Room 46b: Cast Courts
The Weston Cast Court
The Weston Cast Court features over 60 of the V&A’s finest 19th-century productions of important Italian Renaissance monuments. It includes the five metre high cast of Michelangelo’s David (c.1856), the set of electrotype doors cast from the Gates of Paradise at Florence Cathedral (c.1867) measuring over seven and a half meters in height, a plaster cast of a pulpit from Pisa Cathedral by Giovanni Pisano (c.1865), and the monumental cast of Jacopo della Quercia’s great arch from the Basilica of San Petronio, Bologna (1886).
Collecting plaster cast reproductions and electrotypes reached the height of popularity in the mid to late 19th-century when few people could afford to travel abroad. The South Kensington Museum (as the V&A was then known) was at the forefront of this enthusiasm, enabling visitors to admire and study faithful reproductions of important European monuments and works of art.
The V&A’s cast collection is now an exceptional example of this phenomenon and serves as a valuable and unique record of the finished sculptures and carvings from which they were made, as many of the originals may now have been lost, damaged or badly restored. The Cast Courts are also the only public galleries in the Museum which display the same collection of objects as when they were first opened.
The 2014 renovation of the gallery has enabled new study and conservation of the collection which has furthered understanding of how the casts were formed and the workshops where the sculptures were made. Such in-depth examination and preservation of the collection has not taken place for over half a century and the process has aided discoveries into the techniques of casts, surface coatings, finishes and mould making. The displays have been reconfigured with new interpretation to provide a wider understanding of the history of the objects and reveal the processes behind the creation of the casts on display.
The conservation work has also included extensive research into the original decorative architectural scheme of the gallery, reinstating a decorative scheme that pays tribute to the Cast Court’s original colours, architectural details and finishes. The 19th-century ceramic tiled floor has also been restored and repairs to the glazed roof, ceiling and walls have returned the court to its original splendour.
Room 46b is on Level 1 of the V&A South Kensington.