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European Brass and Bronze


EUROPEAN BRASS AND BRONZE This article is not concerned with sculpture in bronze, but rather with the many artistic applications of the metal in connection with architecture, or with objects for ecclesiastical and domestic use. Why bronze was preferred in Italy, iron in Spain and Ger many and brass in the Low Countries cannot be satisfactorily determined; national temperament is impressed on the choice of metals and also on the methods of working them. Centres of artistic energy shift from one place to another owing to wars, con quests or migrations.

Leaving alone remote antiquity and starting with imperial Rome, the working of bronze, inspired probably by conquered Greece, is clearly seen. There are ancient bronze doors in the Temple of Romulus in the Forum ; others from the baths of Cara calla are in the Lateran church, which also contains four fine gilt bfonze fluted columns of the Corinthian order. The Naples mu seum contains a large collection of domestic utensils of bronze, recovered from the buried towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum, which show a high degree of perfection in the working of the metal, as well as a wide application of its use. A number of moor ings in the form of finely-modelled animal heads, made in the i st century A.D., and recovered from Lake Nemi in the Alban hills some years ago, show a further acquaintance with the skilful working of this metal. The chair of Dagobert in the Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris, appears to be a Roman bronze curule chair, with back and part of the arms added by the abbot Suger in the i 2th century.

Byzantium, from the time when Constantine made it the seat of empire, in the early part of the 4th century, was for i,000 years renowned for its work in metal. Its position as a trade centre between East and West attracted all the finest work provided by the artistic skill of craftsmen from Syria, Egypt, Persia, Asia Minor and the northern shores of the Black sea, and for 400 years, until the beginning of the Iconoclastic period in the first half of the 8th century, its output was enormous. Several Italian churches still retain bronze doors cast in Constantinople in the later days of the Eastern empire, such as those presented by the members of the Pantaleone family, in the latter half of the II th century, to the churches at Amalfi, Monte Cassino, Atrani and Monte Gargano. Similar doors are at Salerno; and St. Mark's, Venice, also has doors of Greek origin.

The period of the Iconoclasts fortunately synchronized with the reign of Charlemagne, whose power was felt throughout western Europe. The craftsmen who were forced to leave Byzan tium were welcomed by him in his capitals of Cologne and Aix la-Chapelle and their influence was also felt in France. Another stream passed by way of the Mediterranean to Italy, where the old classical art had decayed owing to the many national calami ties, and here it brought about a revival. In the Rhineland the terms "Rhenish-Byzantine" and "Romanesque," applied to archi tecture and works of art generally, testify to the provenance of the style of this and the succeeding period. The bronze doors of the cathedral of Aix-la-Chapelle are of classic design and date probably from Charlemagne's time. All through the Middle Ages the use of bronze continued on a great scale, particularly in the r and 12th centuries. Bernward, bishop of Hildesheim, a great patron of the arts, had bronze doors made for St. Nicholas' church (afterwards removed to the cathedral) which were set up in 1o15 ; great doors were made for Augsburg somewhere between r o6o and 1065, and for Mainz shortly after the year r 000. A prominent feature on several of these doors is seen in finely-modelled lion heads, with conventional manes and with rings hanging from their jaws. These have their counterpart in France and Scandinavia as well as in England, where they are represented by the so-called sanctuary knocker at Durham cathedral. Provision of elaborate tomb monuments and of church furniture gave much work to the German founder, the former largely in the nature of sculpture. Mention may be made of the seven-branch candlestick at Essen cathedral made for the abbess Matilda about the year i000, and another at Brunswick completed in 1223 ; also of the remarkable font of the 13th century made for Hildesheim cathedral at the charge of Wilbernus, a canon of the cathedral. Other fonts are found at Brandenburg and Wurzburg. Of smaller objects such as ewers, holy-water vessels, reliquaries and candelabra, a vast num ber were produced. Most of the finest work of the 15th century was executed for the Church. The end of the Gothic period in Germany found the great craftsman, Peter Vischer of Nuremberg, and his sons, working on the bronze shrine to contain the reliquary of St. Sebald, a finely-conceived monument of architectural form, with rich details of ornament and figures; among the latter ap pearing the artist in his working dress. The shrine was completed and set up in the year 1516. This great craftsman executed other great works at Magdeburg, Romhild and Breslau. Reference should be made to the colossal monument at Innsbruck, the tomb of the emperor Maximilian I., with its 28 bronze statues of more than life size. Large fountains in which bronze was freely em ployed were set up, such as those at Munich and Augsburg. The tendency was to use this metal for large works of an architectural or sculpturesque nature; while at the same time smaller objects were produced for domestic purposes.

Italy.—By the 12th century the Italian craftsmen had devel oped a style of their own, as may be seen in the bronze doors of S. Zeno, Verona (which are made of hammered and not cast bronze), Ravello, Trani and Monreale. Bonnano da Pisa made a series of doors for the duomo of that city, one pair of which remains. The 14th century witnessed the birth of a great revival in the working of bronze, which was destined to flourish for at least four centuries. Bronze was the metal beloved of the Italian craftsman ; in that metal he produced objects for every conceiva ble purpose, great or small, from a door-knob to the mighty doors by Lorenzo Ghiberti at Florence, of which Michael Angelo re marked that they would stand well at the gates of Paradise. Niccolo, Giovanni and Andrea Pisano, Ghiberti, Brunelleschi, Dona tello, Verrocchio, Cellini, Michael Angelo, Giovanni da Bologna— these and many others produced great works in bronze. Benedetto da Rovezzano came to England in 1524 to execute a tomb for Car dinal Wolsey, part of which, after many vicissitudes, is now in the crypt of St. Paul's cathedral. Pietro Torregiano of Florence exe cuted the tomb of Henry VII. in Westminster Abbey. Alessandro Leopardi, at the beginning of the 16th century, completed the three admirable sockets for flag-staffs which still adorn the piazza of St. Mark's, Venice. A further development showed itself in the production of portrait medals in bronze, which reached a high degree of perfection and engaged the attention of many celebrated artists. Bronze plaquettes for the decoration of large objects ex hibit a fine sense of design and composition. Of smaller objects, for church and domestic use, the number was legion. Among the former may be mentioned crucifixes, shrines, altar and paschal candlesticks, such as the elaborate examples at the Certosa, Pavia; for secular use, mortars, inkstands, candlesticks and a large num ber of splendid door-knockers and handles, all executed with con summate skill and perfection of finish. Work of this kind con tinued to be made throughout the 17th and 18th centuries.

France.—Wars and internal troubles must account for the dis appearance of work in bronze ; it is hardly likely that a nation with so many schools of fine craftsmen in the various metals could have failed to work in bronze. The great bronze seven-branched candlestick in Milan cathedral has a base and lower part decorated with intricately-designed ornament which is considered by many to be French work of the 13th century; the upper part with the branches was added in the second half of the 16th century. A por tion of a foot of a similar object, showing the same intricate deco ration, existed formerly at Reims, but was unfortunately destroyed during the World War.

In the 16th century the names of Germain Pilon and Jean Gou jon are sufficient evidence of the ability to work in bronze. A great outburst of artistic energy is seen from the beginning of the r 7th century, when works in ormolu or gilt bronze were produced in huge quantities. The craftsmanship is magnificent and of the highest quality, the designs at first refined and symmetrical; but later, under the influence of the rococo style, introduced in 1723, aiming only at gorgeous magnificence. It was all in keeping with the spirit of the age, and in their own sumptuous setting these fine candelabra, sconces, vases, clocks and rich mountings of furni ture are entirely harmonious. The "ciseleur" and the "fondeur," such as Gouthiere and Caffieri, associated themselves with the makers of fine furniture and of delicate Sevres porcelain, the result being extreme richness and handsome effect. The style was suc ceeded after the Revolution by a stiff, classical manner which, although having a charm of its own, lacks the life and freedom of earlier work. In London the styles may be studied in the Wallace collection, Manchester square, and at the Victoria and Albert museum, South Kensington ; in New York at the Metro politan museum.


Casting in bronze reached high perfection in Eng land, where a number of monuments yet remain. William Torel, goldsmith and citizen of London, made the bronze effigy of Henry III., and later that of Queen Eleanor for their tombs in Westminster Abbey; the effigy of Edward III. was probably the work of one of his pupils. No bronze fonts are found in English churches, but a number of processional crucifixes have survived from the 15th century, all following the same design and of crude execution. Sanctuary rings or knockers exist at Norwich, Glou cester and elsewhere ; the most remarkable is that on the north door of the nave of Durham cathedral which has sufficient char acter of its own to differentiate it from its Continental brothers and to suggest a Northern origin. The Gloucester candlestick in the Victoria and Albert museum, South Kensington, displays the power and imagination of the designer as well as an extraordinary manipulative skill on the part of the founder. According to an inscription on the object, this candlestick, which stands some 2ft. high and is made of an alloy allied to bronze, was made for Abbot Peter who ruled from 1109 to III 2. While the outline is care fully preserved, the ornament consists of a mass of figures of monsters, birds and men, mixed and intertwined to the verge of confusion. As a piece of casting it is a triumph of technical abil ity. For secular use the mortar was one of the commonest of objects in England as on the Continent ; early examples of Gothic design are of great beauty. In later examples a mixture of styles is found in the bands of Gothic and Renaissance ornament, which are freely used in combination. Bronze ewers must have been common; of the more ornate kind two may be seen, one at South Kensington and a second at the British Museum. These are large vessels of about 2ft. in height, with shields of arms and inscrip tions in bell-founders' lettering. Many objects for domestic use, such as mortars, skillets, etc., were produced in later centuries.


In northern Europe, France, Germany, England and the Netherlands bell-founding has been an enormous industry since the early part of the Middle Ages. Unfortunately a large number of mediaeval bells have been melted down and recast, and in times of warfare many were seized to be cast into guns. Early bells are of graceful outline, and often have simple but well-designed ornaments and very decorative inscriptions ; for the latter a separate stamp or die was used for each letter or for a short group of letters. In every country bell-founders were an important group of the community; in England a great many of their names are known and the special character of their work is recognizable. Old bells exist in the French cathedrals of Amiens, Beauvais, Chartres and elsewhere ; in Germany at Erfurt, Co logne and Halberstadt. The bell-founding industry has continued all through the centuries, one of its later achievements being the casting of "Big Ben" at Westminster, in 1858, a bell of between 13 and 14 tons in weight.

In recent years bronze has to some extent replaced iron for railings, balconies and staircases, in connection with architecture; the style adopted is stiffly classical, which does not call for a very large amount of ornamentation, and the metal has the merit of pleasant appearance and considerable durability.


Brass is an alloy composed of copper and zinc, usually for sheet metal, and casting in the proportion of seven parts of the former to three of the latter. Such a combination secures a good, brilliant colour. There are, however, varieties of tone rang ing from a pale lemon colour to a deep golden brown, which de pends upon a smaller or greater amount of zinc. In early times this metal seems to have been sparingly employed, but from the Middle Ages onward the industry in brass was a very important one, carried out on a vast scale and applied in widely different directions. The term "latten," which is frequently met with in old documents, is rather loosely employed, and is sometimes used for objects made of bronze; its true application is to the alloy we call brass. In Europe its use for artistic purposes centred largely in the region of the Meuse valley in south-east Belgium, together with north-eastern France, parts of Holland and the Rhenish provinces of which Cologne was the centre. As far back as the 11th century the inhabitants of the towns of Huy and Dinant are found working in this metal ; zinc they found in their own coun try, while for copper they went to Cologne and Dortmund, and later to the mines of the Harz mountains. Much work was pro duced both by casting and repousse, but it was in the former process that they excelled. Within a very short time the term "dinanderie" was coined to designate the work in brass which emanated from the foundries of Dinant and other towns in the neighbourhood. Their productions found their way to France, Spain, England and Germany. In London the Dinant merchants, encouraged by Edward III., established a "Hall" in 1329 which existed until the end of the i6th century; in France they traded at Rouen, Calais, Paris and elsewhere. The industry flourished for several centuries, but was weakened by quarrels with their rivals at the neighbouring town of Bouvignes; in 1466 the town was sacked and destroyed by Charles the Bold. The brass-founders fled to Huy, Namur, Middelburg, Tournai and Bruges, where their work was continued. The earliest piece of work in brass from the Meuse district is the font at St. Bartholomew's church, Liege, a marvellous vessel resting on oxen, the outside of the bowl cast in high relief with groups of figures engaged in baptis mal ceremonies; it was executed between 1113 and I 1 18 by Renier of Huy, the maker of a beautiful censer in the museum of Lille. From this time onward a long series of magnificent works were executed for churches and cathedrals in the form of fonts, lecterns, paschal and altar candlesticks, tabernacles and chandeliers; fonts of simple outline have rich covers frequently adorned with figure subjects; lecterns are usually surmounted by an eagle of conventional form, but sometimes by a pelican; a griffin surmounts the lectern at Andenne. The stands which sup port these birds are sometimes of rich Gothic tracery work, with figures, and rest upon lions ; later forms show a shaft of cylindri cal form, with mouldings at intervals, and splayed out to a wide base. A number are found in Germany in the Cologne district, which may be of local manufacture; some remain in Venice churches. About a score have been noted in English churches, as at Norwich, St. Albans, Croydon and elsewhere. For the most part they follow the same model, and were probably imported from Belgium; fine brass chandeliers exist, at the Temple church, Bristol, at St. Michael's Mount, Cornwall, and in North Wales. The lecterns must have set the fashion in England for this type of object; for several centuries they are found, as at St. George's chapel, Windsor, King's college chapel, Cambridge, St. Paul's cathedral and some London churches. In the region of Cologne much brass-work was produced and still remains in the churches; mention must be made of the handsome screen in the church of Xanten, the work, it is said, of a craftsman of Maestricht, Hol land, at the beginning of the i6th century.

Holland, Norway and Sweden also produced chandeliers, many of great size: the 16th and 17th-century type is the well known "spider," large numbers of which were also made in England and still hang in many London and provincial churches. Holland also showed a great liking for hammered work, and produced a large number of lecterns, altar candlesticks and the like in that method. The large dishes embossed with Adam and Eve and similar sub jects are probably of Dutch origin. These differ considerably from the brass dishes in which the central subject—the Annun ciation, St. George, St. Christopher, the Agnus Dei, a mermaid or flowers—is surrounded by a band of letters, which frequently have no significance beyond that of ornamentation; the rims are stamped with a repeating pattern of small designs. This latter type of dish was probably the work of Nuremberg or Augsburg craftsmen, and it should be noticed that the whole of the orna ment is produced by hammering into dies or by the use of stamps; they are purely mechanical pieces.

Brass was widely used for smaller objects in churches and for domestic use. Flemish and German pictures show candlesticks, holy-water stoups, reflectors, censers and vessels for washing the hands as used in churches. The inventories of Church goods in England made at the time of the Reformation disclose a very large number of objects in latten which were probably made in the country. In general use was an attractive vessel known as the aquamanile ; this is a water-vessel usually in the form of a standing lion, with a spout projecting from his mouth; on the top of the head is an opening for filling the vessel, and a lizard-shaped handle joins the back of the head with the tail. Others are in the form of a horse or ram ; a few are in the form of a human bust, and some represent a mounted warrior. They were produced from the 12th to the i5th century. Of domestic objects the number *as legion : mortars, small candlesticks, warming pans, trivets, fenders; these date mainly from the 17th and i8th centuries, when brass ornamentation was also frequently applied to clock dials, large and small. Two English developments during the 17th century call for special notice. The first was an attempt to use enamel with brass, a difficult matter, as brass is a bad medium for enamel. A number of objects exist in the form of fire-dogs, candlesticks, plaques and vases, the body of which is of brass roughly cast with a design in relief ; the hollow spaces between the lines of the design are filled in with patches of white, black, blue or red enamel, with very pleasing result. The nearest analogy is found in the small enamelled brass plaques and icons produced in Russia in the 17th and i8th centuries. The second use of brass is found in a group of locks of intricate mechanism, the cases of which are of brass cast in openwork with a delicate pattern of scrollwork and bird forms sometimes engraved. A further devel opment shows solid brass cases covered with richly engraved de signs. The Victoria and Albert museum, London, contains a fine group of these locks; others are in situ at Hampton Court Palace and in country mansions.

During the i8th century brass was largely used in the produc tion of objects for domestic use; the manufacture of large hang ing chandeliers also continued, together with wall-sconces and other lighting apparatus. In the latter half of the 19th century there came an increasing demand for ecclesiastical work in Eng land; lecterns, alms dishes, processional crosses and altar furni ture were made of brass ; the designs were for the greater part adaptations of older work and without any great originality.

Monumental Brasses.

The working of memorial brasses is generally considered to have originated in north-western Ger many, at least one centre being Cologne, where were manufactured the latten or "Cullen" plates for local use and for exportation. But it is certain that from mediaeval times there was an equal production in the towns of Belgium, when brass was the favoured metal for other purposes. Continental brasses were of rectangular sheets of metal on which the figure of the deceased was repre sented, up to life-size, by deeply incised lines, frequently filled with mastic or enamel-like substance ; the background of the fig ures was covered with an architectural setting, or with ornament of foliage and figures, and an inscription. In England, possibly because the metal was less plentiful, the figures are usually ac cessories, being cut out of the metal and inserted in the matrices of stone or marble slabs which form part of the tomb ; architec tural canopies, inscriptions and shields of arms are affixed in the same way. Thus the stone or marble background takes the place of the decorated brass background of the Continental example. The early method of filling in the incisions has suggested some connection with the methods of the Limoges enamellers of the 13th century. The art was introduced into England from the Low Countries, and speedily attained a high degree of excellence. For many centuries it remained very popular, and a large number of brasses still remain to witness to a very beautiful department of artistic working.

The earliest existing brass is that of Bishop Ysowilpe at Verden, in Germany, which dates from 1231 and is on the model of an incised stone, as if by an artist accustomed to work in that mate rial. In England the oldest example is at Stoke D'Abernon church, in Surrey, to the memory of Sir John D'Abernon, who died in 1277. Numerous brasses are to be found in Belgium, and some in France and Holland. Apart from their artistic attractiveness, these ornamental brasses are of the utmost value in faithfully depicting the costumes of the period, ecclesiastical, civil or mili tary ; they furnish also appropriate inscriptions in beautiful lettering.


Sir M. Digby Wyatt, Metalwork of the Middle Bibliography.—Sir M. Digby Wyatt, Metalwork of the Middle Ages (1849) ; C. Drury E. Fortnum, Bronzes (1877) ; H. Lueer and M. Creutz, Geschichte der Metallkunst (19o4) ; J. Destree, "Les Dinanderies," L'Art flamand et hollandais (19o5) ; W. Bode, The Italian Bronze Statuettes of the Renaissance (1907) ; Paris, Musee des Arts dscoratifs, Le Metal (19o9) ; J. T. Perry, Dinanderie (191o) ; E. Hessling, Appliques en bronze dans les styles Louis XIV. et Louis XV. (191I) ; E. Dumonthier, Les bronzes du Mobilier National (1911) ; H. W. Macklin, Monumental Brasses (1913) ; Konigsliche Museen, Berlin, Die italienische Bronzen der Renaissance and des Barock (1914) ; Victoria and Albert Museum, List of Rubbings of Brasses (1915) ; M. Stephenson, A List of Monumental Brasses in the British Isles (W. W. W.)

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