper (as opposed to smelting copper ores) to make tools and implements, and at a later period the Hopewell people extensively made copper ornaments and weapons, produced by cold hammering. A few copper bells also have been found in Arizona Hohokam sites, but these are imports that were manufactured in Mexico.
Throwing knives of the Congo, often with punchwork designs, exemplify finely forged, abstract forms of iron weapons. Blacksmiths produced such ritual utensils as single or double gongs; Bambara, Dogon, and Lubi staffs topped with equestrian, human, and animal figures; and Yoruba and Benin shrine pieces containing mammal and bird forms.
Brass figure sculpture, which was cast by the lost-wax process, was usually the prerogative of royalty, as in Dahomey, and at Ife and Benin in Nigeria. Ife castings appear quite naturalistic and are among the finest sub-Saharan art. They are mostly hollow-cast heads, possibly used in ancestral rites. Benin "bronzes" were reported as early as the 16th century, but not until the 1890s did they become well-known in Europe. Local traditions indicate that the technique and the first caster came from Ife, in the 14th century. Predominant forms were heads representing deceased Benin kings, often supporting a carved ivory tusk. These, with other figurative castings as well as bells, were placed on altars that were dedicated to early kings. Figurative plaques were used as architectural decoration. Excellent thinly cast pieces, fairly close to the style of Ife, gave way to heavy, over decorated pieces of the later 19th century.
Although metals appear throughout Africa, the cast "bronzes" (often brass) of Nigeria are particularly noteworthy. The earliest, from Igbo Ukwu, may be as early as the 9th century, those of Ife as early as the 12th century; Benin castings are later, and those of the Yoruba most recent. Lower Niger Bronze Industries is a term referring to one or more as yet inadequately studied traditions of uncertain date from various places in southern Nigeria.