SEPTEMBER: Bronze at the Royal Academy
Olivia Nairn enjoys a new exhibition of all things bronze
The Royal Academy has achieved something very special in its latest exhibition, Bronze. Drawing on works spanning 5,000 years, this exhibition combines Renaissance bronze models of ancient sculptures with modern re-workings of the material by artists such as Anish Kapoor, Barbara Hepworth, Brancusi, and Picasso, as well as many other fine examples of the use of this material.
At times, the gallery almost becomes reminiscent of the British Museum, displaying a rich variety of ancient treasures including Greek and Roman busts and sculptures. The Renaissance bronzes shown at normal height provide a fantastic opportunity to get up close to sculptures designed for Orsanmichele and other Florentine churches, and to contemplate the sculptors’ clever use of forshortening techniques to make their figures proportionally correct when viewed from several metres below. Several of Donatello’s famous figures are included in the exhibition, and also a model of Cellini’s famous Perseus, originally displayed in the Loggia dei Lanzi in the Signoria, Florence.
Almost a necessity in an exhibition of sculpture, a bronze life-size cast of Lacoön and his Sons by François Girardon (1690, on loan from Houghton Hall in Norfolk) is particularly impressive, particularly to contemplate the sculpture group as a whole, rather than imagining the missing parts in the famous ancient marble original in the Vatican Museums.
The grouping of the exhibition by category also makes Bronze very easy to navigate, and gives the chance to compare and contrast the bronze working of the human figure, for example, over several centuries. I particularly enjoyed the room of animal sculptures, not least the giant spider suspended on the wall, realistically poised to creep up on its prey.
The exhibition also includes a room on bronze techniques, including the ‘lost wax’ technique, with replicas of all the stages of production.
Bronze runs at the RA until 9th December 2012.