Plaster Casters: V&A Relaunch Cast Court First Opened In 1873

The V&A have announced the re-launch of  the newly refurbished Italian sculpture Cast Court. Measuring 24 metres in height, the two galleries house some of the V&A’s largest objects and are among the most visited galleries in the museum.

Collecting plaster cast reproductions and electrotypes reached the height of popularity in the mid to late 19th-century when few people could afford to travel abroad. The South Kensington Museum (as the V&A was then known) was at the forefront of this enthusiasm, enabling visitors to admire and study faithful reproductions of important European monuments and works of art.

The V&A’s cast collection is now an exceptional example of this phenomenon and serves as a valuable and unique record of the finished sculptures and carvings from which they were made, as many of the originals may now have been lost, damaged or badly restored. The Cast Courts are also the only public galleries in the Museum which display the same collection of objects as when they were first opened.

The Court will feature over 60 of the V&A’s finest 19th-century reproductions of important Italian Renaissance monuments. It includes the five metre high cast of Michelangelo’s David (c.1856), the set of electrotype doors cast from the Gates of Paradise at Florence Cathedral (c.1867) measuring over seven and a half meters in height, a plaster cast of a pulpit from Pisa Cathedral by Giovanni Pisano (c.1865), and the monumental cast of Jacopo della Quercia’s great arch from the Basilica of San Petronio, Bologna (1886).

Upon reopening, the Italian Cast Court will be renamed the Weston Cast Court in recognition of The Garfield Weston Foundation’s longstanding and generous support of the V&A. Philippa Charles, director of the Foundation said: “The Garfield Weston Foundation is delighted to be associated with the renovation of the magnificent Italian Cast Court. It’s incredible to be able to see and study brilliant reproductions of such important historic works and we are proud that this this experience is now secure for future generations of visitors to the V&A.”

The renovation of the gallery has enabled new study and conservation of the collection which has furthered understanding of h0w the casts were formed and the workshops where the sculptures were made. Such in-depth examination and preservation of the collection has not taken place for over half a century and the process has aided discoveries into the techniques of casts, surface coatings, finishes and mould making. The displays will be reconfigured with new interpretation to provide a wider understanding of the history of the objects and reveal the processes behind the creation of the casts on display.

The conservation work has also included extensive research into the original decorative architectural scheme of the gallery. Research completed by Crick Smith, working with Julian Harrap and Metaphor architects, has reinstated a decorative scheme that pays tribute to the Cast Court’s original colours, architectural details and finishes. The 19th-century ceramic tiled floor will also be restored and repairs to the glazed roof, ceiling and walls will return the court to its original splendour.

V&A staff and conservators will be unveiling the five-metre cast of Michelangelo’s David ahead of the public reopening of the newly renovated Weston Cast Court on 29th November. Probably the most famous sculpture in the world, David has been reproduced in millions of copies, large and small. This rare life-size original cast has been fully cleaned by V&A’s conservation team. It was given as a gift to Queen Victoria by the Grand Duke Leopold II of Tuscany in 1857. It was made a year earlier from a mould of the 1501-4 original and is made up of several hundred pieces.

Marjorie Trusted, Lead Curator of the Cast Courts, said: “This splendid gallery displays some of the greatest sculptures of the Italian Renaissance, seen through life-size and dramatic 19th-century plaster casts, in a richly-coloured and imposing interior. The renovation will see the gallery transformed into one of the most impressive spaces in the V&A.”

The refurbishment of the Cast Court is part of the Museum’s FuturePlan to transform the V&A through new galleries and exciting redisplays of its collections. Open from 29th November

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