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.

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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