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Conservation in Action: The Bassae Frieze

Our casts of the Bassae frieze are in need of essential conservation work - it's a two-to-three week job, and we're going to be undertaking it right here, in our Cast Gallery. We'll be working with a team from Cliveden Conservation to remove the casts, strengthen them, and then rehang them with a new mounting system to prevent further damage.

It's going to be a tricky task: the Bassae casts are hung more than 3m high on the wall, and above our (very large) casts of the West Pediment from Olympia. But we'll be bringing you along with us. Book a ticket (lockdown permitting, of course) to see the conservation work for yourself or keep up to date online: we're going to be posting updates here and we've got a number of online events planned to keep you in the loop.

 

view of Bassai frieze with fighting centaurs

 

About the project

We are committed to ensuring our casts are preserved for future generations to enjoy and study – and as a result, we are regularly monitoring cracks in the plaster and corrosion in the metal, and embarking on a rolling programme of conservation work.

Plaster is a brittle and soft material, which is prone to damage, breaks and staining. Even touching can make it dirty. Internal metal skeletons and fixings are at risk of corrosion and metal fatigue. In this sense, our casts are more delicate than the originals.

Our casts of the Bassae frieze may not be at risk of touching (although look closely and you might see old handling marks) because they are mounted high up on the wall  but they pose their own challenges. We'll need to build a scaffold to access them, and we'll need to work carefully around the large and immobile casts of the West Pediment from the Temple of Zeus at Olympia beneath them. The new mounting system we'll be using will mean that their weight is carried by a shelf, rather than by mounts in the back of the plaster itself.

 

Planned dates

Start date: Monday 7 December 2020
Planned end date: Friday 18 December 2021
(This project may extend in January)

Please note: we will be closed for Christmas from 5pm on Friday 18 December 2020 and will reopen (lockdown permitting) at 11am on Tuesday 5 January 2021. We will also be closed on Friday 11 December for essential maintenance work.

book your tickets now

 

 

Upcoming Activities

Daily Updates

What: Keeping you up to date, every day, with pictures, news and videos to show our progress as we remove and conserve the casts
When: Monday 7 December until Friday 18 December 2020
Where: Online
Who: All ages

 

 

Live Q&A with the Curator, 15th December 2020.

What: What difference does repair make to objects? What are the challenges of looking after a cast gallery? Join our Curator, Dr Susanne Turner as she answers some of the most intriguing questions surrounding our Bassae Frieze Conservation Project
When: Tuesday 15 December 2020, 12.30pm
Where: Twitter
Who: All ages
Also Submit your questions prior to the event using this google form or throughout the live using the chat function.

 

 

Conservator’s Corner, 11th December 2020. 

What: Gain a unique insight into museum conservation and see what challenges we have faced so far. Our Conservation Team explains it all in this short video. Find out more about why the Bassae Frieze needs repairing, what techniques our conservation team is using and what has happened so far.
When: 11th December 13:00
Where: YouTube 
Who: All ages

 

 

Bassae Children’s Activities

Every Monday throughout December a new children’s activity will be uploaded to the website! These are perfect for entertaining kids throughout the winter break. Get ready for colouring sheets, making activities and story-writing resources! 

When: Mondays

Where: Check out our Things to do at Home page.

 

Before and After: The Story of Change, January 2021

See the effects of our efforts in this series of side by side photographs. 

 

Our plaster casts of the Bassae Frieze

Cambridge, Museum of Classical Archaeology, nos.112a-q

Purchased: 1880 and 1884

Our casts of the Bassae Frieze are about 140 years. They were purchased as the Fitzwilliam Museum prepared to open their brand new Museum of Classical and General Archaeology on Little St Mary's Lane, behind the church - that's us! The Fitzwilliam Museum had decided to create a new museum to take the plaster casts (and other archaeological and ethnographic collections) out of its main galleries, and was investing heavily in expanding the cast collection in the run-up to throwing open the doors on 6 May 1884.

 

two parts of a panel from the Bassai frieze, with Hercules in the middle

 

The first ten casts of the Bassae frieze to enter the collection were donated by Henry Sidgwick on 29 May 1880. Yes, that's the same Henry Sidgwick that Sidgwick Avenue, where we are located today, is named after: he was a key figure in the promotion of access to higher education women, and one of the founders of Newnham College. He also donated a number of casts of other objects in the British Museum, including a Discobolos.

Four years later, the Fitzwilliam Museum purchased another six casts of the frieze. They turned to the same supplier as Henry Sidgwick had done: Brucciani & Co in London. Brucciani was the premier plaster cast workshop, or formatore, in London and was the official supplier of casts for the British Museum.

Will we be able to tell the difference between the casts purchased in 1880 and those purchased in 1884? We don't know. Watch this space.

 

The original Bassae Frieze

London, British Museum 1815,1020.1-6, 10-11, 13-14, 17-23

Dates: c.450-500 BCE

The Bassae Frieze originally adorned the inside (the cella) of the Temple of Apollo in Phigalea (Greece). Here, Apollo was worshipped as Epikourios, the 'helper' - he seems to have been worshipped in particular by mercenaries, at this hard-to-reach site on a mountain-side.

 

scene from Bassai frieze with Caineus being beaten into ground by centaurs

 

The feature of an internal continuous frieze was an unusual one in a Greek temple: more often, decoration is focused on the outside. The frieze features Amazons fighting Greek heroes called Lapiths and, transitioning seamlessly, Centaurs fighting Greeks. The figures are stout and bulky, packed tightly together in close combat where neither the Greeks nor their foes seem to have the upper hand. Twenty three slabs of the original frieze are held by the British Museum and MOCA has cast of seventeen of them.

There was another seemingly unique feature of this temple, too. The Temple of Apollo at Bassae is the first recorded example of a Corinthian column, the most ornate of the Greek architectural orders. Corinthian columns are crowned with acanthus leaves sprouting from the capital. There was only one such elaborately-decorated columns at Bassae - and in most reconstructions it sits as the focal point at the end of the cella, where the cult statue would normally stand. Sadly, the Corinthian capital from Bassae is now lost.

 

panel from Bassai frieze with baby clasping at mother

 

Further Reading

 

 

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

Admission is free.

 

We are open

 

 

Opening hours

Tues-Fri: 11am-2pm
Sat: 2-5pm (univ. term-time only)
Sun and Monday: Closed

Closed on Bank Holidays

 

Saturday Opening

We are currently closed on Saturdays.

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.

 

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Get in touch

Tel. +44 (0)1223 330402
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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.