A baby sculpted in bronze
I’ve seen the little shoes that parents have cast in bronze as a memory of the time when their babies were cute and little and oh-so-precious. Imagine my surprise when I came upon a whole baby sculpted in bronze during a walk-through recently at an auction house.
There the child was, as naked as the day as he/she was born. I wondered if the sculpture had been cast in bronze and would be light enough for me to move, so I applied pressure. It didn’t budge, so I could only assume that it was pure bronze.
The sculpture was a strange sight to me because it was the first I’d come across at auction. It was also different because it seemed so massive, lacking the cuddly cuteness of a pair of bronze shoes.
I could sense the movement in the piece, though, that moment when the child turned and reached out to someone. It made me wonder. Did the baby pose? Babies won’t sit still long enough for that. Was the sculpture done from a photo or memory? Who commissioned it? Someone who wanted more than just baby shoes to remember those early innocent years?
So I went Googling to find out more. And I did, discovering that there is an industry out there that caters to parents who want to preserve not only the shoes, but their babies’ hands, feet and anything else that moves them.
I found a retail site selling bronze sculptures of a sleeping baby in a cradle, a sleeping baby in over-sized hands and a sleeping baby as garden ornament. There was also a baby statue, with photos showing how it was made from actual photo of sleeping baby to mold to finished product.
Interestingly, all the pieces were of babies quietly sleeping, motionless, not awake and moving like the sculpture at auction.
I could not find much definitive information about when this practice began, but I did find a lead on the website of Wrightson & Platt, a London-based company that bronze-casts baby feet and hands by commission from parents. The company said that it was following a tradition set by Queen Victoria during the 19th century.
The queen commissioned sculptor Mary Thornycroft to make marble sculptures of her babies’ forearms and feet, according to the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, which has a daughter’s forearm and hand from 1848 in its collection. Molds of the children’s arms were taken while they were asleep. Thornycroft also created marble busts of the children.
The Wrightson company’s photo gallery featured bronze casts of a woman’s pregnant belly cupped by her hands, and baby feet and hands. They are cast in bronze, sterling silver and lead crystal in various poses, and the prices are steep. The company also offered a video of how the products were made.
One of its loveliest pieces was a sculpture of three generations of hands: grandmother, mother and child.