Academic journal article The Sculpture Journal

The Production and Display of Domenico Brucciani's Plaster Cast of Hubert le Sueur's Equestrian Statue of Charles I

Academic journal article The Sculpture Journal

The Production and Display of Domenico Brucciani's Plaster Cast of Hubert le Sueur's Equestrian Statue of Charles I

Article excerpt

In the spring of 1853 a wooden structure was erected around the equestrian statue of Charles I by the French sculptor Hubert Le Sueur, which had been completed in 1633 and installed at Charing Cross by 1675.1 The purpose of this 'snug house-like hoarding', as it was described by the Illustrated London News, was to enable the bronze statue and Portland stone pedestal to be cast in plaster for the Crystal Palace at Sydenham.2 The firm tasked with the production of the mould and cast was led by the Italian formatore Domenico Giovanni Brucciani (c.1815-80), who had emigrated to London in around 1829, having been born in Barga in the Tuscan province of Lucca.3 During the 1830s Domenico worked for his uncle, the modeller and plaster figure maker Luigi 'Lewis' Brucciani (c.1786-1846), at 5 Little Russell Street in Covent Garden.4 In the early 1840s Domenico took over the business and began to supply the emerging national network of Government Schools of Design with a standardized set of plaster casts of antique statuary and architectural ornament.5 This short article will contextualize Brucciani's practice in the early 1850s through the manufacture and exhibition of this large and complex cast, including the ways in which it was received and interpreted in both the contemporary periodical press and contemporary guidebooks to the Crystal Palace.

Brucciani consolidated his public reputation with a contribution to the Great Exhibition of Works of Art of All Nations in 1851.6 Here he displayed a plaster cast of that most canonical of antique statues, the Apollo Belvedere.7 The cast was described by The Standard as 'an object of some curiosity, inasmuch as there are but few casts in existence taken immediately from the original statue. This cast is made to imitate marble pretty closely and has a very beautiful effect.'8 These three crucial points of interest - curiosity, fidelity, materiality - would figure again in the reception of Brucciani's cast of Charles I when it was produced in 1853 and displayed in 1854. The naming of Brucciani as the fabricator was also notable: the cast of the Apollo Belvedere featured in one of the Grand Panoramas of the Great Exhibition published as a supplement to the Illustrated London News in 1852 (fig. 1) and even at such a small scale, the engraver included the names 'Apollo Belvedere' and 'D. Brucciani' in large capital letters on the pedestal. The identity and authorship of the reproduction was both inscribed on the object itself and reinscribed and disseminated by the engraving. That the sculptor of the 'original' Apollo was (and remains) unknown provided an absence that allowed Brucciani and contemporary commentators to present the object as an example of nineteenth-century manufacture, rather than an unmediated surrogate for the marble statue in the collection of the Musei Vaticani. The singular status of the Apollo cast was confirmed by its (non)classification in the taxonomic scheme of the Great Exhibition. It was not displayed in the Greek, Roman, Fine Arts or Sculpture Courts, nor was it included with examples of British or Italian manufactures, but with 'Miscel- laneous objects of interest placed in the main avenues of the building and not classified'.9 The way in which the cast of the Apollo was displayed and interpreted as an object of curiosity and novelty was particularly significant because it established a pattern that would persist in the categorization and reception of Brucciani's cast of Charles I for the Crystal Palace at Sydenham.

By 1852 Brucciani was embedded further into the South Kensington circle that orbited around Henry Cole (1808-82) in the wake of the Great Exhibition, with a teaching role at the new incarnation of the Government School of Design, which had moved from rooms at Somerset House to Marlborough House in 1852 and been restyled the School of Ornamental Art. New practical 'Special Classes' were introduced in the decoration of woven fabrics, the ornamental treatment of metals, pottery, furniture, porcelain painting, wood engraving, lithography, artistic anatomy and architecture. …

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