Andrea Felice, is a third generation Italian mould maker at FeliceCalchi – plaster casts & sculptures in Rome
The cast of David’s Nose has, over the centuries, been one of the most used casts in the teaching of academic drawing and in art classes. Along with the other anatomical details of the head, eyes and ear, the cast of the nose continues to be used for teaching, and this has contributed to making it one of the best-known and recognizable anatomical models.
The success of this perhaps seemingly less important feature of the figure of David can be attributed to the anatomical perfection, proportion, and harmony of the nose. David’s nose is also exemplary for the purity of its design, and for the perfect creation of light and shadow. Last but not least, the larger than life size offers greater accessibility for the student. The unusual shape of the cast, which has remained unchanged over time, comes from the need to totally isolate the volume of the nose from all other elements of the face, while retaining the contours that place it in the centre of the face.
David’s nose is an essential component of all plaster cast workshops, and historically has also been included in all the catalogues of the major casting firms. Versatility as a teaching tool and its economic price has also made it one of the best selling pieces.
Over time the cast has become a kind of icon, not only for art schools and academies around the world, but also for many artist’s studios, sculptor’s atelier, and homes, where plaster casts have become a fashionable element of interior decoration.
Today, in my workshop in Rome, we make a very wide range of plaster casts. The cast of David’s Nose is in great demand as both a study tool and as an art object for the start of a collection. Although it is a very simple cast, its nature as a component of the great masterpiece by Michelangelo Buonarroti gives it great value and dignity.
Like all other casts produced in my Bottega, as we say in Rome, it is made individually by hand and by experienced and skilled mould makers.
During the past centuries, the moulds were made from plaster, like the one that Clemente Papi made at the end of the nineteenth century in Florence, and taken directly from the original marble sculpture of David. Then, from the end of the nineteenth century, small moulds were made in a jelly obtained by boiling skin, cartilage and animal bones, known as Gelatina. The casts which we make today are obtained from a silicone rubber mould. This is a modern and more versatile evolution of the old gelatin, and the moulds were made directly from an ancient David plaster cast that my father Romolo made in the seventies. The best material for making casts is the Gesso Alabastrino (alabaster plaster, also known in the past as Plaster of Paris), and has been used by Italian mould makers since the seventeenth century.
When a plaster cast is made for the teaching of academic drawing it is important to observe some rules regarding the absorption of light and shadows. For this reason, it is important to make such casts from plaster so as not to alter its original appearance. Also, the final patina must be compatible with the pure color and the natural surface of the plaster.
In my workshop, we prefer not to use modern synthesis materials for such casts, as the process would be too far from the secular tradition of our craft. As such, academic casts are manufactured exclusively with the same natural materials, and using the same techniques that were used historically. Even the final patina (surface finishing) is made according to tradition. Using natural bees wax and other secret ingredients we create the look of authenticity without intervening with chromatic artifices that would be too invasive.
In all workshops of the past, a non-written protocol was followed that advocated using specific materials and strictly respected the rules of the craft. The passing of years, new technologies and the advent of new materials has contributed to a partial loss of these antique techniques, techniques which had been perfected by individuals over a long period of time.
In my workshop, in addition to the use of modern materials and state-of-the-art technical solutions for certain applications, I strive to recreate every detail of the traditional casting technique. To do this I have devoted myself to the very careful study of the historical casts preserved in European Cast Collections, and have combined this with research into the technical solutions used by the great master mould makers of the past.
This research has allowed my workshop to continue producing high quality plaster casts by honoring traditional processes, and has ensured that these casts will become part of the history of plaster production to be studied by future generations.
Born in 1970, Andrea Felice began learning the art of mould making as a child by spending time in his father Romolo’s workshop after school and during the summer. Over the years Andrea developed his understanding of the craft, and also worked as an assis-tant for mould makers, sculptors, art foundries, major museums and scenography studios. After graduating from college, he began working full-time as a mould maker in the family workshop. He has made casts for many major museums, and has collaborated with great artists such as Giacomo Manzù, Jeff Koons, and Igor Mitoraj. Since 1999 he has also worked as a mould maker and restorer at the Vatican Museums.
In the early 2000’s, Andrea Felice undertook extensive research into the history of mould making, and other casting workshops in order to gain a greater understanding of historic casting techniques, and major cast collections. He has also visited numerous workshops throughout Europe, and is an active member of the International Association for the Pro-motion and Conservation of Casts.
In 2004 he started a personal project to restore the family’s cast collection, and also acquired many early casts. Inspired by the nineteenth century tradition of making and selling plaster casts, in 2009 he created the brand FeliceCalchi – Plaster Casts & Sculp-tures. The firm now produce a large catalogue of casts which can be bought and re-quested by members of the public. Casts are made using traditional techniques, and the company is now an internationally recognized manufacturer.
Plaster casts produced by Andrea Felice are now included in the collections of many ma-jor museums across the world. This includes ‘Augustus of Primaporta’ in the Cast Gallery of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, the ‘Laocoon’ cast at the Museum für Abgüsse Klassischer Bildwerke in Munich, and the cast of ‘Osiris-Antinous’ at the British Museum in London.
Felice’s workshop preserve the ancient techniques of moulding and casting, and use on-ly traditional materials to produce plaster casts of very fine quality.
‘The great satisfaction that I find each day in my work is the best way to thank my father Romolo and all my masters.’
In the next post, Michael Neilson, Facsimile Specialist from British Museum’s Conservation Department, will describe the history of the Cast Service with a brief historical association with Brucciani’s and the V&A’s cast workshops. Stay tuned for Friends, roaming countrymen, lend me your ear… nose and mouth.