Type of lustrous, silvery metal that tarnishes to a dull bluish grey. It is extracted from galena (lead sulphide). Lead is a comparatively soft, malleable metal that can be fabricated, bossed, carved and filed with ease, but its most useful properties are its low melting point, 327°C, and the ease with which it can be cast. The masters and moulds for casting can be much less complex than those used for other metals, bronze for example, because the fine detail can be carved afterwards. The moulds themselves can be made simply and cheaply from readily available plaster and building sand, and need only be fired sufficiently to drive out mechanically combined water. It is also durable and resistant to corrosion.
These properties must have been an important consideration in the use of lead for the mass production of garden ornaments, even though it has disadvantages as a medium for sculpture. It is susceptible to ‘creep’ (the slow flow of the metal), so large pieces must be supported by an armature. It is also highly toxic, and care must be taken when using the metal or its oxides.
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© Grove Art / OUP

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