Wax sculpture  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

A wax sculpture is a sculpture made in wax. Often these are effigies, usually of a notable individual, but there are also death masks and scenes with many figures, mostly in relief.

The properties of beeswax make it an excellent medium for preparing figures and models, either by modeling or by casting in moulds. At ordinary temperatures, it can easily be cut and shaped; it melts at a low temperature; it mixes with any coloring matter, and takes surface tints well; and its texture and consistency may be modified by the addition of earthy matters and oils or fats. When molten, it is highly responsive to impressions from a mould, and once it sets and hardens its form is relatively resilient against ordinary temperature variations, even when it is cast in thin laminae. These properties have seen wax used for modelling since the Middle Ages.


Contents

History

Middle Ages

The practice of wax modelling can be traced through the Middle Ages, when votive offerings of wax figures were made to churches. The memory and lineaments of monarchs and great personages were preserved by means of wax masks.

During this period, superstition found expression in the formation of wax images of hated persons, into which long pins were thrust, in the confident expectation that thereby deadly injury would be induced to the person represented. This practice was considered more effective when some portion of the victim's hair or nails were added to the wax figure, thus strengthening the connection with its actual subject. This belief and practice continued until the seventeenth century, though the superstition survived into the nineteenth century. In the Scottish Highlands, a clay model of an enemy was found in a stream in 1885, having been placed there in the belief that, as the clay was washed away, so would the health of the hated one decline.

Renaissance

During the Italian Renaissance, modeling in wax took a position of high importance, and it was practiced by some of the greatest of the early masters. The bronze medallions of Pisanello and of the other famous medalists owe their value to the properties of wax: all early bronzes and metalwork were cast from wax models first.

There are a number of very high quality wax figures from the 16th and 17th centuries, mostly portrait figures and religious or mythological scenes, often with many figures. Antonio Abondio (1538–91) pioneered the coloured wax portrait miniature in relief, working mainly for the Habsburg and other courts of Northern Europe, and his son Alessandro continued in his footsteps.

Towards the close of the 18th century, modeling of medallion portraits and of relief groups, the latter frequently polychromatic, was in considerable vogue throughout Europe. Many of the artists were women. John Flaxman executed in wax many portraits and other relief figures which Josiah Wedgwood translated into pottery for his Jasperware. The National Portrait Gallery has 40 wax portraits, mostly from this period.

The famous wax bust attributed to Leonardo da Vinci acquired in 1909 by the Museum of Berlin is the work of an English forger who worked about 1840. The wax model of a head[1], at the Palais des Beaux-Arts de Lille, belongs probably to the school of Canova, which robs it of none of its exquisite grace.

Today

Wax-works, not intended as fine art, subsequently became popular attractions, consisting principally of images of historical or notorious personages, made up of waxen masks on lay figures in which sometimes mechanism is fitted to give motion to the figure. Such an exhibition of wax-works with mechanical motions was shown in Germany early in the eighteenth century.

The most famous modern waxwork exhibition is that of Madame Tussaud, where the technology of robotics and audio-animatronics brings the wax figures to life.

Use in moulage

The modeling of the soft parts of dissections, teaching illustrations of anatomy, was first practiced at Florence during the Renaissance. The practice of moulage, or the depiction of human anatomy and different diseases, utilized wax as its primary material (later to be replaced by latex and rubber). During the 19th century, moulage evolved into to three-dimensional, realistic representations of diseased parts of the human body.

Wax museums

Wax museum

A wax museum or waxworks consists of a collection of wax figures representing famous people from history and contemporary personalities exhibited in lifelike poses. Wax museums often have a special section dubbed the "chamber of horrors" in which the more grisly exhibits are displayed.

See also




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Wax sculpture" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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