It seems recently I have had a lot of questions from collectors and young assistants about the history of ‘The Lost Wax’ casting which I use for my sculptures….the method of metal casting in which a molten metal is poured into a mold that has been created by means of a wax model…. . Once the mold is made, the wax model is melted and drained away. A hollow core can be effected by the introduction of a heat-proof core that prevents the molten metal from totally filling the mold. I went through some of my notes and thought it might make an interesting read for those who are interested in metal casting…
“The discovery that metals could be melted and cast to shape in molds was one of the major strides towards civilization made by early man. Some time before 4 000 B.C., almost certainly independently in several different regions, and after long experiment with colored minerals like malachite and azurite that had attracted his attention, man began the smelting of copper. There is no certainty about the dates of this first step in metallurgy nor about the exact locations, but in Anatolia, in the highlands of Iran, in Syria and Palestine, and even in Thailand, there is evidence of smelting around this time. “
The origins of lost wax or investment casting, often known as ‘cire perdue’, and still the most accurate and reliable means of reproducing complex shapes in gold or other metals with all the fine detail of an original pattern, go back to the very first civilizations in the Near East and to a combination of primitive art, religion and metallurgy. The historical development of the process and its several variations are reviewed here as well as its transmission to other parts of the world.
Compared with stone, by modeling rather than carving, human limbs and the legs, horns and tails of animal figures could be represented much more readily, while compared with clay a great improvement in strength was achieved. Wax was available from wild bees, and was in fact already a commodity in use for several other purposes, while the keeping of bees was introduced at an early time in most parts of western Asia.
This was the beginning of lost wax casting, often referred to by archaeologists in its French form, ‘cire perdu’. The earliest castings were made in relatively pure copper but very soon an arsenical copper was introduced, to be followed by tin bronze, and a little later by gold.
Some of the earliest examples of lost wax castings in copper include the figures of recumbent animals mounted on cylinder seals carved from limestone or magnesite a device in use in Mesopotamia and elsewhere before the invention of writing that could be rolled across a piece of moist clay as a mark of ownership or of assent to an agreement — and dated to about 3 500 B.C. From the same period, but from Elam in south western Iran, a number of large dress pins, now in the Louvre, have representations of crouching ibex and other animals, while from only a few centuries later, similar castings have been found at Troy and at Poliochni, a settlement on the Greek island of Lemos closely associated with Troy.
Throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, lost wax casting was used mainly for small bronzes and their reproduction, particularly in France, although of course its employment for individual pieces of gold jewelry continued. In England, the great Matthew Boulton was responsible for a large output of ormolu decorative mounts and fittings produced in this way at his Soho works in Birmingham between the years 1768 and 1782.
The demand for small sculpture had grown considerably by the early nineteenth century and to meet this, some degree of mechanization began to be adopted. One of the leading exponents was Antoine Louis Barye, the son of a Paris goldsmith, who produced his own wax models and who later acquired a reducing machine by means of which he could rapidly make miniatures of life size statues. This activity was severely curtailed however, when by 1850 the electroforming process was introduced by the Elkingtons, a method that could yield statuettes quickly and cheaply.
Artist still employ the lost wax process.
For a more detailed look at lost wax casting check out this link: