Using the lost-wax method of bronze casting in the 21st century

As part of his preparations for our December Mostra, Giles Worsley Rome Fellow, Mark Andrew Kelly has been exploring how the ancient lost-wax method of bronze casting could be used to create modern sculptures and scaled architectural models.

Our Communications and Events Assistant, Katherine Paines, accompanied him and Marco Palmieri (Visual Art Residency and Programme Curator) to collect the finished sculpture and asked him what it was about this casting method that interested him so much.

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The final polished bronze sculpture made using the lost-wax technique. Photo by: Mark Andrew Kelly

The lost-wax method of bronze casting is so-called as it involves the creation of a primary sculpture in wax (or for larger sculptures, clay then coated in wax) which is encased in clay complete with small vents made from sticks of wax which form channels in and out of the refractory mold. This model is heated, causing the liquid wax to melt and escape through the vents as a gas, leaving an empty clay shell imprint into which the molten bronze can be poured. Once cooled the clay can be cracked open to reveal an exact bronze copy of the wax original, which can then be polished, chiseled and honed.

Hundreds of statues across the Greek and Roman world were made in this way, however, due to the skillful craftsmanship and the time required in the foundry, it is a method that has fallen somewhat out of fashion and is now not commonly done.

Mark is an artist and registered architect currently working towards an exhibition for the December Mostra at the British School at Rome. He is looking at concrete construction in Roman barrel vaults, cross-vaults and modern lightweight domes. The motivation to consider this type of bronze casting within his work comes from his interest in the formwork required to cast 3D metal models, which is very similar to casting in concrete.

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Mark Kelly (left) and Marco Palmieri (right) inspect the finished product. Photo by: Katherine Paines

Mark’s inspiration for trying out this method comes from his residency in Rome. He has travelled extensively around Italy during his time as an award-holder at the BSR, documenting the buildings and objects he has seen in an overflowing sketchbook and regularly publishing timelapse videos of his work on his personal architectural website. Mark passionately believes that when you come to a new place, particularly somewhere as steeped in a varied architectural history as Rome, you should try out the things that you are unable to do anywhere else. Where the craft and traditions are local, you are going to come out with the best results.

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Augusto, at Fondi Arte Bronzo, has been creating this type of work for over 28 years. He is seen here polishing the finished sculpture. Photo by: Katherine Paines

The cost of the raw materials and the antiquated methods used mean that it is not a commonly used method when creating sculpture. However, having whet his appetite for this here in Rome Mark is interested in potentially pursuing the lost-wax method further to produce architectural models as part of his regular practice in London. As he says, architectural models are often pricey things to produce even when they are made out of plastic and polymers, and as long as the quality produced justified the money spent it would be something he could look into – assuming of course he was able to find a workshop in England with the right equipment!

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Mark was inspired by the shape of Pier Luigi Nervi’s roof structure with three parabolic vaults. Drawings and photos by: Mark Andrew Kelly

The finished product, viewed alongside a reconstructed wax model of the same, will be unveiled as part of Mark Andrew Kelly’s collection at the December Mostra at the British School at Rome on Friday the 11 December 2015.

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Before and after: cast bronze metal on the left, hand-molded wax on the right (black). Photo by: Mark Andrew Kelly

Thanks must go out to Isabella Capolei, Marco Palmieri and the staff at the Fondi Arte Bronzo.

Katherine Paines (Communications and Events Assistant)

Mark Andrew Kelly’s blog, where you can find all of his timelapse videos of how he has been spending his time in Rome is available at: http://www.markkellyarchitect.com/blog/

The website of Fondi Arte Bronzo can be visited at:  http://www.fondiarte.it/index.html

Images by Mark Kelly and Katherine Paines

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Monte Mario: my first view of Rome

Tom Brigden was Giles Worsley Travel Fellow at the BSR in 2012. Here he tells us about his time at the BSR, his work as an architect at a leading international architectural practice specialising in conservation, and what J.M.W. Turner has got to do with Rome.

 T. Brigden, Nuova Pianta di Roma 2012, graphite and ink, 42x30cm

T. Brigden, Nuova Pianta di Roma, 2012, graphite and ink, 42 x 30 cm

Few cities could be said to approach Rome in terms of sheer density of historic and cultural sites, crowded as they are – quite literally in some cases – one on top of another. Given the opportunity, then, to live and work in such a place, what would be your first destination?

It is 9am, on a beautifully sunny October morning in 2012, my first morning in Rome. I’m heading north from the BSR, leaving the clustered domes and pinnacles of the city’s beguiling skyline behind me. My destination is the Riserva Naturale di Monte Mario to the northeast of the city. First impressions are not promising. Crossing the Tiber south of the Foro Italico, a tortuous knot of seemingly impregnable motorway slip roads and roaring traffic separate me from the park’s rusting barbed entrance gates.

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Within, things do not initially improve, confronted as I am with littered scrub, vandalised bins and graffiti covered walls. However, as I begin climbing the steep, switch-back cobbled road which ascends the mountain I soon find myself immersed within a tangled ancient forest. Of course, ancient this forest may be, but to assume it is untouched by human hand in a place such as Rome would be a mistake; shattered walls and terraces revealed at each hair-pin bend hint at diverse former vocations ranging from Roman cemetery to seventeenth-century pleasure gardens and nineteenth-century fortress.

Though the gradually diminishing hum of the traffic I left behind seems an un-welcome modern interruption within this tranquil forest, the cobbled tracks traversing the mountain once formed the final triumphal stage of the so-called Via Francigena, the ’road from France’ European pilgrims took en-route to the Vatican. As such, these tracks once thronged with weary pilgrims and heavily-laden animals, drinking in their first views of the city and St Peter’s basilica beyond.

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T. Brigden, City, Landscape, Fragment II, 2012, graphite and ink 42 x 30 cm

This magnificent panorama of the city, the sinuous Tiber sweeping in a broad meander between the Milvian Bridge and Mausoleum of Augustus, framed by elegant stone pines and backed by distant blue-grey hills, is an unforgettable introduction to the city. These wooded slopes were once the prized locations for grand villas, most notably the villa of the Roman poet Martial, Pietro da Cortona’s Pigneto Sacchetti (destroyed) and Raphael’s Villa Madama (left unfinished and largely altered), all of which carefully manipulated the contours of the hillside to take maximum advantage of the vista.

Later, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the atmospheric ruins of these artistic and architectural treasures became a popular stop on the Grand Tour. Reaching an unusably decrepit bench at the summit of the hill, I muse on the idea that writers William Wordsworth and Henry James, artists Claude Lorrain, J.M.W. Turner, William Marlow and Richard Wilson, among many others, have all stood on this spot and admired the view. In fact, the popular depiction of this viewpoint, on countless canvasses, in numerous books, in hundreds of prints, contributed to its absorption into the British popular imagination; aristocratic gentlemen soon referred to the particular characteristics of a view from their Thames-side villas as equal to that of Rome’s Monte Mario. And yet, despite this fame, I enjoy this silent belvedere alone – you will not see the coach parties that crowd the Janiculum, the posing lovers of the Pincian or the group ‘selfies’ of the Capitoline hills here.

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T. Brigden, City, Landscape, Fragment IV, 2012, graphite and ink 42 x 30 cm

This brings me to why I could not resist Monte Mario as my first destination in Rome. My research interests lie in the contemporary phenomenon of view preservation within urban and historic environments. My PhD dissertation explored the history of view protection in London, which has some of the strictest view management policies of any world city, tracing its origin to the picturesque movement and the popularisation of a particular view of London, the view from Richmond Hill. As a final post-script to my dissertation I was keen to explore the connection between the Richmond Hill and Monte Mario views, which were frequently directly compared by writers, architects and artists, including Turner, Marlow and Wilson. My time at the BSR, generously supported by the Giles Worsley Fellowship allowed me the unrivalled opportunity to gather material and connections, in the libraries of the BSR, American Academy and in the city’s many public and private collections of art. Without the generosity and support of the BSR’s staff and other scholars, I could not have hoped to achieve this. As an architect with conservation specialist Purcell LLP, I utilise the skills I gained at the BSR in practice as well as in my academic work. This includes the preparation of detailed context and views analysis documents which inform the development of architectural and urban design proposals. As a practice, our work utilising such skills has included a huge diversity of complex projects, Tower Bridge, Durham Cathedral and the Palace of Westminster among them.

Every resident scholar, artist, architect or visitor to the BSR will have different ideas for their first excursion in the city. Those I met during my time at the school had plans ranging from following an itinerary of churches authored by Andrea Palladio, to the Beaux-Arts sculpture of Hendrik Christian Andersen, to the ossuaries of the Capuchin monks. It is this exposure to ideas, to different ways of seeing, experiencing and thinking about the city of Rome that I feel is one of the BSR’s greatest assets – I very much look forward to returning in the future, and another chance to see the city from a whole new perspective!


Dr Tom Brigden received a commendation for his PhD dissertation The Protected Vista: An Intellectual and Cultural History, As Seen From Richmond Hill at the Royal Institute of British Architect’s President’s Awards for Research 2014.

Applications are being invited for the 2015-16 Giles Worsley Rome Fellowship. See http://www.bsr.ac.uk/awards/architecture-awards-ii#giles for further details. The closing date for applications is 18 February.

Welcome to the Assistant Director

 Stefania Gerevini joined the BSR in October 2014 as the new Assistant Director (Humanities). After a term of working, living and researching here, Stefania shared some thoughts on her experiences so far.

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Stefania Gerevini, Photo: Antonio Palmieri

Having been at the BSR for three months now, when you look back, what were your first impressions and have they changed?

When I arrived, I found the BSR a very busy, but extraordinarily welcoming environment – within days of my arrival, I felt part of a closely-knit and collaborative community. The warmth with which the BSR welcomed the new award-holders also impressed me, as did the care given by every member of staff to encourage scholarly rigour as well as a real sense of community and belonging among artists and humanities scholars. Three months into the job, I am glad to say that my first impressions have been entirely confirmed – and that I am benefitting hugely, both intellectually and personally, from being part of this community.

What was it about the BSR that made you want to work and live here?

The academic reputation of the BSR naturally played a major part in my decision to apply. However, the decisive reason was of a different nature: although I had never had an opportunity to visit the BSR myself, several of my colleagues and friends had spent a period here as award-holders, either during their PhDs or later on in their careers. With no exception, they remember their time at BSR very fondly, describing it as a transformative experience that had a vital impact on their intellectual and personal development and on their research. I applied for this job because I wanted to be part of this thriving intellectual community and actively contribute to its prosperity.

What do you think will be the biggest benefit to you (work/research/personal) of being in Rome?

My research focuses on the appropriation of Byzantine visual language in Late Medieval Italy. Rome is not only a key site of cultural exchange between the eastern empire and the west, but also a locus where the complexity and historical variability of these notions are fully exposed. I have no doubts that living and working in Rome, and engaging with its network of international scholars and institutions, will deepen and hone my understanding of artistic interactions across the Mediterranean.

Have you found inspiration in any new or unexpected places since arriving?

Of course – in many ways. The most enriching experience has been to explore the city in the company of resident artists and humanities scholars, and to rediscover it through their eyes. Each of them contributes with an individual expertise, a distinctive gaze and a unique way of interrogating the city and its cultural, social and historical heritage. Sharing their visions of Rome has been enlightening, and has further reinforced my confidence in the role that the humanities and the arts play in the contemporary world –renewing our ever-unsettled relationship between seeing and knowing, and offering a radically ethical way of thinking and relating to the world.

And finally, what do you do to relax when away from your research?

Swing-dancing!

 

 

Season’s greetings from the BSR

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Christmas at the BSR, 2013

This year we have been lucky enough to enjoy a rather pleasant December here in Rome, but hidden away in the BSR Archive is evidence that the capital is not always so mild during the festive season.

Here is Archivist Alessandra Giovenco’s selection of photographs by previous BSR Director Thomas Ashby of Rome in the snow.

Images courtesy of the BSR Archive.

Via Triumphalis, 1922

Via Triumphalis, 1922

Ashby, Temple of Saturn, Roman Forum, 1901

Temple of Saturn, Roman Forum, 1901

Ashby, Capitoline Hill, 1901

Capitoline Hill, 1901

Ashby, Baths of Diocletian, 1901

Baths of Diocletian, 1901

Ashby, Piazza di Siena, Villa Borghese, 1924

Piazza di Siena, Villa Borghese, 1924

View of Villa Giulia from the BSR, 1921

View of Villa Giulia from the BSR, 1921

Season’s greetings from all at the BSR and a happy 2014! 

Assistant Librarian Beatrice Gelosia recruits some willing volunteers to decorate the Christmas tree

Assistant Librarian Beatrice Gelosia recruits some willing volunteers to decorate the Christmas tree