Beginnings: Casting the Net…
The first task of my research project was to identify the plaster casts in the collection of the Museum of Classical Archaeology that were acquired in the nineteenth century, which was possible through Charles Waldstein’s Catalogue of Casts in the Museum of Classical Archaeology (London: Macmillan, 1889). Waldstein was the Director of the Fitzwilliam Museum and although the Museum of Classical Archaeology had become a distinct entity in 1884, it remained under the jurisdiction of its first home.
I then set about isolating the plastercasts than had been manufactured by Brucciani, a formatore from Lucca who’s firm supplied the Department of Science and Art and the British Museum fromthe mid-nineteenth century onwards. Domenico Brucciani had died in 1880, but the use of his name and his moulds continued until the Victoria and Albert Museum acquired them in 1921 for the Department for the Sale of Casts, which operated until 1951. These particular casts are of interest because they represent a canon of objects used to transmit knowledge across the disciplines of fine art, industrial design and classical archaeology. They were an important part of nineteenth-century material culture, valued for their mobility, economy and fidelity.
I am now pursuing two parallel threads of research: sourcing representations of these particular casts from the Royal Academy Schools and the national network of Schools of Art and building an understanding of the position of art education in Cambridge through the establishment of the Cambridge School of Art in 1858. The culture of the school was shaped by the inaugural address delivered by John Ruskin, published in the same year. The school was superintended by the Department of Science and Art and presumably also supplied with a standardised teaching collection of plaster casts. Ruskin was openly critical of this centralised, codified system, which makes his presence and influence in Cambridge remarkable. The artist Richard Redgrave was also present at the inaugural soirée, in the capacity of Inspector General of the Department. He was responsible for the infamous ‘National Course of Instruction’, a rigorous curriculum of 23 separate stages that most students failed to complete. He expressed the hope that ‘the authorities would place at the disposal of the students that admirable collection which the University possessed at the Fitzwilliam Museum (applause), which would indeed afford facilities in the progress of Art’