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SCULPTURE SECRETS 4

Mary Beard’s Shock of the Nude. Photograph: Helena Hunt / BBC / Lion TV

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.

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Emmet Place, Cork, Ireland
T12 TNE6
Tel: 021 480 5042
info@crawfordartgallery.ie

Opening Hours
N.B. Last entry is 15 minutes before closing

Monday–Saturday 10.00am–5.00pm*
Thursday until 8.00pm

Sundays and Bank Holidays
Gallery: 11.00 am4.00pm
Café: Closed Sundays & Mondays

*Second floor closes 15 minutes before closing
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