Bryn Mawr College Art & Archaeology Collections

"Lost" and Found: Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Bronzes in the Bryn Mawr College Collection

Curated by Jessica Miller '04

Spring 2004 through Fall 2004
Rhys Carpenter Library for Art, Archaeology, and Cities
Kaiser Reading Room and Fong Reading Room

The Mediterranean

Greek Chronology
Mycenaean Age 1400-1150 BC
Sub-Mycenaean Period 1150-900 BC
Geometric Period 900-700 BC
Archaic Period 700-479 BC
Classical Period 479-323 BC
Hellenistic Period 323- 31 BC

Etrusco-Roman Chronology
Etruscan Culture 1000-200 BC
Villanovan Culture 900-700 BC
Roman Republic 200-27 BC
Augustan Age 27 BC- AD 14
Roman Empire 27 BC- AD 337

(View Maps)

Lost Wax Casting

Most solid bronze objects in this collection have been created using the lost wax, or cire perdue method of casting. Through this process artists could create very complex shapes that would be impossible to form from bending or hammering alone. The process begins with a wax model of the object to be made. Rods of wax, called sprues or gates, are then attached to the model. These channels allow the molten bronze to be poured into the totality of the object. The next step, called investment, involves immersing the wax model and coating it several times in a liquid ceramic material. This material becomes a rock hard shell that is then fired in a kiln to melt the wax model inside, creating a hollow space for the bronze to fill.

Bronze in the Greek World

Then the bronze is then heated to around 1700 degrees F and poured into the mold. After cooling, the shell is broken away and the bronze is chased (cleaned up).

Bronze statuary in the Greek world began with a technique called sphyrelaton, in which a wooden body is covered with hammered bronze, exemplified in such figures as those found at the sanctuary of Apollo at Dreros, Crete. The first evidence of hollow casting seems to come from the island of Samos, starting in the 7th century BC. Much of the archaeological evidence for the working of bronze in Greece comes from workshop sites such as that of Pheidias at Olympia. Further information can be gained from the scenes on vase paintings, such as those found on the Foundry painter's cup and the Berlin oinochoe.

In this collection, examples of both utilitarian and votive objects are found. Objects for everyday use include fibulae, a strigil, and toilette items, such as the bronze mirror (M-49). The fibulae, which constitute the most numerous object group on display, can be related to the modern safety pin, used to gather and secure the fabric of homespun garments. The strigil, pictured left, was an implement commonly used by athletes to cleanse the body of dirt and oil.

Perhaps the most striking object, however, is the bronze mirror with the face of a female in profile on its cover. This mirror type is rare in Greece in that it functioned like a modern compact with a hinged casing that could be opened to expose the mirror surface of polished bronze. Votive objects, such as the Geometric period figurines, were left as dedications at temples and were often mass-produced at the temple site for purchase. It must be kept in mind that most Greek bronzes come from grave contexts.

Bronze in the Etruscan World

Like the majority of Etruscan art and handicraft, the bronzes dating from the Etruscan time period and region were initially greatly influenced by the art of the Near East. An even greater influence was the art of the Greek world due to the proliferation of Greek colonies in the Italian peninsula. Regardless, the Italic people were able to retain much of their native style. In fact, the Greeks often praised the Etruscan craftsmen for their ability to create invigorated domestic bronze objects. These pieces, such as open style horse bits, elaborate fibulae, and beautiful mirrors, are notable for their exquisite use of incised decoration. In this exhibit, we find examples of such utilitarian items from both the Etruscan and related Villanovan periods. One very interesting piece from the Villanovan period on display is the bronze razor, which like many similar examples shows signs of wear from use.

Votive objects are also well known from the Etruscan world, such as the bronze tripod incense stand in this exhibit. Bronze votive statuettes were less common in the Etruscan world in comparison to that of the Greeks. This is possibly due to the Etruscan preference for terracotta when creating the human form, though examples of Etruscan bronze figures do exist. The Etruscans were better known, however, for their incredible work with armature and horse trappings, which may themselves have been purely ceremonial due to the fact that relatively few show signs of damage or wear and most come from grave contexts.
Roman Bronzes

Most scholars agree that the bronzes of the Roman world have direct relationships to the Etruscan bronze tradition. Some have even gone so far to suggest that the Roman bronzesmiths may have been descendants of the Etruscan artists of the late 5th and 4th centuries. This idea exemplifies the greatest difficulty in discussing Roman bronze work; identifying what is Roman. This is a two fold problem, which first involves distinguishing when the Roman-style first emerges and how it is differentiated from earlier Italic bronze work. Secondly, there are issues involving objects dated to the height of the Roman Empire that were created in far reaching lands and by people of differing ethnicities, but were still in the style and subject area of the Roman tradition. Often, archaeologists and art historians attempt to resolve this problem by identifying distinctively Roman subjects, such as the Lares, men sacrificing dressed in togas, priestesses, gladiators, and portraits of the Roman Emperors.

For Further Information on Bronze Work in the
Ancient Mediterranean World:

* Winifred Lamb, Greek and Roman Bronzes (New York, 1929).
* Aspects of Ancient Greek Art. An Exhibition Organized by the Allentown Art Museum with the Cooperation of Gloria Ferrari Pinney and Brunilde Sismondo Ridgway. Allentown Art Museum, Sept 16-Dec 30, 1979.
* Gisela Richter, Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Bronzes (New York, 1915).

Thanks to:
Miss Rebecca Lessem '03 for all her help in getting this project started.

Carol Campbell and Tamara Johnston for their years of advice, guidance, and patience.

Maps Created by:
Chris Neely, Stu Shell and Stefan Iacob
Located at:

Lost Wax illustrations courtesy of
Mary Ann Dabritz

Donors to the Ella Riegel Memorial Study Collection,
who made this exhibition possible:

Miss Frances Browne, AB 1909 and
Miss Norvelle Browne, Class of 1911.

Anne Stainton Dane, AB 1961,
In honor of Machteld J. Mellink.

Mrs. Lincoln Dryden
(Clarissa Compton Dryden, AB 1932, MA 1935).

Agnes Kirsopp Lake Michels, AB 1930, MA 1931, Ph.D. 1934
From the Lily Ross Taylor (Ph.D. 1912) Collection.

Hobson Pittman Collection, by Bequest 1972.

Dr. and Mrs. Henry S. Robinson
(Henry S. and Rebecca Wood Robinson, AB 1945, MA 1950).

Mrs. John Jay Whitehead.

Anonymous donors, various.

The Ella Riegel Memorial Study Collection
Bryn Mawr College 2004

Bryn Mawr College Art & Archaeology Collections.

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