Creating — and Recreating — A Goddess

Part of the Petra exhibition.

A Roman artist created an intricate bronze using a process known as the lost wax technique. This multistep method, developed by the Greeks and Romans, is still used today. Essentially, the artist begins by taking a detailed wax impression of a master image modeled in clay, then removing the hardened wax in pieces--for example, an arm or a torso. Each wax impression is coated in clay, which is then fired. The firing melts the wax--hence, "lost wax"--and the bronzesmith pours molten metal through spouts introduced into the now-empty clay shell. When the metal cools, the artist cracks the mold and ultimately welds the bronze pieces together.

Radiographs made during the restoration of the statue displayed in the exhibit shed new light on the lost wax process, revealing a sculpture cast in many more sections than experts had thought. The interior, visible today because of damage, reveals traces of the spouts through which the bronzesmith poured his metal.