Rebecca Wade’s Project
This project will investigate the nineteenth century plaster casts of the Museum of Classical Archaeology and the mechanisms through which casts were acquired until the Museum established its own discrete identity in 1884. The origins of the Museum have been addressed in an important article by Professor Mary Beard and in the two decades since its publication, scholarship on plaster casts and other facsimiles has proliferated and new approaches to the subject have been established.
Building on my doctoral research into teaching collections for mid-nineteenth century art and design education, this project aims to trace the particular conditions of production, acquisition and display related to this collection. It will be particularly useful to determine the degree to which the manufacture, circulation and interpretation of these plaster casts intersected with those distributed to the national network of Government Schools of Design from the 1840s onwards, through which plaster casts of antique statuary were deployed as instruments for the instruction of industrial design.
It will also be important to establish the extent to which the Cambridge School of Art, founded in 1858 with the support of John Ruskin (1819-1900), appropriated the collection of plaster casts for the teaching of drawing. The intersections between classics, archaeology and the practice of fine art were embodied in Sidney Colvin (1845-1927), Slade Professor of Art at Cambridge from 1873 and Director of the Fitzwilliam Museum from 1876. Colvin’s donations to the Museum will therefore form a specific area of investigation.
I hope this body of research will extend the understanding of the early collections of the Museum of Classical Archaeology through their use as pedagogic objects across the disciplines of fine art, industrial design, classics, art history and archaeology. Although oriented towards the history and historiography of the collection, this study may also point towards new ways of interpreting these objects for different audiences.