Bronze: The Power of Life and Death
13 Sep 2005 – 7 Jan 2006
Galleries 1, 2 and 3
Bringing to light the rich symbolic language of sculpture's most familiar material.
From early times bronze had close connections with magical and supernatural powers. Metals were linked to planets and to deities: copper was ruled by Venus, goddess of love, and was considered to promote fertility; tin was the domain of Jupiter, the chief god of the Roman pantheon, and endowed with the qualities of prosperity and success.
As an alloy, bronze represented the alchemists’ powers of union. As such, Mercury, the god of exchange, characterises the theme of this show, which is all about transformation.
Bronze workers often embodied a range of different roles; they were bell-founders, statue makers, weapons engineers, and frequently worked with other metals such as gold. The functional objects in the exhibition represent vessels which would have contained water, oil, perfume or gunpowder; they provided sounds and sights and smells.
The interchangeability of fame and notoriety is well represented by a material which could be melted down and re-fashioned. Cannons became statues; statues became cannons. This show picks up on the fickle fortunes of fame, on the use of bronze as protective armour, and on the damage which has been done to the bronze body of the ruler throughout time.
Though bronze may be seen as a traditional if not an old-fashioned material, it is still very much in evidence in contemporary work, often transformed in its appearance, but nevertheless present. The exhibition closes by touching on the continued magic exercised by a material which seems to represent, at one and the same time, the power of life and death.
Henry Moore Institute
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