Patinas are applied to bronze sculptures using various chemical solutions, which react with the surface to form a thin layer of color. However, a patina is not analogous to painting or staining the bronze metal because as the chemicals are applied it actually creates a chemical reaction with the metal. In other words, a patina is technically a layer of corrosion on the metal.

Patinas are often created by applying multiple layers of chemical solutions, and they can be either transparent or opaque. An experienced patineur can create a myriad number of colors and effects on a bronze, while a less talented individual can ruin an otherwise skillfully executed sculpture with a bad patina. Simply put, the application of the patina can make or break any given sculpture.

Although patination was an integral decorative technique applied to metals in many cultures for thousands of years, patination, as discerned in contemporary sculpture, originated in the Renaissance. During the Renaissance, patinas were applied to freshly cast bronzes to mimic the appearance of antiquity (and perhaps to pass off new sculpture for valuable ancient art). Consequently, traditional patinas gravitated towards various shades of brown and green – the natural colors developed on un-patinated bronze after prolonged exposure to the elements.

Here is an example of multiple colors used in a patina.

Towards the end of the 19th century techniques for patinating bronze evolved to include a wider array of colors and textures, and the 20th century patineurs created new techniques and methods which allowed a wide range of hues and colors unimagined by their Renaissance counterparts. Contemporary sculptors now have a bewildering range of color and shades to choose from.

The artisans at Stevens Art Foundry have over thirty years of experience with the patination process, and they understand the important role a patina plays in the final appearance of any sculpture. If you haven’t considered the patina in the design process of your artwork, or have but would like to consider alternatives you may have overlooked, feel free to ask one of our in-house patineurs for suggestions.