SCULPTURE SECRETS 6

In this new 8-part series, we explore the stories of our Sculpture Galleries and uncover curious things that usually only curators get to see! Discover sculptors’ secrets and makers’ marks, focus on flashlines and fig leaves, and seek missing arms – and even extra feet – as Abbey Ellis traces the tales of our cast collection.

In this instalment of SCULPTURE SECRETS, we meet the goddess of love and discover a mystery surrounding her feet that has left our curators stumped!

Adding to Aphrodite's Mystique

In the first part of this series – Secrets of the Sculptor's Workshop – we introduced you to our cast of Apollo Belvedere, who is sadly missing his arms. By contrast, our cast of Venus of Melos has the opposite problem: over the course of her history, she has gained a body part!

Cast of Venus of Melos (or Aphrodite of Melos). Photo: Abbey Ellis.

When the original marble Venus (Aphrodite) was first discovered on the Greek island of Melos two hundred years ago, in April 1820, this representation of the goddess of love was found without her arms or left foot. However, a glance at the Venus in our Sculpture Galleries will indicate some noticeable differences. Mysteriously, she has grown a left foot.

The mysterious left foot of Venus of Melos. Photo: Abbey Ellis.

How exactly did this happen? Our curators cannot be sure. Venus was a popular subject for plaster cast makers (formatore) and many reproductions of this particular sculpture can be found across the globe.

Prominent London cast producer Domenico Brucciani, discussed in our earlier post on Mysterious Makers’ Marks, manufactured copies of Venus. She features in his sale catalogues, as seen below. Can you spot her? She is labelled with the number 2377.

Sale catalogue from D. Brucciani and Co. Ltd. (1914). Photograph courtesy Rebecca Wade.

The Venus from Brucciani’s catalogue, however, does not have a left foot. While we do not know if our cast was made by Brucciani, it is possible that our Venus of Melos was cast without a left foot and that, later on, somebody modelled her a new foot and stuck it on to the cast. Perhaps a student in the Cork School of Art – which was once based in our building at Emmet Place – was responsible for the new addition!

It is perhaps more likely that our Venus of Melos was not made from the same kind of mould as that in Brucciani’s workshop. A different cast maker may have fashioned a new mould for the sculpture which included a left foot, as is the case with the one in the collection of the Royal Academy of Arts, London.

Although the truth in the tale may be difficult to uncover, we do know for certain that our Venus' left big toe has been repaired a number of times in its history – most recently by sculpture conservator Eoghan Daltun in 2019. Venus, or Aphrodite's millennia-old mystique continues!

From Aphrodite to Apollo

Venus’s foot is not the only unsolved mystery surrounding our cast collection. Further secrets surround sketches of the casts made by William Willes (c.1775-1851), the first headmaster of the School of Design in Cork back in 1850. Willes is an intriguing character: Cork-born and educated in Edinburgh, he was a doctor by trade. In his youth, he received some training in painting from notable Cork artist Nathaniel Grogan (1740-1807) but didn’t fully focus on artistic pursuits until his thirties. He went on to study art at the Royal Academy in London and exhibited paintings of Irish landscapes during his time there.

William Willes appears to reference The Fighting Gladiator in his Study of a Male Torso. Collection Crawford Art Gallery, Cork.

During his career, Willes produced a sketch of the Apollo Belvedere and a study of a male torso that looks to be inspired by the cast of The Fighting Gladiator. Mysteriously, Willes’ drawing of the Apollo Belvedere lacks the fig leaf that was applied to our cast after it arrived in Cork in 1818. The fig leaves were not removed from the casts until 2019. You can read all about this process and the famous face who lent a hand in our previous post, Mary Beard Reveals All.

William Willes, Lower Half of a Drawing of the Apollo Belvedere. Collection Crawford Art Gallery, Cork.

Is Apollo’s missing fig leaf an example of artistic licence taken by Willes when drawing the cast? Or, as our cast of Apollo Belvedere does not have a right arm, maybe Willes studied a different, leaf-less Apollo?

Unresolved questions like this are just one of the joys associated with working on a historic collection of sculptures – there are always more mysteries to uncover!

Family Fun

Virtual fun in the Sculpture Galleries doesn’t stop here! Each post in this series will be accompanied by an activity especially tailored for a younger audience. This time, we challenge you to a virtual jigsaw puzzle!

Next in the series: Casting a Light (22 August 2020)

Abbey Ellis is a PhD researcher at the University of Leicester and Ashmolean Museum, Oxford on an AHRC CDP placement at Crawford Art Gallery. Her research focuses on archaeological plaster casts, sculptural materials and making, and authenticity.

SCULPTURE SECRETS 5

In this new 8-part series, we explore the stories of our Sculpture Galleries and uncover curious things that usually only curators get to see! Discover sculptors’ secrets and makers’ marks, focus on flashlines and fig leaves, and seek missing arms – and even extra feet – as Abbey Ellis traces the tales of our cast collection.

In part five of SCULPTURE SECRETS, we take a closer look at a few unique features of our cast collection that mark these historic works out not just as reproductions but as individual objects in their own right.

Flashlines to the Fore

In the first part of the series – Secrets of the Sculptor’s Workshop – we revealed that the plaster casts in our Sculpture Galleries were not made in one piece. In fact, multiple moulds were used to cast the various body parts, which were then fitted together like a 3D puzzle.

These jigsaw-like moulds leave their mark on the finished sculptures in the form of flashlines. Just like the seams on your clothing, these flashlines indicate where the mould pieces joined together during the casting process.

Sometimes the moulds did not sit exactly flush, however, and a small dribble of plaster seeped through the crack. This produced a raised line on the surface of the finished piece. Can you spot the flashlines on the surface of the arm of The Fighting Gladiator in the photo below?

Flashlines on The Fighting Gladiator. Photo: Abbey Ellis.

Flashlines could be chiselled away by the cast maker once they extracted the work from the mould. However, a close look at several of the casts on display in our Sculpture Galleries shows that many cast makers chose not to remove these lines.

Why was this the case? In part two of the series – Another Side to Socrates – we learned that cast making was a very skilled process, taking four years of dedicated training to master. As a consequence, many patrons who commissioned casts preferred to have the flashlines left intact as a testament to the hard work and skill of the cast maker.

Drips and Dribbles

As if looking at his mysterious flashlines wasn’t enough, The Fighting Gladiator has more secrets to share. A quick peek at his posterior reveals another side to his history. Can you notice the drips and dribbles of paint on his buttocks in the photo below?

These remnants of paint attest to the touch-ups that our casts have undergone over their history to maintain their brilliant white colour. Some of the conservation work has been more skilful than others; the more visible signs of painting is thought to date to a time when the casts were valued to a lesser extent than they are now.

Since 2017, most of our casts have undergone expert conservation, but some of these drips and dribbles have been retained as they remain part of the unique story of our cast collection. To see this conservation in action, check out our previous entry in the series – Mary Beard Reveals All – which focused on last year's The Fig Reveal.

Family Fun

Virtual fun in the Sculpture Galleries doesn’t stop here! Each post in this series will be accompanied by an activity sheet especially tailored for a younger audience. In this instalment, we invite our artistic explorers to imagine our cast of The Fighting Gladiator in amazing technicolour…

Click on the image below to download a printable PDF file.

Next in the series: Aphrodite's Left Foot (1 August 2020)

Abbey Ellis is a PhD researcher at the University of Leicester and Ashmolean Museum, Oxford on an AHRC CDP placement at Crawford Art Gallery. Her research focuses on archaeological plaster casts, sculptural materials and making, and authenticity.

SCULPTURE SECRETS 4

In this new 8-part series, we explore the stories of our Sculpture Galleries and uncover curious things that usually only curators get to see! Discover sculptors’ secrets and makers’ marks, focus on flashlines and fig leaves, and seek missing arms – and even extra feet – as Abbey Ellis traces the tales of our cast collection.

In the fourth part of SCULPTURE SECRETS, we take a peek back at a memorable conservation project and an unexpected visitor...

Mary Beard Reveals All

Irish viewers tuning in to the recent BBC2 documentary Shock of the Nude will have seen a very familiar face gracing our Sculpture Galleries.

Filming for the series brought prominent Classicist and TV regular Professor Mary Beard to Crawford Art Gallery, where she was able to play a hands-on role in our midsummer conservation project, The Fig Reveal (17-28 June 2019).

Visitors watching The Fig Reveal conservation in process, June 2019. Photo: Michael Waldron.

During her visit, Mary assisted expert conservator Eoghan Dalton in removing fig-leaves from six of our historic plaster casts: Adonis, Apollo Belvedere, Laocoön and His Sons, and the Belvedere Torso.

Why were the fig-leaves removed? These fig-leaves were not original features of the casts, they were probably added in the Victorian period, or a little before, as modesty coverings for the nude sculptures. In ancient Greece and Rome, perfectly formed naked bodies of the sculptures symbolised the virtues of training hard in the gymnasium, but the Victorians saw the same nude pieces as a source of depravity and vice!

They attached fig-leaves to casts using either metal hooks or a plaster bonding agent to prevent anyone from catching a glimpse of the sculptural genitalia. The fig-leaf was likely chosen as a modesty motif as a direct reference to the Biblical Adam and Eve, who used fig-leaves to cover themselves following their expulsion from paradise.

Today, the nude form is no longer so taboo. Crawford Art Gallery’s curators decided to restore the casts to how they originally appeared upon arrival in Cork over 200 years ago. In the following snippet from her documentary, Mary Beard is shown gently helping Eoghan Dalton to prise a plaster leaf from the surface of Apollo Belvedere. Mary jokingly compares the process to a brutal form of dentistry!

The fig-leaves removed by Eoghan and Mary have been retained as archival documents of the casts’ histories and are on display in a dedicated case. In the photo below, can you see the marks indicating where the genitalia would have been positioned behind the fig-leaf?

Family Fun

Virtual fun in the Sculpture Galleries doesn’t stop here! Each post in this series will be accompanied by an activity sheet especially tailored for a younger audience. In this instalment, we invite our artistic explorers to design a modern-day gym outfit for our cast of The Discus Thrower at Rest.

Next in the Series: Flashlines to the Fore (11 July 2020)

Abbey Ellis is a PhD researcher at the University of Leicester and Ashmolean Museum, Oxford on an AHRC CDP placement at Crawford Art Gallery. Her research focuses on archaeological plaster casts, sculptural materials and making, and authenticity.

SCULPTURE SECRETS 3

In this new 8-part series, we explore the stories of our Sculpture Galleries and uncover curious things that usually only curators get to see! Discover sculptors’ secrets and makers’ marks, focus on flashlines and fig leaves, and seek missing arms – and even extra feet – as Abbey Ellis traces the tales of our cast collection.

In this instalment of SCULPTURE SECRETS, we focus on another feature hidden in plain sight in our Sculpture Galleries: makers' marks.

Mysterious Makers' Marks

Sculptors such as John Hogan (1800-1858) were proud of their work and often inscribed their name onto their finished works. Hogan’s monogram signature can be seen on our sculpture of William Crawford (1843) in the photograph above.

Plaster cast makers (called formatori) likewise signed their pieces. One cast maker attested in our Sculpture Galleries is Domenico Brucciani (1815-1880). Brucciani was one of the top formatori of Victorian London and was responsible for producing many of the casts on display at the city’s Victoria and Albert Museum.

The British Museum also commissioned many casts from his workshop due to their high quality. His work was not only confined to England; his pieces can be found in collections across the globe, from North America and New Zealand to right here at Crawford Art Gallery!

Comparatively little is known about cast makers such as Brucciani as they were not appreciated in the same way as fine artists. As we saw in our last post (Another Side to Socrates), cast making was a truly complex process. Yet despite this, cast making was looked down upon in nineteenth-century society. Casting was underappreciated because it is a reproductive process involving copying rather than the creation of a unique work.

Can you make out Brucciani’s mark on the back of our Bust of Venus di Melos, pictured below?

Organisations who commissioned the casts also immortalised themselves by fixing a metal disk inscribed with their crest to the plinth.

Take a look at the image below. Can you decipher the text on the metal disc attached to our cast of The Clapping Faun? We’ve given you a head start by filling in the vowels.

_ E _ A _ _ _ E _ _      O _      _ _ A _ _ I _ A _     A _ _

_ O A _ _    O _     _ _ A _ E

These tiny discs tell us a great deal of information about the casts and their histories. The disc above is inscribed with the crest of the Department of Practical Art, which was founded in 1852. Operating within the Board of Trade, the Department of Practical Art required regional art schools to follow their National Course of Instruction in Britain and Ireland. This recommended that artists were taught to draw the human form by sketching casts, honing their artistic craft by imitation.

Students from Cork School of Design (now Crawford Art Gallery) regularly exhibited their work at the Department of Practical Art’s headquarters in Marlborough House, London. At such exhibitions, Cork artists James Butler Brenan, William Linnaeus Casey, and John J. Drummond were awarded five prestigious gold medals for their efforts.

The works by Brenan and Casey within Crawford Art Gallery’s collections, seen in the image gallery above, demonstrate their mastery of depicting the human form. Perhaps the time that both artists spent sketching our cast collection played some role in their success.

Family Fun

Virtual fun in the Sculpture Galleries doesn’t stop here! Each post in this series will be accompanied by an activity especially tailored for a younger audience. In this instalment, we invite our artistic explorers to create their own maker’s mark or signature... will it be a monogram of your initials or something more mysterious!?

Share your designs on social media using the hashtags #sculpturesecrets and #crawfordartgalleryhomelife.

Next in the series: Mary Beard Reveals All (20 June 2020)

Abbey Ellis is a PhD researcher at the University of Leicester and Ashmolean Museum, Oxford on an AHRC CDP placement at Crawford Art Gallery. Her research focuses on archaeological plaster casts, sculptural materials and making, and authenticity.

SCULPTURE SECRETS 1

In this new 8-part series, we explore the stories of our Sculpture Galleries and uncover curious things that usually only curators get to see! Discover sculptors’ secrets and makers’ marks, focus on flashlines and fig leaves, and seek missing arms – and even extra feet – as Abbey Ellis traces the tales of our cast collection.

SCULPTURE SECRETS begins with an insight into the hidden arts of the sculptors’ workshop.

Secrets of the Sculptor’s Workshop

When we think of a sculptor at work, images spring to mind of a lone artistic genius, producing images of exquisite beauty from roughly hewn blocks of marble. In reality, the sculptor’s workshop contains many secrets: well-hidden sculptural techniques that you may be able to spot in the finished pieces, but only if you know where to look.

One surprising fact that you may not have spotted on your last visit to our Sculpture Galleries is that many of the works on display are not made in one piece.

Our plaster cast of Apollo Belvedere, the Greek god of music and healing, is one such work. His body and limbs were cast separately from different moulds and were then assembled like a 3D jigsaw puzzle. A craftily hidden internal armature (or framework) of wood, metal, or bone, holds him together. In the image below, can you see the hole where the armature would have been inserted into Apollo’s arm in order to connect his missing hand?

Missing hand

The raised bolt-like shapes, or nipples, on the cross-section of the severed arm would have fitted into matching recesses in the missing hand to hold it firmly in place.

Such plaster casts are not our only sculptures that were made in multiple pieces. Marble sculptures can be monolithic, meaning that they are formed of a single large block of stone, but they can also be assembled from multiple pieces of stone.

Sculptures would be assembled in this way if a large enough piece of marble could not be found for the whole composition, or if the composition was too complex to be executed from a single piece of stone. The body, arms, and head could be carved separately and then seamlessly joined using pegs to create the finished sculpture.

You can catch a glimpse of how marble sculptures might be assembled by looking at our statue by John Bushnell, which is thought to represent King James II. You may notice when looking at King James that his right toes are missing. The metal nail which would have kept the toes in place can still be seen. The location of the original toes is also suggested by the indentation in the marble. Using the photo below, can you make out where the rest of his foot should be?

Secrets of the Sculptor's Workshop Image 4

Family Fun

Virtual fun in the Sculpture Galleries doesn’t stop here! Each post in this series will be accompanied by an activity sheet especially tailored for a younger audience. In this instalment, we invite our artistic explorers to design some new arms for our cast of Apollo Belvedere.

Secrets-of-the-Sculptors-Workshop-Activity
Secrets of the Sculptors Workshop Activity

Click here to download the activity sheet

Share your child’s finished designs on social media using the hashtags #sculpturesecrets and #crawfordartgalleryhomelife.

Next in the series: Another Side to Socrates (9 May 2020)

Abbey Ellis is a PhD researcher at the University of Leicester and Ashmolean Museum, Oxford on an AHRC CDP placement at Crawford Art Gallery. Her research focuses on archaeological plaster casts, sculptural materials and making, and authenticity.

Please Share:

SCULPTURE SECRETS 2

In this new 8-part series, we explore the stories of our Sculpture Galleries and uncover curious things that usually only curators get to see! Discover sculptors’ secrets and makers’ marks, focus on flashlines and fig leaves, and seek missing arms – and even extra feet – as Abbey Ellis traces the tales of our cast collection.

This time on SCULPTURE SECRETS, let's take a look at Socrates as you’ve never seen him before!

Another Side to Socrates

Although our plaster cast of the great Athenian philosopher may look perfectly formed from the front, his rear view might surprise you! Spin the 3D model of our Bust of Socrates below. Can you make out his hollow reverse?

But why is Socrates hollow? Understanding the making technique behind this cast is key. Our Bust of Socrates dates to c.1816 and was produced by pouring liquid plaster into a mould. First, fine high-quality plaster was swilled around the mould to form the smooth finished surface. Then, coarse lower-quality plaster was packed into the mould to support the sculpture and prevent it from breaking. The mould was not filled entirely with plaster, explaining Socrates’ hollow rear.

Can you note the difference in textures between the interior and exterior of the cast in the photos below?

To learn more about the casting technique, you can watch the below video from the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. It demonstrates the complexity involved in producing a cast. Casting is a highly skilled making process, requiring a sculptor to undergo years of training in order to perfect the method.

Casting produces highly precise replicas, which accurately reproduce the original to within millimetres. Cast-making workshops were abundant in the nineteenth century, when casts were popular features of stately homes, museums, and artists’ workshops, but far fewer operate today.

Major museums such as the British Museum, London and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York were once home to huge cast collections but their popularity plummeted around the turn of the twentieth century. Many cast collections were smashed up or thrown out. Although many have been lost, our remaining Canova Casts were lucky survivors of this tumultuous time and Crawford Art Gallery is very fortunate to still have them for visitors to enjoy today.

Family Fun

Virtual fun in the Sculpture Galleries doesn’t stop here! Each post in this series will be accompanied by an activity especially tailored for a younger audience. In this instalment, we invite our artistic explorers to test their knowledge of our cast collection by taking this fun quiz:

Next in the series: Mysterious Makers’ Marks (30 May 2020)

Abbey Ellis is a PhD researcher at the University of Leicester and Ashmolean Museum, Oxford on an AHRC CDP placement at Crawford Art Gallery. Her research focuses on archaeological plaster casts, sculptural materials and making, and authenticity.

Crawford Art Gallery

Crawford Art Gallery