Ancient History:
Cire Perdue: Lost Wax Casting

Gold has always been an important medium of expression for Javanese craftsmen. In prehistoric times, gold-foil masks were used to cover the faces of the dead. These gold pieces were made by beating the gold with a hammer. While this technique was widely used in various parts of Indonesia and Southeast Asia, a more effective technique was adopted in Java during the early centuries AD, whereby heat was used to work gold. This new method not only cuts down the time spent in making gold objects, but is also responsible for the creation of more intricate designs. The technique is known as lost wax casting.

Click on the red buttons to see an illustration of each stage of the lostwax casting process:

1. The initial stage of lost wax casting is the modelling of a figure from clay and wax. If the object is to be hollow, as in this example, the wax is modelled over a base of clay.

2. Connections are made between various parts of the model, to ensure that the molten metal will flow evenly over the model. The wax model is then covered with a thick coat of clay, thus forming the mold.

3. The mold is heated to a high temperature, which melts the wax while baking the clay. The melted wax is drained out of the mold, leaving behind a negative impression of its form.

4. Molten gold is then poured into the mold. Great care is needed to ensure that the gold fills the mold evenly and completely.

5. After the gold is poured into the mold, it is allowed to cool and set. After cooling, the clay mold is broken, revealing the gold figure within.

6. Once the clay mold is broken and removed, excess metal is filed away,and the figure is polished. Ancient Javanese civilization left us many small figurines of bronze, gold and silver, many of them made through this lost-wax casting process. The figure illustrated here stood some 5 cm tall.

Javanese statue makers soon mastered the art of the lost wax technique and used it for casting bronze and gold figures. They also began to make other objects such as jewellery and other accessories using a combination of methods such as chiselling, carving and filigree.

Their knowledge and skill soon extended to repoussé, which is the technique of beating a design out in relief. Many of these intricate objects were discovered in various archaeological excavations and included many intricately-designed and decorated pieces which could have be used for ritual purposes. In fact many of these pieces of jewellery, and various other objects may have belonged to royalty.

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