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Types of Metal Art and Sculpture

Metal art is greatly valued for its craftsmanship and designs, thus spurring my interest in an art that has tremendous decorative value.

Metal art

Metal art

What Is Metal Art?

Metal art, often only considered metal wall art, covers many spheres of functional and purely decorative artwork. Functional like metal clocks, cutlery, sleek appliances, and decorative like picture prints on metal sheets, bronze sculptures, exquisite chess pieces, and décor accents.

From wire metal filigree works and cast metal sculptures made from bronze to ancient hammered metal cups and fine gold Egyptian jewellry, the resilience of earth metals and their malleable nature have made them one of the best materials to make beautiful works of art and crafts.

Many treasures and artefacts that survived the pyramids of Egypt are variations of metal artworks. They include statues, ornaments, gold coins and funeral masks. The magnificent statues still standing today in Greece and Rome were cast in bronze. The people of ancient American civilizations (the Incas, Mayans, and Aztecs) made hatchets and ceremonial implements from hammered copper. Objects of the faith like crucifixes and sacred art were also crafted to exquisite perfection by monks in their monastery. And the spectacular Statue of Liberty in New York Harbour is a metalwork of art made from copper and wrought iron.

Now, there is a renewed interest in metal artworks, especially for use as decoration and adornment purposes. Jewellers, just like in the days of old, make beautiful crafts from precious metals enhanced with precious or faux stones or enamel motifs. And designers, and decorators now, more than ever, utilize metal products as wall art, sculptures, statues, furniture, decorative hardware and ironmongery, and ornamental staircase railings.

Metals Used for Decorative Arts

1. Iron Ore

Of all the known metals, iron is the most abundant of all and can be found in almost all elements; water, soil, and rocks.

It is known to be a prized material from ancient times and iron objects have been discovered in Nineveh, Egypt, Roman Britain and ancient China.

This metal isn't exactly pure because it contains some silicon, sulfur, carbon, and phosphorus, with the three principal varieties of commercial iron . . . cast iron (pig iron), wrought iron, and steel containing various degrees of carbon compounds.

All artwork and sculptures, including other iron objects, are likely to rust when they get exposed to damp air, moisture or water. However, because iron ore is prone to rust, it can be prevented when coated with non-oxidising materials like tin, brass or zinc.

Iron is made into personal adornments, hand tools, cooking pots, garden sculptures and drinking vessels, along with ornamentation of weaponry, horse-tacks, boats and other functional items.

The amount of carbon in cast iron, wrought iron and steel is what determines their character, strength and working qualities. Wrought iron contains the least amount of carbon while cast iron contains the most.

From larger than life sculptures to irresistibly petite decorations and art forms, all the different types of iron artwork are made from one of these three:

Metal Art

Metal Art

  • Cast iron – It contains a good amount of carbon which gives it a brittle quality. It cracks easily if hit hard is extremely coarse, and cannot be stretched or bent. Cast iron isn't really used in the decorative arts because of its roughness but is mainly used for ornamental firebacks and facings, fireplace accessories and traditional stoves.
  • Steel – Steel’s hardness is a mid-way between wrought and cast iron so it possesses characteristics of both. It has a finer grade and is lighter and malleable if exposed to very high temperatures. With sudden cold temperatures, it becomes extremely hard. Steel has a shine and though it is used majorly for structural works and reinforcement materials, it is also used for contemporary artwork and sculptures.
  • Stainless steel - Alloying chromium with steel helps to prevent it from rusting and retain its lustre and stainless steel is alloyed with 10% to 20% of chromium. Its lustre, non-rusting qualities, and its beauty make it suitable for exquisite cutlery, staircase railings, decorative hardware, and jewelry.
  • Wrought Iron - Wrought iron has fewer carbon impurities than cast iron and is softer in nature. It is easily rolled into plates, hammered into bars and drawn into wires. Its malleability allows it bend into any shape or form, Wrought iron items can be painted with brass and various thicknesses of the iron can be used for cheaper hardware, braces and brackets, garden furniture, outdoor ornaments and garden sculptures, fireplace linings, railings and balustrades, grilles, and affordable light fittings.

2. Tin

Tin is majorly used for metal wall artworks, plaques, figural sculptures, hanging ornaments, tin wall signs, busts, decorative badges, water vessels, ornate vases, candlesticks, and tin foil art.

Tin in all forms have been used for recycled art with some of the most awesome metal art formed this way. Recyclable tin materials include bottle tops, sweet tins, food cans, and the like.

One of the least known but beautiful expressions of metal art are the tin artworks first produced in Mexico around the 16th century.

Because tin was not only available and inexpensive, it was light and malleable. This made it easy to shape, crimp, stamp, punch, and cut into a wide variety of decorative and functional artwork, and paint in pleasant colours.

Tin’s shiny surface that looks similar to silver is what likely contributes to its appeal for making art objects and sculptures, regardless of its tendency to rust.

3. Copper

Copper is a metal that is found in its pure state, just as silver, gold and tin and pre-dates iron in terms of its use. According to the history of art, most nations used copper extensively as materials to make coins, weapons, statues, décor, and household items.

It is also claimed that the ancient Egyptians used copper chisels hardened by a now unknown process to cut their granite.

This metal is used for both decorative and industrial arts and is favoured for its strength, durability, and its workability. The ease with which copper can be molded (it can be hammered or cast) into any desired shape or form makes it a useful and great metal to use for the following:

  • Hardware
  • Sculpture works
  • Wall art
  • Statues
  • Table ornaments
  • Vases and urns
  • Display pedestals
  • Lighting fixtures
  • Screens
  • Grilles
  • Kitchen utensils
  • Ethnic jewelry
  • Clocks

Jewelers combine copper with silver or gold to harden them for jewelry making. Copper is also alloyed with nickel and zinc to make beautiful pieces of German silver.

Because copper is very durable, it is used extensively for the production of small ornamental objects and for structural objects that can’t endure excessive strain.

Further Reading:

History of Decorative Metal Works

4. Bronze Metal Art

Nearly all the ancient civilizations used bronze in their art even as its discovery dates back to the time of the Sumerians around 3500 BC.

Harder than iron with anti-corrosive qualities, it is the most popular metal for cast metal sculptures and statues and was used mainly as Roman weapons of war in ancient times.

Bronze is strong and durable and can be cast with ease in the most intricate delicate patterns or imposing and magnificent forms, all in a great variety of colours, shapes, and styles. It is more popularly used than copper (and brass) to create metal ornaments, sculptures, statues, figurines, plates, chalices, and unique hardware.

The surface finish of bronze works are obtained by dipping the finished object into a 'bath' of various types of acid but the finishing results are only light veneers and soon wear off if the object is knocked about, handled too frequently, or exposed to harsh weather conditions.

Bronze artworks include:

  • Ancient Greece busts
  • Figurines
  • Religious vessels
  • Sculptures
  • Statues
  • Metal plates
  • Masks
  • Monumental castings
Bronze is strong and durable.

Bronze is strong and durable.

5. Brass Metal and Art

Brass was discovered much later than bronze, around 500 BC, and is a bright yellow tinted metal that can be polished to a high shine and because it tarnishes easily, it requires a high level of polishing to keep it looking bright and lustrous.

Traditionally, metal craftsmen protected its shine with a coat of lacquer. Though this may have prolonged its shine, it still didn’t stop it from tarnishing.

Brass is soft and malleable and can be rolled into thin sheets after which designs can be etched, stamped, hammered out, and ‘spun’ while shapes and forms can be easily created.

It is also used as base materials for decorative metal ornaments and jewelry that are thinly or thickly coated in silver or gold.

Brass art and decorative items include:

  • Wearable brass art
  • Vintage brass motifs
  • Jewelry
  • Musical instruments
  • Brass stampings
  • Ornaments
  • Antique padlocks
  • Door knockers and other intricate and decorative ironmongery
  • Retro hardware
  • Brass statues and sculptures
  • Furniture and furnishings hardware

Other Metals Used for Decorative Arts

There are a number of metal objects of art that are greatly valued for their craftsmanship and designs. They are not necessarily valuable metals but they possess great decorative value. These metals include antique silver, pewter, classic Sheffield plate, and lead.

© 2012 artsofthetimes


Sani Muhammad Babangida on December 21, 2019:

Metal sculptures are done for aesthetic purposes.

artsofthetimes (author) on April 23, 2019:

TheSevenElementsls, I will avoid using:


Mercury (for obvious reasons),


and, Iridium.

TheSevenElementals on April 22, 2019:

What type of metal should be avoided while making a sculpture?

artsofthetimes (author) on December 27, 2018:

Rewati, I suggest you use bronze.

It is the most popularly used metal for metal sculptures. It is long lasting and does not require as much cleaning and polishing as brass (another metal you can use).

Bronze sculptures are easily cleaned and shined with a soft dry cloth. This translates to easy maintenance.

Rewati Prasad Rai on December 26, 2018:

I wish to make bust of my late father and mother. Kindly suggest what metal to be used so that it gives good effect and it should last for long time.

artsofthetimes (author) on October 09, 2018:

You are welcome.

RTalloni on October 08, 2018:

Thanks for this look at metal arts.

tarang on April 28, 2018:

Bronze is the most popular metal for casting bronze sculptures and figurines. It is an alloy of copper with tin and other metals or non-metal and metalloids. Bronze has an unusual property of expanding slightly before regaining a shape and it tends to shrink a little once cooled down, thus it is being used for many generations for sculpture making. Bronze alloy strength and ductility it’s been a favorite choice of metal to cast Sculptures in