Antique Bronze Sculpture: How To Tell It’s Authentic
With its ability to capture fine, intricate details, and the strength and malleability to allow outstretched limbs, it’s no surprise that bronze has historically been the most popular medium for sculpture over the centuries. Since its discovery during the Bronze Age (between 3300 BC and 1200 BC), bronze has been used for everything from detailed funerary objects in ancient China and large-scale equestrian monuments of emperors in Ancient Rome to small statuettes of mythological scenes during the Renaissance and delicate figurines of animals during the Art Deco period. Today, these small bronze sculptures and decorative pieces captivate art lovers and entice collectors. But how can a collector tell if one is authentic?
What Is Bronze?
Bronze is a type of metal used to cast sculptures. Consisting of mostly copper (around 90%) and tin (about 10%), this metal alloy creates desirable properties for the artist, including strength and machinability (or how easily a metal can be cut or filed).
How Are Bronze Sculptures Made?
Bronze sculptures can be made using a variety of techniques, including the popular lost-wax method, sand-casting, and centrifugal casting. The basic principle for each is creating a type of mold that holds the form of the future statue and then introducing the molten bronze.
The newly created statue is then cooled, filed, and polished to a desired state of finish before it’s given a patina, a type of chemical coloring that yields a distinct hue.
A lesser quality type of sculpture would be created with bonded bronze, also known as cold-cast bronze. This type of “bronze” is created from polyester, epoxy, and resin. Bronze powder and paint are then applied to the surface of the cast sculpture to give it the look of a real bronze sculpture. It’s important to note that these are not considered real bronze sculptures.
What Are Some Popular Periods of Bronze Sculpture Making?
Between the 16th and 18th centuries, bronze statuettes and figurines from Florence, Italy, were highly desired. While typically sought after for their red-gold lacquered appearance, patrons also loved the mythological characters.
From the House of Valois in the mid-1500s until the end of the monarchy in 1792 during the French Revolution, small bronze statuary was popular with the aristocracy. They desired petit copies of famous popular sculptures for their personal collections. The subject matter varied from classical myths to contemporary French performing arts, like opera, ballet, and theater.
In the 1920s, delicate slender figurines of the female form and a variety of equally lean animals like greyhounds, cats, peacocks, and gazelles became extraordinarily popular. The desire was always for symmetry and simplistic lines that were grounded in geometric forms which were pleasing to the eye.
What Makes a Bronze Sculpture Really Authentic?
True authentic bronze sculptures will have been created during the artist’s lifetime (and with some exceptions their estate as well), made from the original mold or maquettes. They’re also usually limited in number or unique as dictated by the artist.
Ideally, the work you already own or are interested in purchasing will have a detailed provenance from a respected dealer or auction house, itemizing all the owners of the work stretching back to the artist.
How Can I Test My Sculpture To See If My Sculpture Is Made of Bronze?
There are a few ways to test if your sculpture is truly made of bronze.
The Magnet Test
One of the most popular metals used to imitate bronze in sculpture is cast iron, as it’s more affordable. The easiest way to distinguish between the two is to take a small magnet and hold it up to the statue. If it sticks, there’s a high probability that the metal used is cast iron and not bronze, as bronze has very low magnetic properties and iron has very strong properties.
The Scratch Test
At the end of the 19th century, a more economical metal alloy called regulus was developed. It consisted of tin and antimony but no copper. At first glance, regulus and bronze may appear indistinguishable, but a simple scratch test can reveal your sculpture’s true identity. Take a metallic object like a dull knife and gently scratch a small, discrete area of the sculpture. If the area appears yellow, it’s likely bronze, but if it appears more white, then you might have a statue made of regulus.
Consider the Sound
If you tap bronze with another object, the bronze object should ring for a few seconds before fading away, similar to a bell. Whereas a faux-bronze sculpture will generate a dull sound with no reverberations.
The Current Market
The majority of the tips shared in this article offer just enough knowledge of bronze to help you differentiate mass-produced reproductions from real bronze sculptures and figurines. If you are buying or selling, it is always advisable to consult an expert appraiser. High-quality fakes and forgeries are extremely difficult to detect. That’s why it’s best to consult an expert appraiser at a reputable auction house with highly trained professionals and appraisers like Joshua Kodner.
Joshua Kodner regularly hosts both in-person and online auctions. To participate, simply attend one of our scheduled auctions in Dania Beach, Florida, or place a bid online from the comfort of your home. You can trust that every art object is genuine and authenticated by our staff.
To read about the latest trends and news in the art market, be sure to read our other blog posts.