The bronze room is a tribute to the Frick’s extensive holdings of Renaissance and Baroque bronze sculpture, most of which Henry Clay Frick acquired as a group from the estate of the late John Pierpont Morgan in 1916. The generally fine finishes of the sculptures; their shiny, rich brown patinas; and their dynamic compositions belie the laborious process of making them: sculpting a model in wax, creating a mold, melting down metal with scorching fire, hammering and chiseling the cooled bronze to achieve the highest levels of refinement in the finished work. It almost makes painting seem easy.
The bronzes displayed here—and the selection of medals, part of a recent gift from the Scher Collection—represent a wide range of techniques, preciousness, and quality. Artist workshops could and did replicate a composition many times through this reproducible art form, even at different scales and with varying degrees of quality. On the other end of the spectrum, the rarest bronzes were made as a single, unique cast, perhaps even embellished with precious metals like gold and silver. The relief displayed between the medals cases is the Resurrection by the accomplished Sienese artist known as Vecchietta, a painter who shows he was no less capable as a sculptor.
When bronze sculpture first re-emerged as an art form in fifteenth-century Italy, revived from classical antiquity, it became a favorite of humanist scholars, who would fill their studioli with small bronzes. The subjects of these sculptures reflect their scholarly audience: biblical and historical figures, with the vast majority representing figures from ancient Greek and Roman culture. Visitors to the bronze room will meet many Hercules, many male nude figures that testify to the interest in Renaissance culture in the male nude body, in part for its classical evocations and as a means of displaying one’s skill in art. And yet, one of the most stunning of the Frick’s bronzes is a diminutive figure of a nude woman, shouting in fear, her eyes and nipples inset with now-tarnished silver. Perhaps you’d like to see if you can find her.