From Pillar to Post: Classical casts at the British Museum

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Beginning with sections of the Parthenon sculptures remaining in Athens, the British Museum’s Greek and Roman Department acquired casts in dribs and drabs through the 19th and into the 20th centuries. A significant addition was made in 1907 when the British Museum accepted over 100 casts of classical sculpture no longer wanted by the V&A. The casts were displayed in a purpose-built gallery for around 20 years before being moved to make way for original objects. At the suggestion of Bernard Ashmole, many were sent to University College London (UCL) on long-term loan, while the rest were put into storage. At UCL, the casts narrowly escaped destruction during World War II. They were moved several times and suffered some damage during these relocations. Finally, in 1998, UCL’s Provost discovered that they remained property of the British Museum; their space was promptly reallocated for other purposes and the casts returned to the British Museum for storage with those left behind in the 1930s. The casts are divided into two categories: (1) the ‘archaeological’ cast which was typically made in the field during excavations; and (2) the ‘artistic’ cast produced by commercial firms, often of sculptures already moved to a secure museum environment. I explore distinctions in the treatment of these casts, how and why they were progressively disregarded and shunted between different locations, and the reciprocal impact on their condition and perceived value.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationDestroy the Copy
EditorsA Alexandridis, L Winkler-Horacek
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2019

Publication series

NameTransformationen der Antike
PublisherDe Gruyter


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