Today on Museum Bites we’re continuing our tour through the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) with a look at lush and lovely bronze. Less glitzy than cousins gold and silver, good old third place bronze could be relied on to get the job done.
A mixture of copper and tin, this alloy was first concocted around 3,000 BCE. The ancients valued bronze’s superior durability, resistance to corrosion, and ease in casting. They melted and shaped it into weapons, armor, tools, kitchenware, currency, jewelry, and art. The bronzes from the DIA’s collection range from the biblical to the existential. Let’s begin with Judith.
Badass Bronze: Judith (c1470) This mighty girl statue by Antonio di Jacopo Pollaiuolo’s (1432-1498) is based on biblical badass Judith of Bethulia. The Book of Judith tells the story of her resolve to protect Bethulia from invading Assyrians. Using her feminine wiles Judith gained access to the enemy camp and military leader, Holofernes. He took a shine to the lovely widow and “invited” her into his tent, but drank too much wine and ended up passing out. Judith snatched up his sword and cut off his head. Tossing it into a sack she snuck back into town. The Assyrians awoke the next morning to the grisly sight of their commanding officer’s head mounted on the city gate. Legend has it they freaked out and scattered, never again bothering Judith and the citizens of Bethulia. Judith lived to the ripe old age of 105 and became a symbol of civic virtue.
Antonio di Jacopo Pollaiuolo’s skill as a goldsmith led him to a career in sculpture. He and younger brother, Piero worked together and were under the patronage of the powerful Medici family. Click on this Antonio di Jacopo Pollaiuolo link to learn more about his life and works.
Scandalous Bronze: The Age of Bronze (original 1876-1877; statuette 1907) The next bronze in our collection has a somewhat scandalous past. It held not one but two aliases, The Vanquished One and The Awakening of Man. In 1877, judges from the Salon in Paris christened it, The Age of Bronze, when they finally got around to accepting Auguste Rodin’s (1840-1917) artwork. It is unclear if Rodin, in a flutter of nerves neglected to include the bronze’s name or if the haughty judges sniffed at Rodin’s très gauche attempts to label his own art. Regardless, The Age of Bronze caused quite the kerfuffle when it first went on display. Modeled after Belgium soldier, Auguste Ney, Rodin’s exquisite detailing appeared too lifelike to be real. Critics cried foul, claiming Rodin had cheated and made the statue’s cast directly from the model’s body. Rodin produced photos of Auguste in a 19th-century version of the mannequin challenge and all accusations were eventually disproven. To learn more about Rodin and his art click on this Auguste Rodin link.
Hammer Time Bronze: The Hammerman (c1866) This striking bronze by Belgian painter and sculptor, Constantin Meunier (1831-1905), features an iron worker taking a breather from his backbreaking work at the foundry. Leaning on his enormous iron pliers, you can almost hear the Hammerman’s heavy sigh. The majority of Meunier’s art emphasizes the daily struggle of the common worker with intense realism. Longshoremen, miners, metalworkers and the like, struggle and strain as they go about their daily chores. Click on this Constantin Meunier link to view his work and learn more about his life.
Extraterrestrial Bronze: Standing Woman II (1960) Stretching over 9 feet tall, Alberto Giacometti’s (1901-1966) Standing Woman II is breathtaking. Her freakishly tall and willowy frame give off an extraterrestrial vibe. Standing Woman II reminds me of a loftier version of the alien in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) or better yet, strong and resolute like Neytiri from the Avatar Movie (2009).
A common theme running throughout Giacometti’s work is an emphasis on the human form.
[Giacometti’s] figures represented human beings alone in the world, turned in on themselves and failing to communicate with their fellows, despite their overwhelming desire to reach out. ~ The Art Story
Giacometti’s early work was influenced by Freud and surrealism, but later in life, he turned to existentialism. Click on this Alberto Giacometti link to view his work and learn more about his life.
Despite its humble reputation, bronze in the right hands has and continues to be crafted into stunning works of art. If you’d like to geek out on the history of bronze art (from the Bronze Age to present) click on this link. That wraps up our sojourn through the DIA bronzes. Next week we’ll be dipping into the Museum Bites archive, in the meantime have a great week!
Fun Olympic Facts: Winners of the ancient Olympics were crowned with wreaths made of olive leaves. The first modern day Olympics in 1896 presented winners with an olive branch, diploma and silver medal. Bronze medals were first introduced in the 1900 Olympics.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
I really enjoyed your focus bronze. I’ve been to the DIA many times but never seen the bronze helmut. I plan to check it out next time. Also liked the Hammerman sculpture.
Thanks Sheila! The bronze helmet is located on Level 2 in the Ancient Greek & Roman section of the DIA. It is on display with several other ancient and beautifully crafted helmets. This was my first trip to the DIA and I’m looking forward to going back soon.