1875: Modern Cyclopes

Adolph von Menzel - Iron Rolling Mill (Modern Cyclopes) (1872-1875)

Adolph von Menzel: Iron Rolling Mill (Modern Cyclopes) (1872-1875)

The elder Cyclopesnot to be confused with the shepherd Cyclopes encountered by Odysseuswere single-eyed immortal giants cast into the depths of the earth upon birth by their father, Uranus, along with the hundred-handed Hecatoncheires. When the Titans overthrew Uranus, the Cyclopes were driven into Hell, but later released in exchange for forging the thunderbolts of Zeus, the trident of Poseidon, and the helm of invisibility worn by Haides.

To research his subject, Menzel traveled to the state-owned Königshütte Rail Works in his native province of Silesia in the late summer of 1872. He visited a foundry noted both for its sophisticated machinery and, just as important, for its emerging social tensions (note the figure of the factory inspector, who is profiled against the glow of a furnace in the painting’s middle ground [left]). Menzel read the engineering literature of the day, sketched unfamiliar tools, and studied the motions of workers who moved in harmony with giant machines…. Menzel explained to Max Jordan that he had depicted the production of a length of rail through its many stages: from a white-hot “puddle ball” (left), through a series of rollers (center), and then on to the three figures at the right who wait to receive it, whereupon they will begin to shape it into a rail. The scale of the actual Königshütte enterprise depicted in Menzel’s painting was nothing short of remarkable. Three thousand workers were employed in seven principal furnaces, 71 puddling furnaces, and 33 smelting furnaces. Together with 4 Bessemer converters, these units produced 55,000 tons of raw iron, 43,000 tons of iron bars and rails, 750 tons of raw zinc, and 10,000 tones of steel for the railways in a typical year. (source)

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