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V&A Celebrating Reproductions: What We Learned

From 17th-19th January 2019, the Victoria and Albert Museum, London hosted a three day celebration officially marking the re-opening of its cast courts after extensive renovations. The V&A has collected copies in plaster, electrotype and photography since its inception and in honour of this, the conference welcomed academics, conservation practitioners, students and more to engage in wide ranging discussions of historic reproductions, the copy in the digital age, and conservation work. Valentina Risdonne and Abbey Ellis from the Lasting Impressions team were lucky enough to attend the conference to launch the call for papers for Lasting Impressions 2019 and today, Abbey brings you a short but insightful list of revelations from the event. Here are five fun facts learned at Celebrating Reproductions!

1) Look up

The newly re-opened cast courts at the V&A enable the visitor to step inside Trajan's Column, seeing the cast from a completely new perspective. Looking up inside the column will allow the visitor to see a collection of wooden struts which seem to be placed like structural supports, but these do not, in fact, serve a structural purpose. They were instead the basis of platforms used by the royal engineers to construct the cast. They remain in place to this day.

2) Splat!

A tomato stain was found on the cast of Michelangelo's David during cleaning - probably caused by a cheeky museum visitor throwing their lunch! Very little was known about the David copy prior to the cast court restoration but research has revealed that he was made in a workshop in Florence.

3) A glamorous afterlife

The V&A's unwanted electrotypes were sold to MGM for use as movie props!

4) Getting touchy-feely

We may not get to be all that tactile with copies on display in museums today, but the sales room at the South Kensington Museum was set up to sell reproductions for exactly that purpose. Photographs, casts and electrotypes were sold to the general public as 'educators of taste'. It was intended that people would take these pieces home for personal contemplation and to enjoy a tactile experience with the objects.

5) Scrubbing up well

Some of the conservation work on the V&A casts is not quite complete. If you look carefully at the cast of the central arch of the Pórtico de la Gloria from the Cathedral at Santiago de Compostela, Spain, you may notice that some of the figures have only been cleaned from the waist up. Cleaning on this monumental piece was carried out using latex and the final stages are yet to be completed. The striking difference in colour between the cleaned and uncleaned sections attests to the incredible work of the V&A conservation team in preserving the casts for future generations.

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