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Egyptian Past: A Pedigree of our Apis Figure

By: Dr Stan Florek, Category: Science, Date: 08 Jul 2014

Visual Grace in Faulty Body – How Original is Replica?

Bronze Apis: E39829 A

 © Macquarie University

Egyptian Past is a blog series containing stories related to Egyptian antiquity, focusing on the artefacts in our collection.

This bronze bull Apis is an iconic Egyptian figure, yet its origin causes us to reflect. The style indicates the figure from the Ptolemaic Period (305-30 BC), but technical characteristics tells us a more complex story.

The common method for creating such bronze figures was lost-wax casting, where an original representation would be modeled in a layer of wax over a core (usually clay), and then encased in clay again, forming a mould. Molten metal would then be poured into the mould, replacing the wax which would drain through special holes – hence lost. The metal would harden while cooling.

The mould with a core and two or more outer sections (depending on the complexity of a figure) could then be used to produce many nearly identical figures. Since such casts were empty inside – space taken by the core in the mould - they also save a large amount of relatively expensive bronze.

But there are various methods of bronze casting and other techniques of producing bronze figures. Some would involve reassembling a final figure from parts produced by simpler casting methods and they often display discernible joints where separate pieces are ‘welded’ together.

The bronze Apis in our collection has visible joins. They exist along the neck where it has been attached to the body, and the body itself has clear joins particularly along the tail line where one edge is unusually straight. Also, it is possible that the base of the Apis is made of a different bronze alloy with large proportion of tin. The base could have been added to the figure later and probably not a part of its original design.

Additions and alterations to ancient artefacts, known as ‘pastiches,’ were very common. These modifications and replicas are interesting because they span a long period of time from antiquity to present. Some replicas were produced not long after the originals and put the whole issue of authenticity into a different perspective.

Many replicas were created in the past few centuries, often on the weave of Westerners’ fascination with Egypt, known as ‘Egyptomania’ – some as deliberate deception, others as the irresistible temptation to enjoy the outstanding beauty of ancient Egyptian art.

Our Apis was a gift from the passionate collector of antiquities and generous donor Ernest Wunderlich. He assembled his collection predominantly by buying pieces from artefact dealers and antique shops where replicas, ancient and modern, would most likely be encountered.

Explanations:

Apis votive figurines became very common during the Third Intermediate to the Ptolemaic Periods (c. 1070-30 BC) and were used for worshipping deities and in funeral cults such as that of the Apis or Mnevis Bull, or in Graeco-Roman times, the Serapis Bull. The Apis Bull was believed to be the embodiment of principal gods - Ptah for the living and Osiris for the dead. The bull acted as an intermediary between the people and the gods.

The word alloy – derived from the Old French, meaning: to combine – refers to metal with some added components. Bronze is usually combined with copper and tin (often with a small addition of other materials), making it much harder than tin or copper alone. The alloy of copper with zinc is known as brass.

BC (or BCE) – means Before Common Era, and indicates the years counted back from the first year of the Western Calendar. For example, in 30 BC Rome conquered Egypt and Cleopatra took her own life.

Prepared by Shenali Boange and Stan Florek