A Marriage of Bronze and Ivory: From Antiquity to Art Deco

October 4th, 2013 | posted by Phillip Youngberg

Chryselephantine has been around for millennia, but it enjoyed a resurgence of popularity during the Art Deco period.  In fact, some items made using this technique have been dated to the Bronze Age.  When speaking of these early years of its use, the term often refers to sculptures made around a wood frame and covered with layers of ivory and gold; each material was used to represent either flesh or adornments, respectively.  Later, “chryselephantine” came to describe the combination of ivory and bronze as well.  Pictured here are a few examples of sculptures from the 1920s that were executed using this medium.

"Towards the Unknown" by C.J.R Colinet

“Towards the Unknown” by C.J.R Colinet

In this first piece, C.J.R Colinet used the technique to create “Towards the Unknown”.  As a Viking, the most desirable path to the afterlife was to fall during battle.  These lucky souls who died in the throes of combat would be escorted to the halls of Valhalla by one of the twelve Valkyries. It was these iconic battle maidens of Norse mythology that inspired the artists to create the stunning sculpture.  Riding on her swift steed to collect fallen warriors and escort them to Valhalla, this figure is the very image of Viking courage. Romanian born artist D.H. Chiparus is considered a master of this technique and is credited with championing its use during the Art Deco years.  This second sculpture is his endearing group “Friends Forever”.  In this piece the artist highlights Art Deco taste in the central figure’s delicate costume, as well as in the elegant lines that lend balance and grace to the sculpture as a whole.

"Friends Forever"

“Friends Forever”

Chiparus’ figures are among the most recognizable and collectible in the world and this depiction of the bond between humans and dogs is perhaps once of his more evocative creations. A unique technique unlike any other, chryselephantine creates a beautiful juxtaposition between the natural and manmade.  Working with such a delicate material as ivory is not without its challenges, and artists that were able to master the combinations necessary to create these beautiful pieces are truly gifted.  Either sculpture would be a valuable addition to a fine art collection.