When most of us think of Greek sculpture we think of carved marble. That is what is mostly left behind.
What we don’t realize is that cast bronze was actually the most common form of sculpture during the Hellenistic Period, about 323 BC – 31 BC.
If bronze sculptures were so common, then why is it that we don’t have more examples in our museums today? Because the metal was reused over the centuries. Made into objects as simple as hinges, but largely for implements of war such as shields and helmets.
“The ones that we don’t have and we haven’t found are gone forever because they were melted down. And that’s the vast majority, thousands and thousands,” said Kenneth Lapatin, co-creator of the exhibit “Power and Pathos,” which originated at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles.
The exhibition is currently at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, through March 20, 2016.
The sculptures in the exhibit, roughly 50 in number, were among the sculptures that were lost to catastrophe–and thereby saved from being melted down. The catastrophes were anything from the eruption of Pompeii, to fires, shipwrecks, and even acquisition–often by looting–from others, such as the Romans, who came to admire the skill of the Greek artists.
Our difficulty is, so few have survived. When you see 50 bronzes together in one exhibition, this has never happened before, never will again. There has never been so many bronzes face to face with one another.