Page 87 - Montecito Journal Glossy Edition Winter Spring 2012/13

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1834. Reconstruction of today’s Palace of Westminster
was carried out in the perpendicular Gothic style,
starting in 1840. Thousands of architectural details
were cast as models for the carvers who were working
on the reconstruction, and in 1869, over 3,000 of
those Gothic-style casts were donated to the South
Kensington Museum.
The 1860s also saw the cast collections expanding
to include examples from Germany, Italy, and France,
and the inclusion of more figurative sculptures to
augment architectural details. Several acquisitions from
Spain were made in the early years of the decade, but
none surpass the remarkable cast of the Romanesque
“Portico de la Gloria” from the original entrance to
the pilgrimage Cathedral at Santiago de Compostela,
completed in 1188 by Master Mateo. The Portico is so
large that when it arrived in South Kensington in 1866,
the cast had to be displayed in separate pieces scattered
throughout the museum.
Lack of space never deterred the museum’s director,
Henry Cole, from acquiring more casts, especially because
of the high value placed on them for educational purposes
and their popularity with the Victorian masses (whom
the museum encouraged to visit by being the first to offer
gas-lit, nighttime hours, as well as the first museum café,
known as “the refreshment rooms”).
In fact, the visionary Mr. Cole forged ahead with
his ambitious scheme that resulted in the International
Convention of 1867. Visiting the Paris International
Exhibition of that year (another World’s Fair that followed
in the footsteps of the Crystal Palace exhibition), Cole
passionately promoted his idea for the exchange of casts
by museums in different countries. Perhaps missing his
calling as a politician, the enthusiastic Mr. Cole convinced
fifteen European princes to sign onto his proposal. (Sadly,
the cast collections formed in various European countries,
according to art historian Malcolm Baker, “have since
been destroyed or dispersed, so that the V&A’s collection
is a virtually unique example of a remarkable 19
But it was the increase of acquisitions, fueled even
more by this international agreement, that resulted
in the building of the Cast Courts that to this day are
spr ing
Visitors to London’s Victoria & Albert
Museum are dwarfed by the two cast
sections of Trajan’s Column; the base
alone measures thirteen feet in height