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Cast Courts at the Victoria and Albert Museum

Cast Courts at the Victoria and Albert Museum

Cast Courts at the Victoria and Albert Museum

The Cast Courts of the Victoria and Albert Museum house a collection of famous sculpture reproductions from around the world. In a few cases, the originals have been destroyed, and the casts are a unique record of lost works.

Most of the copies were made in the 19th century, and in some instances, they have better resisted the ravages of time, including 20th-century pollution, and various conservation efforts.

The practice of reproducing famous sculptures in plaster dates back to the sixteenth century, but early in this initiative most were private collections and remained modest. By 1800 there were more extensive collections in Berlin, Paris, Vienna, and elsewhere.

Cast Courts at the Victoria and Albert Museum

The 19th-century interest in medieval art led to casts being made of national monuments in Europe. In Britain, from 1841 onwards, a collection from all periods and countries was being assembled by the Government School of Design.

By 1862, the collection was significantly increased with over 2,000 casts of decorative wood carving that had been used as examples for the craftsmen working on the new Westminster Palace.

The collection at the Victoria and Albert was conceived as being international in scope. Casts were acquired throughout the late 1800s. Many of the casts were commissioned by the Museum or purchased from European firms. 

In 1864 an initiative for an international exchange of copies of works of art was signed between 15 European countries. The project was an “International Convention” for promoting “Reproductions of Works of Art” at the Paris International Exhibition of 1867.

Cast Courts at the Victoria and Albert Museum

The West Court which contains casts of Northern European and Spanish sculpture and Trajan’s Column.

With this agreement, the Victoria and Albert Museum came to acquire the vast and diverse collection of casts that it has today.

When the courts first opened, they included displays of large scale architectural models and casts of architectural details, hence the original name Architectural Courts.

The museum has two Courts, which are vast and high. The Courts are divided by two levels with views from above. 

Cast Courts at the Victoria and Albert Museum

The West Court

The West Court is topped by a roof of glass that admits sunlight to supplement the artificial lights. It predominantly contains casts of Northern European,  Spanish sculpture, and Trajan’s Column.

The critical copies in the collection include:

  • Trajan’s Column, from Rome, Italy
  • Portico de la Gloria, from the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Spain 
  • Medieval Effigies

Cast Courts at the Victoria and Albert Museum

The East Court which has casts of Italian monuments

The East Court

The East Court has a high ceiling and has casts of Italian monuments. The essential copies in the collection include:

  • Florence Baptistry Doors, the Gates of Paradise by Lorenzo Ghiberti
  • Porta Magna of San Petronio Basilica in Bologna by Jacopo della Quercia
  • A painted copy of Raphael’s School of Athens, dated 1755 by Anton Raphael Mengs
  • A plaster cast of Giovanni Pisano’s pulpit from Pisa Cathedral
  • Michelangelo’s David
  • Donatello’s bronze statue of David
  • A cast of David by Verrocchio
  • Saint George, after marble original by Donatello in the Museo Nazionale, Florence

Cast Courts at the Victoria and Albert Museum

A plaster cast of Giovanni Pisano’s pulpit from Pisa Cathedral

Cast Courts at the Victoria and Albert Museum

  • Title:                  Cast Courts at the Victoria and Albert Museum
  • Previously:         Architectural Courts
  • Museum:           Victoria and Albert Museum

History of the Cast Courts

A Virtual Tour of the Victoria and Albert Museum

The Cast Courts

Explore London Museums

V&A Cast Courts

Cast of the Pórtico de la Gloria

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“Lesser artists borrow; great artists steal.”
– Igor Stravinsky

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Photo Credit: Ricardo Tulio Gandelman from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil / CC BY (creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0); M.chohan / Public domain; Gaius Cornelius / CC BY-SA (creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

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