Spilling the beans on BRONZE … coming soon to the Royal Academy

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The Chimera of Arezzo, an Etruscan sculpture from c.400 BC.

The Royal Academy is planning a spectacular and innovative new exhibition that will bring together an eclectic collection of bronze artefacts spanning the world and time.

Simply called Bronze, it will display more than 150 rare and precious works of art, from the 14th century BC Trundholm Chariot of the Sun – on special loan from Copenhagen’s National Museum of Denmark – to the 21st century polished concave mirror by Anish Kapoor.

The exploitation of metal marked a changing point in early human development, and bronze, a tough and versatile alloy consisting mainly of copper with small amounts of tin, zinc and lead, first appears in the archaeological record around 5,000 years ago. However, this will not be a chronological exploration of bronze and its uses, nor a geographical arrangement of material cultural style.

Over lunch at the Royal Academy on Wednesday, the exhibition’s curator Prof. David Ekserdjian discussed the shows concept and what had prompted him to attempt such an ambitious display: ‘As a child, I was fascinated by an illustration in a book on my father’s bookshelf: the Chimera of Arezzo, a fabulous bronze sculpture of a lion with a goat’s head appearing out of his back. I was reminded of this recently and began to think about how sculpture tends to be sidelined by paintings, or ‘two-dimensional’ art. So, I thought, what if we could put together the best examples of bronze sculptures from around the world? The idea for the exhibition grew from there.’

The Chariot of the Sun, from Trundholm, Zealand, is made of bronze and gold and dates to the 14th century BC (Early Bronze Age).

In just 18 months, and a lot of air miles, Prof. Ekserdjian and his team have gathered together the finest examples of different genres, from Ancient Greek, Roman, and Etruscan, to Medieval Europe, Renaissance Italy, and modern giants like 19th century Rodin and 20th century Henry Moore.

So, how to arrange such diverse exhibits that hail from all four corners of the globe and from all eras of civilisation? Again Prof. Ekserdjian explains: ‘The exhibition is to be arranged thematically, either in groups or paired. rather than geographically or chronologically.’

Sometimes this will be to emphasis similarity of style – as with the statue of Lucius Mannius Maximus unearthed at Herculaneum and the elegant statue of St Stephen by Lorenzo Ghiberti brought over from Florence; sometimes it is to emphasis contrast: Rodin’s Age of Bronze sits alongside David Smith’s 1954 figure. Some exhibits echo future or past works: look out for the Etruscan bronze figure ‘Shadow of the Evening’ that, surely, Alberto Giacometti had come across at some point in his early career…

This Ife crowned head is made of zinc and brass and dates to the 14th/early 15th century.

Also in the exhibition is the beautifully serene head from the Kingdom of Ife, dating to the 14th century and probably a representation of its king, Ooni. Alongside it is the rather more terrifying face believed to be that of the 4th-century BC Thracian monarch King Sleuthes III, recently recovered during excavation of a tomb in Bulgaria. While another recent discovery on show will be the Crosby Garett Helmet, the Roman cavalry helmet found in Cumbria.

Arranged in groups will be deities from Southeast Asia, or Renaissance figures from Italy. Perhaps the most disturbing exhibit – and certainly the curator’s favourite – is the one responsible for the whole concept: the Chimera of Arezzo, brought over on an exceedingly rare exeat from the Archaeological Museum in Florence.

With its mix of archaeological gems and modern masterpieces, Bronze promises to be a thought-provoking and awe-inspiring treat. So, forget any preconceptions of traditional exhibitions, and head for the Royal Academy next month.

Bronze, Royal Academy of Arts, Burlington House, Piccadilly, W1J 0BD

15 September – 9 December 2012






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