1902 Encyclopedia > Metalwork


METAL-WORK. Among the many stages in the de-velopment of primeval man, none can have been of greater moment in his struggle for existence than the discovery of the metals, and the means of working them. The names generally given to the three prehistoric periods of man's life on the earth—the Stone, the Bronze, and the Iron age—imply the vast importance of the progressive steps from the flint knife to the bronze celt, and lastly to the keen-edged elastic iron weapon or tool. The length of time during which each of these ages lasted must of course have been different in every country and race in the world. The Digger Indians of South California have even now not progressed beyond the Stone Age; while some of the tribes of Central Africa are acquainted with the use of copper and bronze, though they are unable to smelt or work iron.

The metals chiefly used have been gold, silver, copper and tin (the last two generally mixed, forming an alloy called bronze), iron, and lead. The peculiarities of these various metals have naturally marked out each of them for special uses and methods of treatment. The durability and the extraordinary ductility and pliancy of gold, its power of being subdivided, drawn out, or flattened into wire or leaf of almost infinite fineness, have led to its being used for works where great minuteness and delicacy of execution were required; while its beauty and rarity have, for the most part, limited its use to objects of adornment and luxury, as distinct from those of utility. In a lesser degree most of the qualities of gold are shared by silver, and consequently the treatment of these two metals has always been very similar, though the greater abundance of the latter metal has allowed it to be used on a larger scale and for a greater variety of purposes.

Bronze is an alloy of copper and tin in varying propor-tions, the proportion of tin being from 8 to 20 per cent. The great fluidity of bronze when melted, the slightness of its contraction on solidifying, together with its density and hardness, make it especially suitable for casting, and allow of its taking the impress of the mould with extreme sharp-ness and delicacy. In the form of plate it can be tempered and annealed till its elasticity and toughness are much increased, and it can then be formed into almost any shape under the hammer and punch. By other methods of treatment, known to the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and others, but now forgotten, it could be hardened and formed into knife and razor edges of the utmost keenness. In many specimens of ancient bronze small quantities of silver, lead, and zinc have been found, but their presence is probably accidental.

In modern times, after the discovery of zinc, an alloy of copper and zinc called brass has been much used, chiefly for the sake of its cheapness as compared with bronze. In beauty, durability, and delicacy of surface it is very inferior to bronze, and, though of some commercial importance, has been of but little use in the production of works of art.

To some extent copper was used in an almost pure state during mediaeval times, especially from the 12th to the 15th century, mainly for objects of ecclesiastical use, such as pyxes, monstrances, reliquaries, and croziers, partly on account of its softness under the tool, and also because it was slightly easier to apply enamel and gilding to pure copper than to bronze (see fig. 1). In the mediaeval period it was used to some extent in the shape of thin sheeting for roofs, as at St Mark's, Venice; while during the 16th and 17th centuries it was largely employed for ornamental domestic vessels of various sorts.
Iron}—The abundance in which iron is found in so many places, its great strength, its remarkable ductility and malleability in a red-hot state, and the ease with which two heated surfaces of iron can be welded together under the hammer combine to make it specially suitable for works on a large scale where strength with lightness are required—things such as screens, window-grills, ornamental hinges, and the like.

In its hot plastic state iron can be formed and modelled under the hammer to almost any degree of refinement, while its great strength allows it to be beaten out into leaves and ornaments of almost paper-like thinness and delicacy. With repeated hammering, drawing out, and annealing, it gains much in strength and toughness, and the addition of a very minute quantity of carbon converts it into steel, less tough, but of the keenest hardness. The large employment of cast iron is comparatively modern, in England at least only dating from the 16th century; it is not, however, incapable of artistic treatment if due regard be paid to the necessities of casting, and if no attempt is made to imitate the fine-drawn lightness to which wrought iron so readily lends itself. At the best, however, it is not generally suited for the finest work, as the great contrac-tion of iron in passing from the fluid to the solid state renders the cast somewhat blunt and spiritless.

Among the Assyrians, Egyptians, and Greeks the use of iron, either cast or wrought, was very limited, bronze being the favourite metal for almost all purposes. The difficulty of smelt-ing the ore was prob-ably one reason for this, as well as the now forgotten skill which enabled bronze to be tempered to a steel-like edge. Ithad, however, its value, of which a proof occurs in Homer (II. xxiii.), where a mass of iron is mentioned as being one of the prizes at the funeral games of Patroclus.

Methods of Manipulation in Metal-Work. —Gold, silver, and bronze may be treated in various ways, the chief of which are (1) casting in a mould, and (2) treatment by hammeringand punch-ing (French, repousse).

The first of these, casting, is chiefly adapted for bronze, or i.i the case of the more precious metals only if they are used on a very small scale. The reason of this is that a repousse relief is of much thinner substance than if the same design were cast, even by the most skilful metal-worker, and so a large surface may be produced with a very small expendi-ture of valuable metal.

FIG. 1.—Monstrance of Copper Gilt

Casting is probably the most primitive method of metal-work. Italian work of the 16th century. This has passed through three stages, the first being represented by solid castings, such as are most celts and other implements of the prehistoric time; the mould was formed of clay, sand, or stone, and the fluid metal was poured in till the hollow was full. The next stage was, in the case of bronze, to introduce an iron core, prob-ably to save needless expenditure of the more valuable metal. The British Museum possesses an interesting Etruscan or Archaic Italian example of this primitive device. It is a bronze statuette noni Sessa on the Volturno, about 2 feet high, of a female standing, robed in a close-fitting chiton. The presence of the iron core has been made visible by the splitting of the figure, owing to the unequal contraction of the two metals. The forearms, which are extended, have been cast separately and soldered or brazed on to the elbows.

The third and last stage in the progress of the art of casting was the employment of a core, generally of clay, round which the metal was cast in a mere skin, only thick enough for strength, without waste of metal. The Greeks and Romans attained to the greatest possible skill in this process. Their exact method is not certainly known, but it appears probable that they were acquainted with the process now called h cire perdue—the same as that employed by the great Italian artists in bronze, and still unimproved upon even at the present day. Cellini, the great Florentine artist of the 16 th century, has described it fully in his Trattato delta Seultura. If a statue was to be cast, the figure was first roughly modelled in clay—only rather smaller in all its dimensions than the future bronze; all over this a skin of wax was laid, and worked by the sculptor with modelling tools to the required form and finish. A mixture of pounded brick, clay, and ashes was then ground finely in water to the consistence of cream, and successive coats of this mixture were then applied with a brush, till a second skin was formed all over the wax, fitting closely into every line and depression of the modelling. Soft clay was then carefully laid on to strengthen the mould, in considerable thickness, till the whole statue appeared like a shapeless mass of clay, round which iron hoops were bound to hold it all together. The Whole was then thoroughly dried, and placed in a hot oven, which baked the clay, both of the core and the outside mould, and melted the wax, which was allowed to run out from small holes made for the purpose. Thus a hollow was left, corresponding to the skin of wax between the core and the mould, the relative positions of which were pre-served by various small rods of bronze, which had pre-viously been driven through from the outer mould to the rough core. The mould was now ready, and melted bronze was poured in till the whole space between the core and the outer mould was full. After slowly cooling, the outer mould was broken away from outside the statue, and the inner core as much as possible broken up and raked out through a hole in the foot or some other part of the statue. The projecting rods of bronze were then cut away, and the whole finished by rubbing down and polishing over any roughnesses or defective places. The most skilful sculptors, however, had but little of this after-touching to do, the final modelling and even polish which they had put upon the wax being faithfully reproduced in the bronze casting.

The further enrichment of the object by enamels and inlay of other metals was practised at a very early period by Assyrian, Egyptian, and Greek metal-workers, as well as by the artists of Persia and mediaeval Europe.

The second chief process, that of hammered work (Greek, sphyrelata; French, repousse), was probably adopted for bronze-work on a large scale, before the art of forming large castings was discovered. In the most primitive method thin plates of bronze were hammered over a wooden core, rudely cut into the required shape, the core serving the double purpose of giving shape to and strengthening the thin metal.

A further development in the art of hammered work consisted in laying the metal plate on a soft and elastic bed of cement made of pitch and pounded brick. The design was then beaten into relief from the back with hammers and punches, the pitch bed yielding to the protuberances which were thus for>"«d, and serving to prevent the punch from breaking the metal into holes. The pitch was then melted away from the front of the embossed relief, and applied in a similar way to the back, so that the modelling could be completed on the face of the relief, the final touches being given by the graver. This process was chiefly applied by mediaeval artists to the precious metals, but by the Assyrians, Greeks, and other early nations it was largely used for bronze.

The great gates of Shalmaneser II., 859-824 B.C., from Balawat, now in the British Museum, are a remarkable example of this sort of work on a large scale, though the treatment of the reliefs is minute and delicate. The " Siris bronzes," in the same museum, are a most astonishing example of the skill attained by Greek artists in this repousse1 work (see Bronsted's Bronzes of Siris, 1836). They are a pair of shoulder-pieces from a suit of bronze armour, and each has in very high relief a combat between a Greek warrior and an Amazon. No work of art in metal has probably ever surpassed these little figures for beauty, vigour, and expression, while the skill with which the artist has beaten these high reliefs out of a flat plate of metal appears almost miraculous. The heads of the figures are nearly detached from the ground, their sub-stance is little thicker than paper, and yet in no place has the metal been broken through by the punch. They are probably of the school of Praxiteles, and date from the 4th century B.C. (see fig. 2).

FlG. 2.—One of the Siris Bronzes.

Copper and tin have been but little used separately. Copper in its pure state may be worked by the same methods as bronze, but it is inferior to it in hardness, strength, and beauty of surface. Tin is too weak and brittle a metal to be employed alone for any but small objects. Some considerable number of tin drinking-cups and bowls of the Celtic period have been found in Corn-wall in the neighbourhood of the celebrated tin and copper mines, which appear to have been worked from a very early period. The existence of these mines was known to the Phoenicians, who carried on a considerable trade in metals with the south-west corner of England and the Scilly Isles —probably the Cassiterides of Pliny and other classical writers.

The use of lead has been more extended. In sheets it forms the best of all coverings for roofs and even spires. In the Boman and mediaeval periods it was largely used for coffins, which were often richly ornamented with cast work in relief. Though fusible at a very low temperature, and very soft, it has great power of resisting decay from damp or exposure. Its most important use in an artistic form has been in the shape of baptismal fonts, chiefly between the 11th and the 14th centuries. The superior beauty of colour and durability of old specimens of lead is owing to the natural presence of a small proportion of silver. Modern smelters carefully extract this silver from the lead ore, thereby greatly impairing the durability and beauty of the metal.

As in almost all the arts, the ancient Egyptians excelled in their metal-work, especially in the use of bronze and the precious metals. These were worked by casting and hammering, and ornamented by inlay, gilding, and enamels with the greatest possible skill.

From Egypt perhaps was derived the early skill of the Hebrews. Further instruction in the art of metal-working came probably to the Jews from the neighbouring country of Tyre. The description of the great gold lions of Solomon's throne, and the laver of cast bronze supported on figures of oxen, shows that the artificers of that time had overcome the difficulties of metal-working and founding on a large scale. The Assyrians were perhaps the most remarkable of all ancient nations for the colossal size and splendour of their works in metal; whole circuit walls of great cities, such as Ecbatana, are said to have been covered with metal plates, gilt or silvered.

Herodotus, Athenseus, and other Greek and Roman writers have recorded the enormous number of colossal statues and other works of art for which Babylon and Nineveh were so famed. The numerous objects of bronze and other metals brought to light by the excavations of the last forty years in the Tigris and Euphrates valleys, though mostly on a small scale, bear witness to the great skill and artistic power of the people who produced them; while the recent discovery of some bronze statuettes, shown by inscriptions on them to be not later than 2200 B.C., proves how early was the development of this branch of art among the people of Assyria.

The Metal-Work of Greece.—The poems of Homer are full of descriptions of elaborate works in bronze, iron, gold and silver, which, even when full allowance is made for poetic fancy, show clearly enough a very advanced amount of skill in the working and ornamenting of these metals among the Greeks of his time. His description of the shield of Achilles, made of bronze, enriched with bands of figure reliefs in gold, silver, and tin, could hardly have been written by a man who had not tome personal acquaintance with works in metal of a very elaborate kind. Again, the accuracy of his descriptions of brazen houses— such as that of Alcinous, Od. vii. 81—is borne witness to by Pausanias's mention of the bronze temple of Athena ______ in Sparta, and the bronze chamber dedicated to Myron in 648 B.C., as well as by the discovery of the stains and bronze nails, which show that the whole interior of the so-called treasury of Atreus at Myceme was once covered with a lining of bronze plates. Of the two chief methods of working bronze, gold, and silver, it is probable that the hammer process was first practised, at least for statues, among the Greeks, who themselves attributed the invention of the art of hollow casting to Theodoras and Rhoecus, both Samian sculptors, about the middle of the 6th century B.C. Pausanias specially mentions that one of the oldest statues he had ever seen was a large figure of Zeus in Sparta, made of hammered bronze plates riveted together. With increased skill in large castings, and the discovery of the use of cores, by which the fluid bronze was poured into a mere skin-like cavity, hammered or repousse work (Greek, sphyrelata) was only used for small objects where lightness was desirable, or for the precious metals in order to avoid large expenditure of metal. The colossal statues of ivory and gold by Phidias were the most notable examples of this use of gold, especially his statue of Athena in the Parthenon, and the one of Zeus at Olympia. The nude parts, such as face and hands, were of ivory, while the armour and drapery were of beaten gold. The comparatively small weight of gold used by Phidias is very remarkable when the great size of the statues is considered.
A graphic representation of the workshop of a Greek sculptor in bronze is given on a fictile vase now in the i Berlin Museum (see Gerhard's Trinkschalen, plates xii., xiii.). One man is raking out the fire in a high furnace, while another behind is blowing the bellows. Two others are smoothing the surface of a statue with scraping tools, formed like a strigil. A fourth is beating the arm of an unfinished figure, the head of which lies at the workman's feet. Perhaps the most important of early Greek works in cast bronze, both from lis size and great historical interest, is the bronze pillar (now in the Hippodrome at Constanti-nople) which was erected to commemorate the victory of the allied Greek states over the Persians at Platasa in 479 B.C. (see Newton's Travels in the Levant). It is in the form of three serpents twisted together, and before the heads were broken off was at least 20 feet high. It is cast hollow, all in one piece, and has the names of the allied states engraved on the lower part of the coils. Its size and the beauty of its surface show great technical skill in the founder's art. On it once stood the gold tripod dedi-cated to Apollo as a tenth of the spoils. It is described both by Herodotus and Pausanias.

Marble was comparatively but little used by the earlier Greek sculptors, and even Myron, a rather older man than Phidias, seems to have executed nearly all his most im-portant statues in metal.

Additional richness was given to Greek bronze-work by gold or silver inlay on lips, eyes, and borders of the dress; one remarkable statuette in the British Museum has eyes inlaid with diamonds, and fret-work inlay in silver on the border of the chiton.

The mirrors of the Greeks are among the most important specimens of their artistic metal-work. These are bronze disks, one side polished to serve as a reflector, and the back ornamented with engraved outline drawings, often of great beauty (see Gerhard, Etruskische Spiegel, 1843-67).

The Greek workman, in fact, was incapable of making an ugly thing. Whatever the metal or whatever the object formed, whether armour, personal ornaments, or domestic vessels, the form was always specially adapted to its use, the ornament natural and graceful, so that the commonest water-jar was a delight alike to him who made it and those who used it.
In metal-work, as in other arts, the Romans were pupils and imitators of the Greeks. Owing to the growth of that spirit of luxury which in time caused the extinction of the Roman empire, a considerable demand arose for magni-ficent articles of gold and silver plate. The finest speci-mens of these that still exist are the very beautiful set of silver plate found buried near Hildesheim in 1869, now in the Berlin Museum. They consist of drinking vessels, bowls, vases, ladles, and other objects of silver, parcel-gilt, and exquisitely decorated with figures in relief, both cast and repousse. There are electrotypes of these in the South Kensington Museum.

When the seat of the empire was changed from Rome to Byzantium, the latter city became the chief centre for the production of artistic metal-work. From Byzantium the special skill in this art was transmitted in the 9th and 10th centuries to the Rhenish provinces of Germany and to Italy, and thence to the whole of Western Europe; i» this way the 18th-century smith who wrought the Hampton Court iron gates was the heir to the mechanical skill of the ancient metal-workers of Phoenicia and Greece.

In that period of extreme degradation into which all the higher arts fell after the destruction of the Roman empire, though true feeling for beauty and knowledge of the subtleties of the human form remained for centuries almost dormant, yet at Byzantium at least there still survived great technical skill and power in the production of all sorts of metal-work. In the age of Justinian (first half of the 6th century) the great church of St Sophia at Constantinople was adorned with an almost incredible amount of wealth and splendour in the form of screens, altars, candlesticks, and other ecclesiastical furniture made of massive gold and silver.

Metal-Work in Italy.—It was therefore to Byzantium that Italy turned for metal-workers, and especially for gold-smiths, when, in the 6th to the 8th centuries, the basilica of St Peter's in Rome was enriched with masses of gold and silver for decorations and fittings, the gifts of many donors from Belisarius to Leo III., the mere catalogue of which reads like a tale from the Arabian NigMs. The gorgeous Pala d'Oro, still in St Mark's at Venice, a gold retable covered with delicate reliefs and enriched with enamels and jewels, was the work of Byzantine artiste during the 11th century. This work was in progress for more than a hundred years, and was set in its place in 1106 A.D., though still unfinished (see Bellomo, Pala d'Oro di S. Marco, 1847).

It was, however, especially for the production of bronze doors for churches, ornamented with panels of cast work in high relief, that Italy obtained the services of Byzantine workmen (see Garrucci, Arte Cristiana, 1872-82). One artist named Staurachios produced many works of this class, some of which still exist, such as the bronze doors of the cathedral at Amalfi, dated 1066 A.D. Probably by the same artist, though his name was spelled differently, were the bronze doors of San Paolo fuori le Mura, Rome, careful drawings of which exist, though the originals were destroyed in the fire of 1824. Other important examples exist at Ravello (1197), Salerno (1099), Amalfi (1062), Atrani (1087); and doors at Mon-reale in Sicily and at Trani, signed by an artist named Barisanos (end of the 12th century); the reliefs on these last are remarkable for expression and dignity, in spite of their early rudeness of modelling and ignorance of the human figure.

Most of these works in bronze were enriched with fine lines inlaid in silver, and in some cases with a kind of niello or enamel. The technical skill of these Byzantine metal-workers was soon acquired by native Italian artists, who produced many important works in bronze similar in style and execution to those of the Byzantine Greeks. Such, for example, are the bronze doors of San Zenone at Verona (unlike the others, of repousse not cast work); those of the Duomo of Pisa, cast in 1180 bv Bonannus, and of the Duomo of Troia, the last made in the beginning of the 12th century by Oderisius of Benevento. Another artist named Roger of Amalfi worked in the same way ; and in the year 1219 the brothers Hubertus and Petrus of Piacenza cast the bronze door for one of the side chapels in San Giovanni in Laterano. One of the most important early specimens of metal-work is the gold and silver altar of Sant' Ambrogio in Milan. In character of work and design it resembles the Venice Pala d'Oro, but is still earlier in date, being a gift to the church from Arch-bishop Angilbert II. in 835 A.D. (see Du Sommerard, and DAgincourt, Moyen ge). It is signed WOLVINIVS MAGISTER PHAEER ; nothing is known of the artist, but he probably belonged to the semi-Byzantine school of the Rhine provinces ; according to Dr Rock he was an Anglo-Saxon goldsmith. It is a very sumptuous work, the front of the altar being entirely of gold, with repoussé reliefs and cloisonnée enamels ; the back and ends are of silver, with gold ornaments. On the front are figures of Christ and the twelves apostles ; the ends and back have reliefs illustrating the life of St Ambrose.

The most important existing work of art in metal of the 13th century is the great candelabrum now in Milan cathedral. It is of gilt bronze, more than 14 feet high ; it has seven branches for candles, and its upright stem is supported on four winged dragons. For delicate and spirited execution, together with refined gracefulness of design, it is unsurpassed by any similar work of art. Every one of the numerous little figures with which it is adorned is worthy of study for the beauty and expression of the face, and the dignified arrangement of the drapery (see fig. 3).

FIG. 3.—Boss from the Milanese Candelabrum.

The semi-conventional open scroll-work of branches and fruit which wind around and frame each figure or group is devised with the most perfect taste and richness of fancy, while each minute part of this great piece of metal-work is finished with all the care that could have been bestowed on the smallest article of gold jewellery. Though some-thing in the grotesque dragons of the base recalls the Byzantine school, yet the beauty of the figures and the keen feeling for graceful curves and folds in the drapery point to a native Italian as being the artist who produced this wonderful work of art. There is a cast in the South Kensington Museum.

During the 13th and 14th centuries in Italy the wide-spread influence of Niccolo Pisano and his school encouraged the sculptor to use marble rather than bronze for his work. At this period wrought iron came into general use in the form of screens for chapels and tombs, and grills for windows. These are mostly of great beauty, and show remarkable skill in the use of the hammer, as well as power in adapting the design to the requirements of the material. Among the finest examples of this sort of work are the screens round the tombs of the Scala family at Verona, 1350-75,—a sort of net-work of light cusped quatrefoils, each filled up with a small ladder (scala) in allusion to the name of the family. The most elaborate specimen of this wrought work is the screen to the Rinuccini chapel in Santa Croce, Florence, of 1371, in which moulded pillars and window-like tracery have been wrought and modelled by the hammer with extraordinary skill (see Wyatt, Metal-Work of Middle Ages). Of about the same date are the almost equally magnificent screens in Sta Trinita, Florence, and at Siena across the chapel in the Palazzo Pubblico. The main part of most of these screens is filled in with quatre-foils, and at the top is an open frieze formed of plate iron pierced, repousse, and enriched with engraving.

In the 14th century great quantities of objects for ecclesiastical use were produced in Italy, some on a large scale, and mostly the works of the best artists of the time.

FIG. 4.—Silver Repoussé Reliefs from the Pistoia Retable.

The silver altar of the Florence baptistery is one of the chief of these; it was begun in the first half of the 14th century, and not completed till after 1477 (see Gaz. des Beaux Arts, Jan. 1883). A whole series of the greatest artists in metal laboured on it in succession, among whom were Orcagna, Ghiberti, Verrocchio, Ant. Pollajuolo, and many others. It has elaborate reliefs in repousse work, cast canopies, and minute statuettes, with the further enrichment of translucent coloured enamels. The silver altar and retable of Pistoia cathedral (see fig. 4), and tte great shrine at Orvieto, are works of the same class, an 1 of equal importance.
Whole volumes might be devoted to the magnificent works in bronze produced by the Florentine artists of this century, works such as the baptistery gates by Ghiberti, and the statues of Verrocchio, Donatello, and many others, but these come rather under the head of sculpture.

Some very magnificent bronze screens were produced at this time, especially that in Prato cathedral by Simone, brother of Donatello, in 1444-61, and the screen and bronze ornaments of the tomb of Piero and Giovanni dei Medici in San Lorenzo, Florence, by Verrocchio, in 1472.

At the latter part of the 15 th century and the beginning of the 16th the Pollajuoli, Bicci, and other artists devoted much labour and artistic skill to the production of candle-sticks and smaller objects of bronze, such as door-knockers, many of which are works of the greatest beauty. The candlesticks in the Certosa near Pavia, and in the cathedrals of Venice and Padua, are the finest examples of these.

Niccol6 Grossi, who worked in wrought iron under the patronage of Lorenzo dei Medici, produced some wonderful specimens of metal-work, such as the candlesticks, lanterns, and rings fixed at intervals round the outside of the great palaces (see fig. 5). The Strozzi palace in Florence and

FlG. 5.—Wrought Iron Candle-Pricket ; late 15th-century. Florentine work.

the Palazzo del Magnifico at Siena have fine specimens of these,—the former of wrought iron, the latter in cast bronze.

At Venice fine work in metal, such as salvers and vases, was being produced, of almost Oriental design, and in some cases the work of resident Arab artificers. In the 16 th century Benvenuto Cellini was supreme for skill in the production of enamelled jewellery, plate, and even larger works of sculpture (see Plon's Ben. Cellini, 1882), and John of Bologna in the latter part of the same century inherited to some extent the skill and artistic power of the great 15th-century artists. Since that time Italy, like other countries, has produced little metal-work of real value.

Spain.—From a very early period the metal-workers of Spain have been distinguished for their skill, especially in the use of the precious metals. A very remarkable set of specimens of goldsmith's work of the 7 th century are the eleven votive crowns, two crosses, and other objects found in 1858 at Guarrazar, and now preserved at Madrid and in Paris in the Cluny Museum (see Du Sommerard, Musée de Cluny, 1852). Magnificent works in silver, such as shrines, altar crosses, and church vessels of all kinds, were pro-duced in Spain from the 14th to the 16th century,— especially a number of sumptuous tabernacles (custodid) for the host, magnificent examples of which still exist in the cathedrals of Toledo and Seville. The bronze and wrought iron screens—rejets, mostly of the 15th and 16th centuries—to be found in almost every im-portant church in Spain are very fine examples of metal-work. They generally have moulded rails or ballusters, and rich friezes of pierced and repoussé work, the whole being often thickly plated with silver. The common use of metal for pulpits is a peculiarity of Spain ; they are sometimes of bronze, as the pairs in Burgos and Toledo cathedrals, or in wrought iron, like those at Zamora and in the church of San Gil, Burgos. The great candelabrum or tenebrarium in Seville cathedral is the finest speci-men of 16th-century metal-work in Spain; it was mainly the work of Bart. Morel in 1562. It is of cast bronze enriched with delicate scroll-work foliage, and with num-bers of well-modelled statuettes, the general effect being very rich and graceful. Especially in the art of metal-work Spain was much influenced in the 15th and 16th centuries by both Italy and Germany, so that numberless Spanish objects produced at that time owe little or nothing to native designers. At an earlier period Arab and Moor-ish influence is no less apparent.

England.—In Saxon times the English metal-workers, especially of the precious metals, possessed great skill, and appear to have produced shrines, altar-frontals, retables, and other ecclesiastical furniture of considerable size and magnificence.
Dunstan, archbishop of Canterbury (925-988), like Bernward, bishop of Hildesheim a few years later, and St Eloi of France three centuries earlier, was himself a skilful worker in all kinds of metal. The description of the gold and silver retable given to the high altar of Ely by Abbot Theodwin in the 11th century, shows it to have been a large and elaborate piece of work decorated with many reliefs and figures in the round. In 1241 Henry III. gave the order for the great gold shrine to contain the bones of Edward the Confessor (see W. Burges in Gleanings from Westminster). It was the work of members of the Otho family, among whom the goldsmith's and coiner's crafts appear to have been long hereditary. Countless other important works in the precious metals adorned every abbey and cathedral church in the kingdom.

In the 13th century the English workers in wrought iron were especially skilful. The grill over the tomb of Queen Eleanor at Westminster, by Thomas de Leghton, made about 1294, is a remarkable example of skill in weld-ing and modelling with the hammer (see fig. 6).
The rich and graceful iron hinges, made often for small and out-of-the-way country churches, are a large and important class in the list of English wrought iron-work. Those on the refectory door of Merton College, Oxford, are a beautiful and well-preserved example dating from the 14th century.

More mechanical in execution, though still very rich in effect, is that sort of iron tracery work produced by cutting out patterns in plate, and superimposing one plate over the other, so as to give richness of effect by the shadows produced by these varying planes. The screen by Henry V.'s tomb at Westminster is a good early specimen of this kind of work.

The screen to Bishop West's chapel at Ely, and that round Edward IV.'s tomb at Windsor, both made towards the end of the 15th century, are the most magnificent

English examples of wrought iron, in which every art and feat of skill known to the smith has been brought into play to give variety and richness to the work.
Much wrought-iron work of great beauty was produced at the beginning of the 18th century, especially under the superintendence of Sir Christopher Wren (see Ebbetts, Iron Work of 17 th and 18th Centuries, 1880). Large flowing leaves of acanthus and other plants were beaten out with wonderful spirit and beauty of curve. The gates from Hampton Court are the finest examples of this class of work (see fig. 7).

From an early period bronze and latten (a variety of brass) were much used in England for the smaller objects both of ecclesiastical and domestic use, but except for tombs and lecterns were but little used on a large scale till the 16th century. The full-length recumbent effigies of Henry III. and Queen Eleanor at Westminster, cast in bronze by the " cire perdue " process, and thickly gilt, are equal, if not superior, in artistic beauty to any sculptor's work of the same period (end of the 13 th century) that was produced in Italy or elsewhere. These effigies are the work

Germany.—Unlike England, Germany in the 10th and 11th centuries produced large and elaborate works in cast bronze, especially doors for churches, much resembling the contemporary doors made in Italy under Byzantine influence. Bernward, bishop of Hildesheim, 992-1022, was especially skilled in this work, and was much influenced in design by a visit to Rome in the suite of Otho III. The bronze column with winding reliefs now at Hildesheim was the result of his study of Trajan's column, and the bronze door which he made for his own cathedral shows classical influence, especially in the composition of the drapery of the figures in the panels, of an Englishman named William Torel (see Westminster Gleanings). The gates to Henry VII.'s chapel, and the screen round his tomb at Westminster (see fig. 8), are very elaborate and beautiful examples of " latten " work, show-ing the greatest technical skill in the founder's art. In latten also were produced the numerous monumental brasses of which about two thousand still exist in England. Though a few were made in the 13th century, yet it was not till the 14th that they came into general use. They are made of cast plates of brass, with the design worked upon them with the chisel and graver. All those, how-ever, to be seen in English churches are not of native work—great quantities of them being Flemish imports (see Cotman, Waller, and Boutell on Monumental Brasses).

In addition to its chief use as a roof covering, lead was sometimes used in England for making fonts, generally tub-shaped, with figures cast in relief. Many examples exist: e.g., at Tidenham, Gloucestershire ; Warborough and Dorchester, Oxon; Chirton, Wilts; and other places.

The bronze doors of Augsburg (1047-72) are similar in style. The bronze tomb of Rudolph of Swabia in Mersburg cathedral (1080) is another fine work of the same school. The production of works in gold and silver was also carried on vigorously in Germany. The shrine of the three kings at Cologne is the finest surviving example.
At a later time Augsburg and Nuremberg were the chief centres for the production of artistic works in the various metals. Herman Vischer, in the 15th century, and his son and grandsons were very remarkable as bronze founders. The font at Wittenberg, decorated with reliefs of the apostles, was the work of the elder Vischer, while Peter and his son produced, among other important works, the shrine of St Sebald at Nuremberg, a work of great finish and of astonishing richness of fancy in its design (see Doebner, Christliches Kunsiblatt, 1866, Nos. 10-12). The tomb of Maximilian I., and the statues round it, at Innsbruck, begun in 1521, are perhaps the most meritorious German work of this class in the 16th century, and show consider-able Italian influence.

In wrought iron the German smiths, especially during the 15th century, greatly excelled. Almost peculiar to Germany is the use of wrought iron for grave-crosses and sepulchral monuments, of which the Nuremberg and other cemeteries contain fine examples. Many elaborate well-canopies were made in wrought iron, and gave full play to

Fro. 8.—Part of Henry VII.'s Bronze Screen.

the fancy and invention of the smith. The celebrated 15th-century example over the well at Antwerp, attributed to Quintin Massys, is the finest of these.

France.—From the time of the Romans the city of Limoges has been celebrated for all sorts of metal-work, and especially for brass enriched with enamel. In the 13th and 14th centuries many life-size sepulchral effigies were made of beaten copper or bronze, and ornamented by various-coloured " champlev6 " enamels. The beauty of these effigies led to their being imported into England; most are now destroyed, but a fine specimen still exists at Westminster on the tomb of William de Valence (1296). In ornamental iron-work for doors the French smiths were pre-eminent for the richness of design and skilful treatment of their metal. No examples probably surpass those on the west doors of Notre Dame in Paris—now unhappily much falsified by restoration. The crockets and finials on the fleches of Amiens and Rheims are beautiful speci-mens of a highly ornamental treatment of cast lead, for which France was especially celebrated. In most respects, however, the development of the various kinds of metal-working went through much the same stages as in England.

Persia and Damascus.—The metal-workers of the East, especially in brass and steel, were renowned for their skill

Fio. 9.—Brass Vase, pierced and gilt; 17th century Persian work.

even in the time of Theophilus, the monkish writer on the subject in the 13th century. But it was during the reign of Shah Abbas I. (d. 1628) that the greatest amount of skill both in design and execution was reached by the Persian workmen. Delicate pierced vessels of gilt brass, enriched by tooling and inlay of gold and silver, were among the chief specialties of the Persians (see fig. 9).

A process called by Europeans "damascening" (from Damascus, the chief seat of the export) was used to produce very delicate and rich surface ornament. A pattern was incised with a graver in iron or steel, and then gold wire was beaten into the sunk lines, the whole surface being then smoothed and polished. In the time of Cellini this process was copied in Italy, and largely used, especially for the decoration of weapons and armour. The repoussé process both for brass and silver was much used by Oriental workers, and even now fine works of this class are pro-duced in the East, old designs still being adhered to.

Recent Metal-Work.—In modern Europe generally the arts of metal-working both as regards design and tech-nical skill are not in a flourishing condition. The great bronze lions of the Nelson monument in London are a sad example of the present low state of the founder's art. Coarse sand-casting in England now takes the place of the delicate " cire perdue "process.

Some attempts have lately been made in Germany to revive the art of good wrought-iron work. The Prussian gates, bought at a high price for the South Kensington Museum, are large and pretentious, but unfortunately are only of value as a warning to show what wrought iron ought not to be. Some English recent specimens of ham-mered work are more hopeful, and show that one or two smiths are working in the right direction.

Literature. —PREHISTORIC: Worsaae, Nordiske Oldsageri Kjoben-havn, 1854 ; Perrin, Étude préhistorique—Age du bronze, 1870. CLASSICAL: Layard, Nineveh and Babylon, 1853 ; Lane's and Wilkinson's works on Ancient Egypt; Pliny, Natural History, book xxxiv. ; Bröndsted, Den Fikoroniske Cista, 1847 ; Daremberg, Dictionnaire des Antiquités, "Cœlatura," in course of publication ; Gerhard, various monographs, 1843-67; Müller, Etrusker, &c, and other works; Ciampi, Dell' Anließ Toreutica, 1815. MEDIAEVAL: Digby Wyatt, Metal- Work of the Middle Ages, 1849 ; Shaw, Orna-mental Metal-Work, 1836 ; Drury Fortnum, S.K.M. Handbook of Bronzes, 1877 ; King, Orfèvrerie et ouvrages en metal du moyen âge, 1852-4; Hefner-Alteneck, Serrurerie du moyen âge, 1869; Viollet-le-duc, Diet, du mobilier, "Serrurerie" and "Orfèvrerie," 1858, &c. ; Lacroix, Trésor de S. Denis, and L'Art du moyen âge (various dates) ; Kareh, Die Rathselbilder an der Broncethüre zu Augsburg, 1869 ; Krug, Entwürfe für Gold-, Silber-, und Bronze-Arbeiter (no date); Linas, Orfèvrerie Mérovingienne, 1864, and Orfèvrerie du XIIIm' Siècle, 1856 ; Bordeaux, Serrurerie du moyen Age, 1858 ; Didron, Manuel des œuvres de bronze et d'or-fèvrerie du moyen âge, 1859 ; Du Sommerard, Arts au moyen âge, 1838-46, and Musée de Cluny, 1852; Durand, Trésor de l'église de Saint Marc à Venise, 1862 ; Albert Way, Gold Retable of Basle, 1843 ; Bico y Sinobas, Trabajos de metales, 1871 ; Blanchard, Portes du Baptistère de Florence, 1858; Bock, Die Goldschmiedekunst des Mittelalters, 1855, and Kleinodien des Heil.-Römischen Reiches; Jouy, Les gemmes et les joyaux, 1865 ; Liibke, Works of Peter Visscher, 1877 ; Adelung, Die Thüren zu S. Sophia in Novgorod, 1824 ; Wanderer, Adam Krafft and his School, 1868 ; Nesbitt, "Bronze door of Gnesen Cathedral," Arch. Jour., vol. ix. ; Rossi, Tre porte di bronzo di Pisa ; Digot, articles in Bulletin Monumental, vols, xii.-xvi. ; Catalogue of works of art in metal exhibited in 1861 at Ironmongers' Hall ; Texier, Dictionnaire d'Orfèvrerie, 1857 ; Virgil Solis, Designs for Gold- and Silver-Smiths, 1512 (facsimile reproduction, 1862). PRACTICAL TREATISES: Theophilus, Diversarum Artium Schedula; Cellini, Trattati dell' Oreficeria e delta Scultura; Vasari, Tre Arti del Disegno, part ii., Milanesïs éd., 1882; Gamier, Manuel du ciseleur, 1859. (J. H. M.)


1 Some recent analyses of the iron of prehistoric weapons have brought to light the interesting fact that many of these earliest specimens of iron manufacture contain a considerable percentage of nickel. This special alloy does not occur in any known iron ores, but is invariably found in meteoric iron. It thus appears that iron was manufactured from meteorolites which had fallen to the earth in an almost pure metallic state, possibly long before prehistoric man had learnt how to dig for and smelt uvm in any of the forms of ore which are found on this planet

The above article was written by: J. H. Middleton, M.A., London.

Search the Encyclopedia:

About this EncyclopediaTop ContributorsAll ContributorsToday in History
Terms of UsePrivacyContact Us

© 2005-16 1902 Encyclopedia. All Rights Reserved.

This website is the free online Encyclopedia Britannica (9th Edition and 10th Edition) with added expert translations and commentaries