Possibly from as early as Babylonian times to as late as the 18th century, it was believed that there were seven pure metals associated with the seven known celestial bodies, each of which was personified by a Roman god. Aphrodite, or Venus to the Romans, was associated with copper, while Hermes was associated with mercury—the metal taking its name from the god’s Roman pseudonym. The merging of the two gods to form a new body represents the merging of copper and mercury through alchemy, which creates a magnificent golden patina.
The image of the hermaphrodite signifies “this idea of doing something that nature doesn’t naturally do, the idea that you’re manipulating nature,” as Brafman explains. It will be displayed in the exhibition alongside two different objects—a Bodhisattva from 11th-century Nepal and a Christ in Majesty figure from 12th-century France, both in similar pose—each crafted using this process of mercury amalgam gilding.