Iron as a material for sculptors

As early as the second half of the 15th century, iron founders tried to decorate their purpose-bound stove plates with ornaments and figurative reliefs. Finally, especially in the Siegerland and in the Eifel, true splendour and show furnace plates were cast, out of a long tradition, which were illustrated with heroes and gods, battles and everyday events. As venerable as their age, as picturesque as these works appear through rust and cracks, they are nevertheless imperfect in terms of casting technology, as the right moulding sand and the correct iron composition, which are essential for accurate casting, had not yet been found.

It was not until 1784 that perfect artificial iron castings were made in the Lauchhammer foundry. These reproduced the moulded model with pinpoint accuracy and could compete with bronze castings in terms of cleanliness. There was great pleasure in these technical feats. That is why the state set up an iron foundry in Gliwice in 1796 and a second one in Berlin in 1804. At the same time, but independently of these three, the foundry in Sayn near Koblenz began to cultivate artificial iron casting. The New Year's plaques of this and the Berlin foundry, which were barely the size of a postcard and almost as thin as paper and featured reliefs of unheard-of fineness, were the lasting highlights of the casting technique. Watch chains and rings, the most delicate women's jewellery, meticulous medals and plaques with portraits of kings, statesmen, princesses and beautiful girls, tobacco boxes and candlesticks were now cast in iron and are today highly prized objects for collectors and museums.

The gradual onset of industrialisation then undermined this art. When the state foundry in Berlin was closed down in 1873, no injustice was done, for artificial iron casting had ceased to have an effect as a cultural carrier.

Only Lauchhammer tenaciously held on to the tradition. In 1921, at the beginning of a long-planned series, this foundry again brought out a Christmas plaque and thus, as 200 years ago, gave the impetus for renewed care and attention to artificial iron casting.

Tasteful considerations were the reason, but today, due to the savings in copper, there are also significant economic intentions. It will always be difficult to cast full sculptures in iron, as it is impossible to make corrections after casting and only the cumbersome and expensive lost wax process allows seamless castings. However, for reliefs, plaques, medals, and inscription plates to be cast conically from a sand mould, iron is a willing and, in its austere blackness, an interesting material. But we must not fall into the mistake, which can be observed again and again, of simply casting models in iron that were intended for bronze.

The far greater lightlessness of iron - in comparison to bronze - demands its very own taut and concise shaping. This correct, iron-like character of the relief can only be achieved through the negative cut; only through the cut, as a contrast to the softer modelling, does the creator have the possibility to place the elevations hard and tightly in the little light. When the forms have become plump and precise through this technique, only then does the charm of the iron fully reveal itself.

Heinrich Moshage (1896 - 1968)