Queen Victoria’s personal plaster cast of Michelangelo’s David. The sculpture, made from a mold taken from Michelangelo’s original marble work by Florentine cast-maker Clemente Papi in the 1850s, was a gift to the Queen Victoria from Leopold II, the Grand Duke of Tuscany. The nudity of the sculpture so offended Victoria’s fragile sensibilities that she outfitted the sculpture with a fig leaf.
Though the fig leaf has long been removed, the detachable modesty garment remains part of the museum’s collection. The work has been restored for this weekend’s reopening of the Italian Cast Court of London’s Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A).
The Cast Court originally opened in 1873, the galleries were conceived as a definitive collection of great works from Europe, featuring full-size fragments of exotic cathedrals and palaces, duplicated in Victorian London for the edification of all.
The court was once crammed full of ephemera, from models to paper mosaics, now the display has been thinned out to allow each piece to breathe. In the centre of the room, the younger Giovanni Pisano goes up against his father, Nicola, in a duel of pulpits from Pisa.
The five-metre high plaster cast of Michelangelo’s David stands tall in the V&A’s refurbished cast courts, looking on with a furrowed brow. “It’s the first time he’s been cleaned for 30 years,” says conservator Johanna Puisto from her ladder, to the Guardian. “He was covered in a thick layer of museum dust and his skin was peeling in places.”
“It’s tempting to think of a cast of a sculpture as something of an inferior copy, but the V&A’s plaster cast of probably the most famous sculpture in the world is much more than a simple reproduction of Michelangelo’s original,” said V&A sculpture conservator Johanna Puisto, stating to the Daily Mail that “it is a work of art in its own right and a superb example of great craftsmanship and technical achievement.”
The court reopens as the Weston Cast Court on November 29th, and will feature over 60 19th-century reproductions of masterpieces from the Italian Renaissance. The David will be joined by copies of Lorenzo Ghiberti’s work ‘Gates of Paradise’ from the Florence Baptistery, and the pulpit at the Pisa Cathedral, originally created by Giovanni Pisano.