Home      Discussion      Topics      Dictionary      Almanac
Signup       Login
Cast Courts (Victoria and Albert Museum)

Cast Courts (Victoria and Albert Museum)

Ask a question about 'Cast Courts (Victoria and Albert Museum)'
Start a new discussion about 'Cast Courts (Victoria and Albert Museum)'
Answer questions from other users
Full Discussion Forum

The Cast Courts of the Victoria and Albert Museum
Victoria and Albert Museum
The Victoria and Albert Museum , set in the Brompton district of The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, London, England, is the world's largest museum of decorative arts and design, housing a permanent collection of over 4.5 million objects...

 in London, England, comprise two large halls. Unusually for a museum, the Cast Courts house a collection not of originals, but copies. Here are to be found reproductions of some of the most famous sculptures in the world. Most of the copies were made in the 19th century and in many cases they have better resisted the ravages of time, 20th-century pollution
Pollution is the introduction of contaminants into a natural environment that causes instability, disorder, harm or discomfort to the ecosystem i.e. physical systems or living organisms. Pollution can take the form of chemical substances or energy, such as noise, heat or light...

 and over-zealous conservation than the originals. In a few cases, such as the late 15th century Lübeck
The Hanseatic City of Lübeck is the second-largest city in Schleswig-Holstein, in northern Germany, and one of the major ports of Germany. It was for several centuries the "capital" of the Hanseatic League and, because of its Brick Gothic architectural heritage, is listed by UNESCO as a World...

 relief of Christ washing the Apostles' feet, the original has been destroyed and the cast is unique record of a lost work.


The practice of reproducing famous sculpture
Sculpture is three-dimensional artwork created by shaping or combining hard materials—typically stone such as marble—or metal, glass, or wood. Softer materials can also be used, such as clay, textiles, plastics, polymers and softer metals...

s in plaster
Plaster cast
A plaster cast is a copy made in plaster of another 3-dimensional form. The original from which the cast is taken may be a sculpture, building, a face, a fossil or other remains such as fresh or fossilised footprints – particularly in palaeontology .Sometimes a...

 dates back to the sixteenth century when Leone Leoni
Leone Leoni
Leone Leoni was an Italian sculptor of international outlook who travelled in Italy, Germany, Austria, France, the Spanish Netherlands and Spain. Leoni is regarded as the finest of the Cinquecento medallists. He made his reputation in commissions he received from the Habsburg monarchs Charles V,...

 assembled a collection of casts in Milan, he collected: "as many of the most celebrated works... carved and cast, antique and modern as he was able to obtain anywhere". Such private collections, however, remained modest and uncommon until the 18th century. By 1800 there were extensive collections in Berlin, Paris, Vienna and elsewhere.

Early in the 19th century there was growing interest in medieval art, and, perhaps as an expression of national pride, casts were made of outstanding national monuments particularly in France and Germany.

In Britain, from 1841 onwards, a collection of art from all periods and countries was being assembled by the Government School of Design. In 1852 this collection was taken over by the Museum of Manufactures when it was established at Marlborough House
Marlborough House
Marlborough House is a mansion in Westminster, London, in Pall Mall just east of St James's Palace. It was built for Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough, the favourite and confidante of Queen Anne. The Duchess wanted her new house to be "strong, plain and convenient and good"...

. By 1858 the museum had moved to its current location in South Kensington and the casts were displayed in various corridors and galleries.

In 1862, the collection was inflated by the acquisition of over 2,000 casts of decorative wood carving that had been used as examples for the craftsmen working on the new Westminster Palace.

By around 1860 the previously haphazard means of acquisition was supplemented by a more systematic approach: a list was drawn up of copies it was thought desirable to acquire and soon plans were drawn up to house them. As with the acquisition of original sculptures, this work was driven primarily by Henry Cole
Henry Cole
Sir Henry Cole was an English civil servant and inventor who facilitated many innovations in commerce and education in 19th century Britain...

 and John Charles Robinson. In contrast to other national collections, the collection at the V&A was conceived as being international in scope. Casts were acquired throughout the 1860s and 70s. Many of the casts were commissioned by the Museum or purchased from French or German firms. Other casts were obtained through exchange with other museums.

In 1864 plans for an international exchange of copies of 'the finest works of art which each country possesses' were drawn up by Henry Cole and the assistance of the Foreign Office was sought to obtain lists of major works in the possession of other European governments. This ambitious scheme culminated in 15 European princes being persuaded to sign up to the International Convention of promoting universally Reproductions of Works of Art at the Paris International Exhibition of 1867
Exposition Universelle (1867)
The Exposition Universelle of 1867 was a World Exposition held in Paris, France, in 1867.-Conception:In 1864, Emperor Napoleon III decreed that an international exposition should be held in Paris in 1867. A commission was appointed with Prince Jerome Napoleon as president, under whose direction...

. With this agreement, the Victoria and Albert Museum came to acquire the large and diverse collection of casts that it has today.

The Courts were designed by Major General Henry Scott
Henry Young Darracott Scott
Henry Young Darracott Scott RE was an English Major-General in the Corps of Royal Engineers, best known for the construction of London's Royal Albert Hall.-Life:...

 of the Royal Engineers
Royal Engineers
The Corps of Royal Engineers, usually just called the Royal Engineers , and commonly known as the Sappers, is one of the corps of the British Army....

 and were opened to the public in July 1873. The Courts are architecturally dramatic: they are large and high. The West Court is topped by a roof of glass that admits sunlight which is supplemented by electric lights; it predominantly contains casts of Northern European and Spanish sculpture and Trajan's Column
Trajan's Column
Trajan's Column is a Roman triumphal column in Rome, Italy, which commemorates Roman emperor Trajan's victory in the Dacian Wars. It was probably constructed under the supervision of the architect Apollodorus of Damascus at the order of the Roman Senate. It is located in Trajan's Forum, built near...

. The East Court has a high ceiling and has casts of Italian monuments. The two Courts are divided by corridors on two levels; the mid-level corridor allows the Courts to be viewed from above. The West Court (that includes Trajan's Column) also has a vertiginously high walkway around it at a third level. The walkway is contiguous with a space that is used to store objects, mostly casts, that are not on public display; the walkway and storage area are not open to the public. It is said that the proportions of the West Court were informed by the need to display Trajan's column and the imposing Portico de la Gloria.

When the cast courts first opened, they included displays of large scale architectural model
Architectural model
An architectural model is a type of a scale model, tangible representation of a structure built to study aspects of an architectural design or to communicate design ideas to clients, committees, and the general public...

 and many casts of architectural details, hence the original name Architectural Courts.

When the courts first opened to the public they attracted much attention although the initial press reaction was mixed. The Art Journal, while generally favourable, was particularly critical of the inclusion of Trajan's Column which had the 'effect of crowding out of sight those (casts) of more sensible proportions' — a criticism that seems justified. Other museums also received casts, but chose to display the frieze in an unrolled manner and presented at eye level, as can now be seen at the Museum of Roman Civilization
Museum of Roman Civilization
The Museum of the Roman Civilization is a museum in Rome , devoted to the aspects of the Ancient Roman civilization.-History and General Introduction:...

 and National Museum of Romanian History
National Museum of Romanian History
The National Museum of Romanian History is a museum on Calea Victoriei in Bucharest, Romania, which contains Romanianhistorical artifacts from prehistoric times up to modern times....


In the 1920s, discussions within the museum focused on the lack of space for display. It was suggested that the cast collection be moved to The Crystal Palace
The Crystal Palace
The Crystal Palace was a cast-iron and glass building originally erected in Hyde Park, London, England, to house the Great Exhibition of 1851. More than 14,000 exhibitors from around the world gathered in the Palace's of exhibition space to display examples of the latest technology developed in...

 where another large collection of casts was also housed. The proposed move was rejected by the then director, Eric Maclagan which was fortunate because in 1936 Crystal Palace was destroyed by fire. Twenty three casts, mainly effigies, that escaped the inferno were transferred to the museum and were the last major additions to the cast collection.

Trajan's Column

The full height of Trajan's Column
Trajan's Column
Trajan's Column is a Roman triumphal column in Rome, Italy, which commemorates Roman emperor Trajan's victory in the Dacian Wars. It was probably constructed under the supervision of the architect Apollodorus of Damascus at the order of the Roman Senate. It is located in Trajan's Forum, built near...

 could not possibly be accommodated and the column is divided into two roughly equal parts. The original column in Rome is some 30m high and included an internal spiral staircase which led to a platform at the top. The cast is of the huge pedestal and the entire column, but excludes the viewing platform. The original statue on the top was lost in antiquity. The pedestal is covered in illustrations of booty from the Dacian Wars and the column is covered in a detailed frieze illustrating the conquest of Dacia by the Roman emperor Trajan
Trajan , was Roman Emperor from 98 to 117 AD. Born into a non-patrician family in the province of Hispania Baetica, in Spain Trajan rose to prominence during the reign of emperor Domitian. Serving as a legatus legionis in Hispania Tarraconensis, in Spain, in 89 Trajan supported the emperor against...

The frieze spirals around the column and describes in narrative form two wars against Dacia, the first (AD 101–102) is illustrated in the lower portion of the column, and the second (AD 105–106) in the upper portion. The dividing point on the column is marked by a personification of Victory
Victoria (mythology)
In ancient Roman religion, Victoria was the personified goddess of victory. She is the Roman equivalent of the Greek goddess Nike, and was associated with Bellona. She was adapted from the Sabine agricultural goddess Vacuna and had a temple on the Palatine Hill...

 writing on a shield and this is approximately the point at which the cast of the column is divided.

The column was cast in many small parts and these parts were reconstituted on brick chimney-like structures built especially for the purpose. Just as on the original there is a door on the cast of the pedestal that affords access to the interior, but within the cast there is nothing to be seen but the white painted interior of the brick chimney. The upper portion is similarly hollow, but there is no means of access.

In Rome, the frieze is extremely difficult to see. The viewing conditions in the museum are also less than optimal. The lower section is atop a huge pedestal some 4 metres (13.1 ft) high. Consequently, the only part of the frieze that can be examined closely by the public is the bottom of the upper portion. The mid-level corridor does afford an alternative view albeit at a distance and only from one side. The upper-level walkway looks down on the column and does give views all round, but at a significant distance and this is not open to the public.

Portico de la Gloria

The portal, known as the Portico de la Gloria is from the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela
Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela
Santiago de Compostela Cathedral is a Roman Catholic cathedral of the archdiocese of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain. The cathedral is the reputed burial-place of Saint James the Greater, one of the apostles of Jesus Christ. It is the destination of the Way of St...

 in Spain. The original dates from the 12th century and is by the Master Mateo.

In 1865, Robinson had visited Santiago de Compostela
Santiago de Compostela
Santiago de Compostela is the capital of the autonomous community of Galicia, Spain.The city's Cathedral is the destination today, as it has been throughout history, of the important 9th century medieval pilgrimage route, the Way of St. James...

 and on seeing the cathedral urged for a cast of the doorway to be made. This was prior to the construction of the Cast Courts and so allowed for the design to accommodate this vast artefact. The task of making the cast went to Domenico Brucciani & Company, a firm that later effectively acted as a franchise of the museum and continued to make casts until the early 1920s.

The casting of this immense structure required an arduous sea voyage and protracted, delicate negotiations with the ecclesiastical authorities. At the opening of the Cast Courts, the cast of the Portico de la Gloria was critically acclaimed and was applauded as a "glory to the museum".

Baptistry Doors

This copy is an electrotype
Electrotyping is a chemical method for forming metal parts that exactly reproduce a model. The method was invented by Moritz von Jacobi in Russia in 1838, and was immediately adopted for applications in printing and several other fields...

 of the Florence Baptistry Doors known as the Gates of Paradise by Lorenzo Ghiberti
Lorenzo Ghiberti
Lorenzo Ghiberti , born Lorenzo di Bartolo, was an Italian artist of the early Renaissance best known for works in sculpture and metalworking.-Early life:...


School of Athens

There is a painted copy of Raphael
Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino , better known simply as Raphael, was an Italian painter and architect of the High Renaissance. His work is admired for its clarity of form and ease of composition and for its visual achievement of the Neoplatonic ideal of human grandeur...

's School of Athens
The School of Athens
The School of Athens, or in Italian, is one of the most famous paintings by the Italian Renaissance artist Raphael. It was painted between 1510 and 1511 as a part of Raphael's commission to decorate with frescoes the rooms now known as the , in the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican...

 over 4 metres by 8 metres in size, dated 1755 by Anton Raphael Mengs
Anton Raphael Mengs
Anton Raphael Mengs was a German painter, active in Rome, Madrid and Saxony, who became one of the precursors to Neoclassical painting.- Biography :Mengs was born in 1728 at Ústí nad Labem in Bohemia...

 on display in the eastern Cast Court.

Pulpit from Pisa Cathedral

A plaster cast of Giovanni Pisano
Giovanni Pisano
Giovanni Pisano was an Italian sculptor, painter and architect. Son of the famous sculptor Nicola Pisano, he received his training in the workshop of his father....

's pulpit from Pisa Cathedral.

Three Davids

Michelangelo's David was the museum's first major cast of Italian figure sculpture. It was acquired in 1857 when it was sent as a gift from the Grand Duke of Tuscany to Queen Victoria — apparently in an attempt to placate English anger at his refusal to allow the National Gallery to export Domenico Ghirlandaio
Domenico Ghirlandaio
Domenico Ghirlandaio was an Italian Renaissance painter from Florence. Among his many apprentices was Michelangelo.-Early years:Ghirlandaio's full name is given as Domenico di Tommaso di Currado di Doffo Bigordi...

's Madonna Enthroned. The gift was entirely unexpected and the Queen promptly gave the cast to the then South Kensington Museum which is now the Victoria and Albert Museum.

In the reign of Queen Victoria, displays of male nudity
Nudity is the state of wearing no clothing. The wearing of clothing is exclusively a human characteristic. The amount of clothing worn depends on functional considerations and social considerations...

 was contentious and the Queen herself was said to find it shocking. The museum commissioned a suitably proportioned fig leaf
Fig leaf
A fig leaf is the covering up of an act or an object that is embarrassing or disagreeable. The term is a metaphorical reference to the Biblical Book of Genesis, in which Adam and Eve used fig leaves to cover "their nakedness" after eating the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and...

 that was kept in readiness in case of a visit by the Queen or other female dignitary: the fig leaf was then hung on the figure using a pair of hooks. Today, the fig leaf is no longer used, but it is displayed in a case at the back of the cast's plinth.

Donatello's bronze
Bronze is a metal alloy consisting primarily of copper, usually with tin as the main additive. It is hard and brittle, and it was particularly significant in antiquity, so much so that the Bronze Age was named after the metal...

 statue of David (circa 1440s) is notable as the first unsupported standing work in bronze cast since classical times. The cast is painted to resemble the bronze of the original.

A third image of David
David was the second king of the united Kingdom of Israel according to the Hebrew Bible and, according to the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, an ancestor of Jesus Christ through both Saint Joseph and Mary...

 is a cast of David by Verrocchio
David (Verrocchio)
Andrea del Verrocchio's bronze statue of David was most likely made between 1473 and 1475. It was commissioned by the Medici family. It is sometimes claimed that Verrocchio modelled the statue after a handsome pupil in his workshop, the young Leonardo da Vinci.The statue represents the youthful...


Other notable casts

Early in the 20th century, there was something of a reaction against copying works of art and interest in the collection — and other similar collections — declined. Only more recently has revivied interest in the collection, led to once again, it being fully appreciated.

In recent years, the Cast Courts have been used to display the works of contemporary artists. From November 2003 until June 2004, artist Rachel Whiteread
Rachel Whiteread
Rachel Whiteread, CBE is an English artist, best known for her sculptures, which typically take the form of casts. She won the annual Turner Prize in 1993—the first woman to win the prize....

's cast of Room 101
Room 101
Room 101 is a place introduced in the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell. It is a torture chamber in the Ministry of Love in which the Party attempts to subject a prisoner to his or her own worst nightmare, fear or phobia....

: the BBC office where George Orwell
George Orwell
Eric Arthur Blair , better known by his pen name George Orwell, was an English author and journalist...

 worked some years before writing his famous novel Nineteen Eighty-four
Nineteen Eighty-Four
Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell is a dystopian novel about Oceania, a society ruled by the oligarchical dictatorship of the Party...

. The original room 101 was demolished in the restructuring of Broadcasting House
Broadcasting House
Broadcasting House is the headquarters and registered office of the BBC in Portland Place and Langham Place, London.The building includes the BBC Radio Theatre from where music and speech programmes are recorded in front of a studio audience...


External links