Grilles, Gates, Tombs and Statues

The superb gates of Henry VII's Chapel at Westminster are of a different character from the massive bronze doors produced by the Italian craftsmen. Gilbert Scott, who examined them closely, reported that 'they were made of very small pieces of brass, copper and bronze, subsequently gilded. The junction of the pieces was so managed that it is difficult at first sight not to believe that the whole was cast in one piece'. (19) Within this Chapel, a very beautiful bronze grille surrounds the monarch's tomb.

The attractive colour of copper and the architectural alloys bronze and brass, their resistance to corrosion and capacity for taking a high polish, have ensured their universal use in church furniture through the centuries, right down to the modern Roman Catholic Cathedral at Westminster. Apart from grilles and altar rails, many old pyxes, monstrances, chalices, reliquaries, croziers, etc., still exist. These were frequently covered with beautiful ornamental work usually of almost pure copper, since this material was more ductile and easier to gild and enamel than bronze.

Among the very many lovely old tombs, which are either mainly or wholly of bronze, that of Mary of Burgundy at Bruges (1495) is a particularly fine example. The fine bronze figures on Henry VII's tomb at Westminster, and also those on the tomb of Margaret of Richmond in the same Chapel, were executed by no less a person than Torrigiano, the same who, when a student, quarrelled with his fellow-student Michael Angelo, and struck him such a blow on the nose as to disfigure the great sculptor for the rest of his life.

Figure 21 Figure 21. A bronze 'sanctuary' knocker on one of the doors of Durham Cathedral. Knockers of this were used by fugitives in mediaeval times to claim the protection of the Church.
With regard to the more minor features of church buildings, architects have often exercised their fancy in designing bronze, copper and iron door-knockers. Some knockers in existence today are many hundreds of years old, and may have been used by fugitives from the law to claim sanctuary. One of these old knockers from Durham Cathedral is shown in Fig. 21.

Bronze was also used extensively for statuary although it took second place to marble. The famous bronzes of the period range from the great and noble statue of Gattemelata outside Padova Cathedral to quite small pieces, which were equally exquisite in their proportions. One of the most famous bronzes in the world is the Perseus at Florence, the work of Cellini. In this, as in much of his other work, Cellini was a complete master of the cire perdue method, and the same process was undoubtedly employed by his contemporaries. Few details are available regarding the techniques used by Renaissance craftsmen as the artists were always very secretive and each carefully concealed his own method of procedure.

Out of the multitude of bronze sculptures, two are worth special mention. In the year 1508, Michael Angelo, then a young man who had recently amazed the world by his unique colossal statue of David in marble, made a second large David, this time in bronze. The other example is a collection of bronze statues at the very lavish tomb at Innsbruck of the Emperor Maximilian. The statues represent heroes and also ancestors of the Emperor, and were executed partly by Peter Fischer early in the 16th Century, one of the most celebrated metal craftsmen of that age. Perhaps the finest work in the collection is his statue of King Arthur, despite the fact that the Celtic hero is clad in mediaeval armour.

19 SCOTT, G.G. Op. cit., p. 255.