We are taught to believe in originals. In art and architecture in particular, original objects vouch for authenticity, value, and truth, and require our protection and preservation. The nineteenth century, however, saw this issue differently. In a culture of reproduction, plaster casts of building fragments and architectural features were sold throughout Europe and America and proudly displayed in leading museums. The first comprehensive history of these full-scale replicas, Plaster Monuments examines how they were produced, marketed, sold, and displayed, and how their significance can be understood today.
Plaster Monuments unsettles conventional thinking about copies and originals. As Mari Lending shows, the casts were used to restore wholeness to buildings that in reality lay in ruin, or to isolate specific features of monuments to illustrate what was typical of a particular building, style, or era. Arranged in galleries and published in exhibition catalogues, these often enormous objects were staged to suggest the sweep of history, synthesizing structures from vastly different regions and time periods into coherent narratives. While architectural plaster casts fell out of fashion after World War I, Lending brings the story into the twentieth century, showing how Paul Rudolph incorporated historical casts into the design for the Yale Art and Architecture building, completed in 1963.
Drawing from a broad archive of models, exhibitions, catalogues, and writings from architects, explorers, archaeologists, curators, novelists, and artists, Plaster Monuments tells the fascinating story of a premodernist aesthetic and presents a new way of thinking about history’s artifacts.
Mari Lending is professor of architectural history and theory at the Oslo School of Architecture and Design. Her books include, with Mari Hvattum, Modelling Time and, with Peter Zumthor, A Feeling for History.
"Mari Lending takes readers on a fascinating journey, revisiting monuments and places that stand out, not because of their uniqueness and authenticity, but because they somehow simulate these qualities. Extremely well-researched, Plaster Monuments offers a compelling reflection on what makes up architecture’s vitality."--Hilde Heynen, University of Leuven
"Plaster casts of architectural monuments were among the most prestigious and conspicuous features of the museums and art galleries established in the urban centers of the nineteenth century. Mari Lending’s engaging and lively book is the first sustained inquiry into architectural cast collections, which were often, as in the case of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the founding collection for these institutions. Drawing on a wealth of previously unexplored archival sources and unpublished photographs, Lending guides readers on a Proustian journey of remembrance."--Caroline van Eck, University of Cambridge
"This book is about the reproduction in plaster of works of historic architecture, and their display in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century museums in Europe and the United States. Plaster Monuments provides a rich historical account of the creation of these collections, the trade in casts, and the debates they gave rise to. There is no comparable book and this is an entirely new contribution to scholarship."--Adrian Forty, author of Words and Buildings
"Offering a wealth of insight and delight, this fascinating book discusses plaster casts of what it calls ‘monuments,' shown in museum collections and other displays around the world. It presents many intriguing and valuable ideas about the cultural, political, and philosophical significance of these cast models, from the late eighteenth century to the present."--Alexandra Stara, Kingston University, London