Sculpture: Unalloyed Insights

The copper came from Cyprus, the tin from far-off Britannia, and the Greeks wrought the ensuing alloy, bronze, in myriad forms: vases, swords, tripods, safety pins, mirrors, votive statuettes, household icons and colossal public statues. Most of the large statues have been lost, broken up or melted down, but thousands of graceful hand-sized household objects and prized miniatures remain. Though fragmented and stained with the crusts, scars and patina of age, they nonetheless offer spirited insights into classical days and ways.

How deftly the Greeks—and Romans and Etruscans—wrought this versatile metal from...

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