Roman Goldsmith's

arte orafa romana

Roman Goldsmith's

arte orafa romana

For millennia primitive peoples had sought gold in rivers sifting the golden sands along the banks of the rivers. The first to build galleries were the Romans, to look for deposits directly in the rock in the North African colonies. They adored this durable and unalterable metal that fully reflected their ideals and soon identified it as a means to fund the consolidation of the empire. This, however, did not preclude the creation of sought-after objects with which Roman women could adorn themselves and as jewelllery always reflects the culture that produces it, strong, seductive, functional, essential but at the same time composed of rich materials . The Romans also minted gold coins. One of the first signs to be noted is that erected on the capital in the 3rd century BC near the Temple of Giunone Moneta from which the term coin derives. Soon the Roman goldsmiths gathered in guilds, their creations were mostly composed of natural and depictive motifs. The craftsmen of Rome used all the known techniques and invented new ones, using emeralds from Africa, Afghan lapis lazzuli, peridots from the Red Sea islands, quartz from the Urals, Singhalese corundas, and granite, amber, beads, engraved cameos and very rare Indian diamonds. It is certain that at the time of the greatest expansion of Rome, the emperors exchanged diamond rings as a symbol of power. Over the centuries, the Roman goldsmith tradition remained alive, especially thanks to the offices entrusted by the various Pontiffs. Exponents were among others Antonio da San Marino, Benvenuto Cellini, Luigi Valadier, Vincenzo Belli and the Castellani Family. Throughout the centuries, the Roman goldsmith tradition remained evergreen, despite some limitations to the processing and trade of gold and silver in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, due in particular to the fierce defence of the Roman goldsmith's art made by the Nobil College of St. Eligio. In the Second World War a strong artistic push of various Roman goldsmiths led to a return to the Roman classical school, creating a trend centred on the Return to Style and Etruscan methods of processing and of Ancient Rome; the school is distinguished by its production of jewels with techniques of granulation and watermark and lost-wax casting. This movement was characterized by prominent figures such as Masenza and the Fumanti brothers, who commissioned designs and works to the greatest artists of the time, then their goldsmiths produced them, and also by the Giansanti Family. Particularly in this active movement was Egidio Giansanti, the creator of a vast collection of objects made according to ancient tradition and with the particular use of the lost-wax casting technique, which attracted many goldsmiths to his workshop and was of immense value for the new Roman school of goldsmiths.

Wax Casting Tecnique

arte orafa romana

Lost-wax casting is a sculptural technique originally introduced in the Bronze Age and has blossomed over the centuries especially for Greek and Roman art and monumental sculpture. The lost-wax technique, for the fusion of large bronze cave statues, has been known since antiquity. Among the best preserved examples, made with this technique, are the Bronze of Riace, from the classic era. The technique was disused during the Middle Ages, remaining alive only in the Byzantine Empire. With the Renaissance, in the context of the recovery of all aspects of classical civilization, the technique was resumed. The technique used is described in various treaties. The Renaissance is a detailed testimony to the Benedito Cellini Sculpture Treaty. The traditional technique was to produce a wax-scale sketch, which served as a guide for the work. The next step was to shape the statue in the definitive size, which was called "soul" and was then cooked to become terracotta. For the natural shrinkage due to firing, the terracotta pattern was slightly smaller than the final result, and there was a wax thickness that recreated the definitive dimensions of the work. Wax modelling had to be particularly accurate in every detail, since it depended on the final appearance of the statue. Thus, a series of tubular segments of various sizes, called blow holes, and nails as supports, are then applied to the waxed "core". Another layer of clay (called "mould" or "form") is spread on this "porcupine" structure, from which the vent holes had to be ticked. The pattern is fired like in the oven with a slow fire, so as to let the wax melt and run away, through the blow holes. Meanwhile the fire also transforms the tile into terracotta and the presence of the support nails allows the creation of a gap between "soul" and "mould" where the cast bronze will be cast. Before proceeding to the final throw, the brick complex is formed, creating the so-called "melting hood", reinforced by iron-plate bindings. The hood is lowered into a hole beneath the mouth of the furnace from which the cast bronze will be poured. The bronze, entering the gap, forms the statue, which has a thickness equal to that of the removed wax. After the cast, and waiting for the cooling (one or two days), the statue is raised and released from the mould, and it is presented as bronze tubing (from vent) and nails. To avoid the danger of expansion, the terracotta core is extracted, usually from the bottom, or by special openings that must then be clamped. Any remaining unfinished parts should be thrown again and welded. After the removal of the nails and the vent valves, the statue would appear, depending on the alloy used, and may be very rough, so that a long work of "reckoning" might be necessary, including surface polishing (filing and polishing) the integration of gaps and the elimination of melting defects (with the insertion of so-called dowels), finishing the details (often with bobbin and chisel) and eliminating all imperfections. In some cases, a final coating or gilding operation was envisaged, essentially by applying a thin layer of mercury and gold amalgam. After heating the piece, the mercury evaporated, leaving the deposited gold. The lost-wax casting method, used in jewellery, is very similar to that previously used in sculpture. A jewel reproduction is made in wax by hand. Next, input / output channels (always in wax) are added and the plaster mould is specially designed for this operation. To facilitate perfect adhesion of gypsum to waxes and the elimination of air bubbles, the full cylinder can be placed on a vibrating plate and then subjected to vacuum operation under a bell connected to a pump. This mould (usually to contain plaster costs, contains many objects, arranged "bunch" around a central channel) is heated in a furnace, so that the wax (oven 200 °C) comes out of the channels, once the wax is released, it is possible to cast the molten metal inside the mould. Then the plaster is broken and the object from which the inlet / outlet channels are removed is obtained. The jewel is finished by polishing or other workmanship to achieve the final result.  


Sources

Pierluigi De Vecchi and Elda Cerchiari, The Times of Art, Vol. 2, Bompiani, Milan 1999. Appliances of the Life of Benvenuto Cellini, edited by Ettore Camesasca, Classics BUR, Milan 2007.

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