‌Multiplying Lives: Casting Light on the Modern Meanings and Values of Early Medieval Sculpture

Reproduction of archaeological material was a significant and serious enterprise for antiquarians and museums in the long 19th century. Embedding many stories and embodying considerable past human energy, behind their creation, circulation, use and after-life lies a series of specific social networks and relationships that determined why, when and in what circumstances they were valued, or not. While they continue to evoke mixed curatorial and public responses, with practical consequences for how they are interpreted, and their fate (whether museums accession, conserve or indeed retain them), such replicas are now historical and merit empirical study in their own right. But they also lend themselves readily to new ways of theorising and approaching material culture, particularly in regard to understanding authenticity and value, understanding memory, identity and place, and reflecting on the value and future impact of current visualisation technologies.

This material lends itself to a biographical approach, exploring the relationships of people, place and things through time and understanding its changing meanings. Such reproductions are significant elements in the composite biographies of the ‘authentic original’ early medieval carved stones and their ‘reproduced originals’ (Foster and Curtis 2016); and we can identify that there are particular periods when trends in the use (or otherwise) of reproductions become visible (Foster 2015). Particular collections, or strands of collections, also have their own biographies (Foster et al 2014), where the specifics of the individuals and institutions involved with them can be explored in depth.

Sally Foster is presently working with Professor D V Clarke of University College London on a biography of the large collection of historic plaster casts of early medieval sculpture in National Museums Scotland.

Read more about the project

  • Foster, S M and Curtis, N. 2016. ‘The thing about replicas: why historic replicas matter’, European Journal of Archaeology
  • Foster, S M 2015.‘Circulating agency: The V&A, Scotland and the multiplication of ‘Celtic crosses’, Journal of the History of Collections, 27:1, 73-96 (advance access April 2014).  
  • Foster, S M, Blackwell, A and Goldberg, M 2014. ‘The legacy of nineteenth-century replicas for object cultural biographies: lessons in duplication from 1830s Fife’, Journal of Victorian Culture, 19:2, 137-160.  OPEN ACCESS to end FEBRUARY 2016 (Winner of the St Andrews Preservation Trust Murray History Prize 2015)
  • Foster, S M 2013. ‘Embodied energies, embedded stories: releasing the potential of casts of early medieval sculptures’ in J Hawkes (ed), Making Histories: Proceedings of the Sixth International Conference on Insular Art York 2011, Shaun Tyas: Donington, 339-357.

Since its inception in 2011, this project has received funds from: The Henry Moore Foundation (2014 and 2015), The Principal’s Interdisciplinary Fund of the University of Aberdeen, the Principal’s Excellence Fund of the University of Aberdeen, the Gunning Jubilee Gift of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, the Strathmartine Trust and the John Robertson Bequest of the University of Glasgow.

Sponsored by the University of Aberdeen's Principal's Interdisciplinary Fund and organised by Dr Sally Foster and Neil Curtis, researchers and museum curators met in Aberdeen from 28-30 October for an international research workshop on replication of archaeological material.

Back, left to right: Dr Tara Kelly (researcher, Dublin), Professor Bonnie Effros (University of Florida), Professor Jarl Nordbladh (University of Gothenburg), Dr Martin Goldberg and Dr Mhairi Maxwell (National Museums Scotland), Professor Siân Jones (University of Manchester), Pádraig Clancy (representing National Museum of Ireland).

Front: Dr Marjorie Trusted (Victoria and Albert Museum), Dr Sally Foster and Neil Curtis (University of Aberdeen), Dr Stuart Jeffrey (Glasgow School of Art)

For further information please contact Dr Sally Foster.

Dr Sally Foster, Professor D V Clarke and Dr Martin Goldberg examine plaster casts of early medieval sculptures in the National Museums of Scotland. Image copyright Doug Simpson.

Graciella Ainsworth and her team prepare the 1880s concrete cast of the Kildalton Cross for photograhy in 2015, worked funded by the Henry Moore Foundation. Image copyright Doug Simpson.


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