skip to content

Faculty of Classics

 
Sculpted head of Antinous, with bronzed winged Nike behind

Why Casts?

A cast collection is, perhaps, a rather odd basis for a museum. After all, nothing in our Cast Gallery is original. Plaster casts lack the authenticity of ancient marbles and bronzes which are over two thousand years old; their surfaces, at least in our collection, are not marked by the passage of time but by special treatments designed to make them look more like stone and metal. Every cast is a copy, a replica, a fake even. Plaster casts just aren't real – are they?

So, what's the point? Why do we even have a cast collection in this day and age?

 

The advantages of replicas

In many ways, our collection of plaster casts brings to life Greek and Roman sculpture in unparalleled ways. Photographs are useful, but they are two-dimensional. In contrast, our casts are direct copies of the ancient objects they model, meaning they are the same size and they occupy space in the same way as the original. Looking up at the Sounion Kouros is not quite the same as looking at a picture in a book about ancient Greek art.

At the same time, our Cast Gallery brings together examples of classical sculpture which are today scattered in museums and collections across the world – it simply is not possible to view the originals side-by-side in the same way that the casts can be seen together in the Gallery. This makes the cast collection ideal for teaching; students can go beyond book-learning by comparing and contrasting the statues themselves.

sculpture of a young woman with long hair holding a bird

The originals of some of the sculptures on display together in the Cast Gallery are, in fact, divorced from each other in their modern-day museum context. The three-quarter-sized Amazon, Giant, Gaul and Persians of the impressive monument set up by the Hellenstic king Attallos 1st of Pergamon on the Athenian acropolis are today in several different collections, but can be viewed together in Bay G. The two halves of the Lyons Kore (pictured) are, in fact, in two separate museums – but they are reunited in Bay A.

Plaster casts can also prove useful in other ways. In the case of our painted Peplos Kore, for instance, the acquisition of a replica offered the chance to explore an aspect of Greek sculpture so often lost to us today – their bright colours. Sometimes, casts preserve artefacts at risk of damage: our cast of the Lysikrates Monument, for instance, captures the frieze before it was eroded badly by the elements. It must have been almost complete when it was discovered in the 18th century, but some of the figures visible on the cast are now entirely lost on the monument itself.

 

Replicas as historical objects

Just as importantly, the majority of the casts in the collection are historical objects in their own right. Most date back to the late nineteenth century and several from much earlier. They stand testament to the ways in which large private houses were decorated, to the cultural capital acquired by studying the Classics and going on a Grand Tour around Italy (and, later, Greece), and to the ways in which archaeological discoveries were disseminated and taught.

In these ways, plaster casts have their own story to tell about the history of collecting – and about the rise and fall of prevailing tastes. Plaster casts were once a primary vehicle for an art education, but when the classical ideals they represent fell out of fashion, so too did casts. Many cast collections were broken up, destroyed or, at best, relegated to basements in the course of the 1960s and 1970s; many museums could no longer see a use for them. And for this reason, we are very lucky to have our plaster casts today.

Every cast tells two stories.
One ancient. One modern.

Admission is free.

 

We are open

Just drop in: no need to book

 

Christmas Closure

We will close at 5pm on Friday 17 December 2021 and will reopen at 10am on Wednesday 5th January.

 

Opening hours

Tues-Fri: 10am-5pm
Sat (univ. term-time only): 2-5pm
Sun and Monday: Closed

Closed on Bank Holidays

 

Saturday Opening

We are currently open on Saturdays until Saturday 27 November 2021.

Please note: We are only open on Saturdays during University of Cambridge term time.

 

Visit us

Museum of Classical Archaeology
Faculty of Classics
Sidgwick Avenue
Cambridge
CB3 9DA

We do not have an entrance on the road. Find us inside the Sidgwick Site.

 

Join our mailing list

 

 

Get in touch

Tel. +44 (0)1223 330402
Email 

 

Find us on social media:

     

 

 

We're good to go

 

 

Copyright statement

All images and material on our websites are ©Museum of Classical Archaeology, University of Cambridge unless otherwise stated. If you would like to reproduce our images, you can now do so for non-commercial use at no charge.

See also our Copyright Notice and Take Down Policy.