1721, "alloy of copper and (usually) a smaller amount of tin," from French bronze, from Italian bronzo, from Medieval Latin bronzium, which is of uncertain origin. Perhaps cognate (via notion of color) with Venetian bronza "glowing coals," or German brunst "fire." Perhaps influenced by Latin Brundisium the Italian town of Brindisi (Pliny writes of aes Brundusinum). Perhaps ultimately from Persian birinj "copper."
In Middle English, the distinction between bronze (copper-tin alloy) and brass (copper-zinc alloy) was not clear, and both were called bras (see brass (n.)). Used historically for bells, cannons, statuary, and fine mechanical works. Also from French are Dutch brons, German Bronze, etc., and ultimately from the Medieval Latin word are Spanish bronce, Russian bronza, Polish bronc, Albanian brunze, etc.
A bronze medal has been given to a third-place finisher at least since 1852. The archaeological Bronze Age (1850) falls between the Stone and Iron ages, and is a reference to the principal material for making weapons and ornaments.
1640s, "give the color or appearance of bronze to," from French bronzer (16c.) or else from bronze (n.). Figuratively, of feelings, hearts, etc., "to harden like bronze," 1726. Meaning "to make to be brown or bronze in color" (by exposure to the sun, etc.) is from 1792. Related: Bronzed; bronzing.