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Ceroplastics, The art of wax

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Abstract

Re-discovered in the 13th – 14th centuries in Florence with the cult of votive offerings, the art of wax modelling or ceroplastics has an ancient origin, from early Egyptian, Greek and Roman times. It reached its artistic peak during the Renaissance when it was considered the material par excellence for the representation of portraits, sketches and funeral masks. With the advent of Neoclassicism, it extended into a more scientific environment, flourishing in the study of normal and pathological anatomy, obstetrics, zoology and botany. As Vasari underlined in the 16th century, it seems as if wax figures lack nothing but a breath of life, the spirit, the power of speech. Wax is a rich, complex medium allowing the creation of hyperrealistic figures, anatomical models with ‘living’ flesh and skin, votive offerings, wax death masks and portraits. For its resemblance to human flesh the results obtained can transcend reality and often cause us an array of feelings: pleasure, perplexity, surprise, discomfort – wax models rarely leave us indifferent. On the 1st-3rd of September 2017, the major institutions related to the art of Ceroplastics (Wax Modelling) met again, the first meeting of its kind for 40 years, at an International Congress in London, presented at the Gordon Museum of Pathology, King’s College in collaboration with the Worshipful Company of Wax Chandlers. This conference proceedings offers a comprehensive overview of many different aspects of wax modelling, including: History (Major Collections), Anatomy and Science (Anatomical/botanical models), Art and Portraiture (Effigies, Portraits, Waxworks, Funeral Masks, Votive Offerings), Conservation and Restoration (maintaining, cleaning, repairing), Techniques and Contemporary Art. The art of wax modelling encompasses a great many subject areas and this book contains papers from art historians, artists, sculptors, historians, physicians and museum curators and is relevant to anyone who is interested in art history, fine arts, religious studies, psychology, criminology, anthropology, medicine, pathology, restoration and museology.
Thesis
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“Beeswax as a material for plastic expression and its applications from the 20th century to the present.” This research aims to provide a clear look at the current use of beeswax in the arts. It also makes a brief historical reference prior to the 20th century to enable the reader to fully understand how this medium has been used throughout history. To fulfil the objective of understanding and assessing the use of this material, artists were sought out who are currently using this material or who have used it at any time in their artistic careers. After locating them, their works were studied to learn seven specific aspects: their experience as artists, reasons for choosing beeswax as a medium, their technique, how they learned it, their opinion on the use of this material, their concern for ecology and their interest in disseminating the knowledge and experience they have acquired. Forty percent of the artists presented in this thesis have completed a questionnaire, thus giving this study valuable appendices with the original thoughts and opinions of the artists themselves. An artistic practice was conducted in encaustic painting using a variety of techniques learned throughout the research process. The results obtained will be of significant use for future research and for anyone interested in beginning to use this medium.
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