Book Chapter

Smashing casts: replication of early medieval sculpture as a case study in the fragility of cultural value



Foster S (2022) Smashing casts: replication of early medieval sculpture as a case study in the fragility of cultural value. In: Alexandridis A & Winkler-Horacek L (eds.) Destroy the Copy – Plaster Cast Collections in the 19th–20th c.: Demolition, Defacement, Disposal in Europe and Beyond. Berlin: De Gruyter, pp. 367-391.

The chequered history of plaster casts reflects shifts in values and significance, and notions of authenticity-factors that are all socially constructed, contingent and dynamic. The history of values attached to plaster casts of early medieval ‘Celtic' sculpture made in and for museums in Scotland from 1830 to 1950 reveals such nuance and complexity. The overall objective is to prompt new thinking about how the significance of plaster casts is assessed. With museums under pressure to review collections and consider disposal, how will copies fare in the twenty-first century? Casts now have historical, scientific and aesthetic significance, but through lack of recent use and study certain values appear more sticky than fluid: exploration of significance can release their potential. The composite biographical approach offers a way for a new generation of connoisseurs to develop a greater understanding of the networks of people, places and things the casts contributed to, which may also challenge ‘classical', empirical attitudes to authenticity. Preliminary comparison of the collections from the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland and the Royal Scottish Museum (now combined in National Museums Scotland) suggests that the networks of relationships that casts were located in-personal and institutional-informed these fates.

Plaster casts; replication; value; significance; disposal

Images funded by the Strathmartine Trust.

Publication date31/12/2022
Publication date online30/09/2022
PublisherDe Gruyter
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Place of publicationBerlin

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Professor Sally Foster
Professor Sally Foster

Professor, History

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