Our Plaster Casts and Objects

The Mackintosh Building has always hosted a number of plaster casts comprising human figures, architectural fragments, plaster reliefs, plaster friezes, marble reliefs, tondos and busts. These figures have occupied the halls of the Mack from the late 19th century onwards.

Plaster Cast

Medici Venus (PC/196)

Used as teaching aids the casts are generally based on classical statuary and were sourced from Roman, Greek and later Italian and Medieval periods. While it is not unusual for art schools to hold plaster casts such as these, because ours have always occupied the school they regularly appear in the archive’s photograph collections.

The East Basement Corridor of the Mackintosh Building (GSAA/P/7/109)

The East Basement Corridor of the Mackintosh Building (GSAA/P/7/109)

Their presence dominating both the corridors and the classroom.

Students at work in the Antique Studio, now known as Studio 40 (GSAA/P/7/224)

Students at work in the Antique Studio, now known as Studio 40 (GSAA/P/7/224)

During the evacuation of the Mackintosh building as many of the plaster casts and other objects from the collection were removed. Others still remain inside because they were in too fragile a condition to move and it was safer for them to remain in situ where the environment is stable.

For those taken out of the building, like all our objects and collections they have been examined by specialist conservators who have advised on how they should be treated. For this work we would like to thank:

-Graciella Ainsworth Sculpture Conservation

-Glasgow Museums

-As well as all the volunteers who assisted the archives with removing the collections from the building.

Lion and Serpent (PC/058)

Lion and Serpent (PC/058)

All the casts that could be removed have now been transferred to an offsite location where their condition will be assessed.

Giuliano de' Medici (PC/039)

Giuliano de’ Medici (PC/039)

Alongside our plaster casts all of the majority of our object collections were successfully removed from the building, and during the process of wrapping we came across some unusual objects! Can you guess what this is?

Mystery Object

Our object collections include ceramics, small chest of drawers, coin and medal casts, brooches and more. All of these have survived the fire unscathed.


Moving the Crouching Venus

At the beginning of this week the Crouching Venus from GSA’s plaster cast collection was transported over to The Hunterian Art Gallery at the University of Glasgow for their ‘Picturing Venus’ exhibition (9 March 29 June 2014).

Whilst a seemingly simple task, enormous care had to be taken whilst transporting the piece between the two sites due to the fragility of the sculpture. The sculpture first had to be removed from its plinth and wrapped by art transporters, who then used a specialist trolley to lower it to the ground and move the Venus outside.


The sculpture was then driven over to The Hunterian Art Gallery to be installed as the centrepiece of ‘Picturing Venus’, a focused exhibition between The Hunterian and Glasgow University’s History of Art department that presents new research examining the occurrence of Venus’s image in art and the myths associated with her.

GSA’s Crouching Venus is believed to be a copy of the Crouching Venus in the Uffizi Gallery, Florence where it was taken in 1787. Also known as the Venere nel bagno and Vernere nella conchigla this version of the figure (of which there are a large number of versions with significant variations) is first defiantly recorded in 1704 when it was at the Villa Medici in Rome. All versions are thought to be copies of a statue referred to by Pliny as being by Doidalses and placed in one of the temples of the Portico d’Ottavia in Rome.

By the time the sculpture arrived at the exhibition space, the engravings from The Hunterian’s collection had already been hung. Therefore it was only a matter of unpacking and installing the plinth and cast.

The cast sits away from the wall, so the Crouching Venus can be seen in her entirety. New facets to the sculpture have already been discovered in the impression of a tiny hand on her back, mirroring the touch of the cherubs in the engravings on the walls. The low light of the room (for the preservation of the engravings) with spot lighting also enhances the shadows and depth of form in the sculpture.

 Picturing Venus runs from 9th March- 29th June in The Hunterian Art Gallery, at the University of Glasgow.

 Guest blog post by Penelope Hines, MSc Museum Studies student placement, The University of Glasgow 

GSA Plaster Cast Collection

For my placement for my MSc in Museum Studies at The University of Glasgow I am working to improve the catalogue entries for the cast collection at The Glasgow School of Art.  This information will form a record of what the School possesses, and will also be added to a new online catalogue, due to launch later this year, which will include images alongside the descriptions. The catalogue entries are compiled from several sources: the pieces themselves; two box files of card catalogues with Polaroids from the 1970s, and information from the School’s archives.

The catalogue entries are compiled from several sources: the pieces themselves; two box files of card catalogues with Polaroid’s from the 70’s, and information from the School’s archives.

The catalogue entries are compiled from several sources: the casts themselves; two box files of card catalogues with Polaroids from the 1970s, and information from the School’s archives.

Frustratingly until recently casts have been seen as the ‘poor relation’ of sculpture and art collections. According to one of the School tour guides, visitors have been surprised and disappointed to discover these are plaster copies and have often branded them ‘fakes’.

However, despite occasionally being considered a poor substitute for the real thing, the potential of casts should not be undervalued. In form they are virtually identical to the original sculpture and aesthetically could be said to provide the same experience of the original works.

A cast collection provides an opportunity to see world renowned works up close as well as creating an entirely unique experience. The sculptures and fragments of architecture displayed around the School’s campus come from all over Europe and the Middle East, making them accessible to all, not just those afforded with the ability to travel.

But, why does Glasgow School of Art have a cast collection? Primarily they are an inheritance of the development of artistic training where in shops of established Masters students would make studies of replicas of classic Greek, Roman, and Renaissance originals. Antique sculpture was seen as one of the highest forms of art thus was one of the greatest mediums through which to study the subject.

After the establishment of art schools casts were used as models for the students to draw; from this they could study musculature structures and the forms of the body.

The School no longer uses these casts for official teaching, however students still draw from the casts in the corridors in their free time and casts are occasionally borrowed by Continuing Education classes to act as models. In the past few years efforts have been made to conserve, protect and document these pieces, in recognition of their unique importance both as works of art and in the history of art education at the School.

Guest post by Penelope Hines, MSc Museum Studies student placement, The University of Glasgow 

Plaster casts turn their backs to us

The plaster casts in the ground floor of the Mackintosh Building seem to be in a bad mood these days. Shying away from the crowds, they have become quite introspective… they have even turned their backs on us! It’s nothing personal however, for this is the work of Brandon Cramm, a Glasgow School of Art MFA student, who has rotated the statues in the ground floor corridors of the Mackintosh Building 180º to reveal the construction of their backs in his work titled Posterior.  His interest in doing this comes from the idea of altering conventional perspectives of art historical objects, and also seeking to consider the position of and attitudes towards Mackintosh as a designer of architecture.

The accompanying text, which is available for visitors on the stationary benches in both corridors, has been written by Simon Buckley, a fellow MFA candidate. As a former tour guide for The Mackintosh Building, he has an insight into the history and context of the space and of Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Having a shared interest in the collective appreciation of the Mackintosh legacy, Brandon and Simon were both attracted to the speculative and interpretive nature of how to approach his design decisions today.

The School currently holds in the region of two hundred plaster casts, from fairly small scale architectural pieces to full size statues, representing examples of sculpture from ancient Greece and Rome and from medieval and renaissance Europe. Most of these casts are housed in the corridors of the Mackintosh Building.

Antique class in Studio 40, 1900. Image courtesy of T. & R. ANNAN & SONS Ltd.

Antique class in Studio 40, 1900. Image courtesy of T. & R. ANNAN & SONS Ltd.

In the nineteenth century, drawing was the foundation stone for all of Glasgow School of Art’s courses. Students were encouraged to spend weeks perfecting a life drawing or indeed drawing from ‘the cast’. The archives contain a number of photographs showing students drawing from the plaster casts in the corridors, studios and museum area of the Mackintosh building.  We also have a number of student drawings of plaster casts which date from the early 20th century. If you’re interested in coming to have a look, do get in touch.


The grit and the glamour of archives and collections: moving boxes

IMG_3065Some of our archives and collections have been in off-site storage for a few months while some work was being carried out in our store rooms. For the past two days we’ve been busy moving everything back.

We’re extremely pleased to have our all our archives and collections back on site now. After a week of tidying, reordering and preparation; two days of back-breaking work transporting a mere 24 pallet loads of boxes, we’re finally all back on site. Now all we have to do is reorder all the boxes(!) We hope to resume normal service and provide full access to all our collections very shortly…