Old Elonga-Mongo lost wax casting bronze anklet
MONGÓ. Dem. Rep. Congo
This unique anklet stems from the Mongo blacksmiths, an ethnic group that occupies a wide central region of the Congo, made these heavy bracelets (leg) in copper and bronze. For their elaboration they used earth ovens, and wood logs that they made of core, to give shape and interior dimensions to the bracelet, once the bronze was cast on the molds of lost wax.
Wives carried these pieces on their legs, from the moment of marriage, in order to show the wealth of her husband, and implicitly, limit their ability to move. In numerous pieces it is observed how the lower part is separated and, bent at the ends, in order to be able to extract them from the body at the moment of death. Given the strictly personal nature, they were never used in a second person and were converted into coins of high intrinsic value, given the large amount of metal they were composed of.
African Lost-Wax Casting Method
The basic method of lost wax casting has been widely practiced on the African continent for centuries. The process begins with beeswax, latex, or another material with a low melting point. It must be soft enough for carving fine details, but hard enough to retain its shape. After the wax object has been carved, increasingly coarse layers of clay are applied to the object and allowed to dry. The first and finest clay slips capture the wax details in the smooth mold, and the coarser clay layers provide strength. The entire assemblage is fired, causing the original wax carving to melt away, leaving only a baked clay shell. Liquid metal is poured into the empty mold and left to cool and harden. Later, the clay exterior is broken open, revealing the finished metal object beneath. In direct lost-wax casting, the object produced is always unique, as the mold is necessarily destroyed as part of the casting process.
West African sculptors have elaborated on this basic technique in a variety of ways. Many works were produced through multiple castings and by uniting different sections of a large vessel or figure. In addition, many of the brasses are actually a thin sculpture of hollow metal. In this case, the wax sculpture is formed over a clay core. The two clay parts are attached with spikes. Made from iron, the melting point of the spikes is hotter than either the wax or brass, holding the materials in place through the phases of heating and cooling. If reachable, the clay core is broken up and removed from the interior of the completed brass work.
Bronze, Copper, and Brass
The term bronze is deceptive. Because metallic content cannot be determined from appearance, cast sculptures made from a variety of metal alloys are often all referred to as bronzes. Copper, which is easily worked through smithing, is particularly difficult to cast without the addition of other metals that slow its oxidation rate and improve the flow of the molten metal. Different alloys of copper mixed with zinc, tin, and lead result in what are more accurately referred to as bronzes (copper and tin) and brasses (copper and zinc). The metals used in West African sculptures come from a variety of sources. Tin is plentiful in Nigeria, and in the 1980s copper and lead sources that appear to have been mined were identified in southeast Nigeria. Certainly, however, the greatest periods of casting coincide with the influx of metals into the region from outside.
Source: The Met Museum
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