which means the image extends more than half of its height away from the background. Freestanding molded heads of warriors, kings, and queens show a wide range of realistic and stylized appearances, as well as bronze polished surfaces with a patina (coating) ranging from dark black to gold and brass. Expressively modeled animal sculp- tures include lions, leopards, birds, and fish. Benin bronzes are very detailed, whether they are stylized, abstract, or realistic de- pictions of people and animals. The details were enabled by the Benin artists’ use of the “lost-wax” metal casting technique, which enabled them to model and cast thinner plaques than European artists of the same time period. The artists belonged to a spe- cial guild and lived in their own compound, exclusively devoted to creating sculpture.

A bronze head of Queen Idia.

Melted Wax Creates Intricate Bronze Sculptures

Lost-wax sculptures have been discovered dating as far back as 5,000 years ago. In the simplest type of lost-wax sculpture, a model is made of wax, and a network of wax pipes called “sprues” are added, which allow hot metal to flow evenly and the melted wax to escape. The wax model is covered with a plaster cast. When the outer plaster cast has hardened, hot metal is poured in. The wax melts and escapes. When the metal is cooled, the mold is broken or removed, leaving a metal duplicate of the original wax sculpture. Smaller lost-wax sculptures can be cast in one piece. Larger ones are usually cast in multiple sections and joined together.



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