In the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow there is an identical ‘cousin’ of the V&A’s plaster cast of ‘David‘ by Michelangelo. The story of the David cast from Moscow is remarkable as is the history of the whole museum collection.
The Pushkin Museum was originally conceived as a museum mostly for students of art, who could see and compare the most famous monuments in art history without expensive trips around the world. Similar museums already existed at that time in Europe. The idea of creating such a museum in Moscow was conceived by professor Vladimir Ivanovich Tsvetaev, who personally ordered plaster casts in the moulds workshops, completed the collection and thought through plans of the permanent exhibition rooms, which are partially preserved to this day.
Of course, Tsvetayev thought about the acquisition of the Michelangelo’s David cast. During the 9 years from 1902 to 1911 Tsvetayev ordered casts of all major sculptural works of Michelangelo, but apparently for a long time could not decide about the commission of ‘the Florentine Giant’ cast. First, Tsvetayev intended to order only its head, as he did with the sculpture of Benvenuto Cellini ‘Perseus with the head of Medusa’. At a meeting of the committee of the Museum in the spring of 1911 he announced this decision. Tsvetayev admitted that he had no idea where he could put such a colossal statue, that’s why it was needed to receive only the head. We must assume that the cast of David’s head was ordered, but at present time it does not appear in the inventory of the Museum.
Nevertheless shortly after this meeting it was decided to order an entire cast of the sculpture. Probably, together with the architect of the Pushkin Museum, Roman Ivanovich Klein, they found a suitable place for David, and in the Museum report from the period January to April 1912 is written: ‘The Florentine workshop has produced a plaster cast of David by Michelangelo.’
David came to the museum in parts in several crates. A special team of sculptors and shapers was assembled for the installation of ‘Giant’, which was mounted right in the Christian Courtyard (now – Italian Courtyard).
During World War II, all art pieces from the Museum were urgently evacuated or were moved as far away as possible from danger zones. As the huge cast of David was in the Italian Courtyard under a glass roof, which could get shelled, it was decided to dismantle it and move it to a safer place. On the September 3, 1941, sculptor N.P. Prokhorov and moulder I.P. Svirin wrote about disassembling the cast where they described the approximate sequence of dismantling the sculpture: ‘1) remove hands attached on hinges (seams are visible); 2) for removal of the head, it is necessary to cut out a window (size 30 x 20 cm) in the back; 3) remove the head through the old seam; 4) remove the torso through the old seam slightly below the navel; 5) the question with the legs will be decided after removal of the upper part of the statue.’
But those plans were not realized. According to the memo from the same persons, 11th September 1941, work on dismantling the cast had to stop: “After removal of the hands we had cut out a window size 25×25 cm at the back of the figure, through which we could look inside and convinced that during mounting the torso have been bonded with feet tightly (inner emptiness is filled with plaster 50 cm higher than the torso seam), so that the whole figure represents as one monolithic statue, impossible dismantling. We consider it is necessary to suspend the work.”
As a result, David was closed with construction staging and veneer sheets and was left in the Italian Courtyard. Fortunately, the amazing giant plaster cast of David survived the War and became one of the symbols of the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts.
If you have a life size plaster cast of David in your collection, we would be delighted to hear from you. For any inquiries about sculpture conservation, you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org