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Column - Trajan's column

Trajan's column

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    Rome (This is where the original column was carved., made)
    Paris (the reproduction , cast)

  • Date:

    113 (made)
    ca. 1864 (cast)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Plaster cast

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

This massive reproduction of Trajan's Column in Rome was produced in Paris in the mid-19th century. The sequence of plaster cast reliefs showing Emperor Trajan's Dacian campaigns are mounted on two gigantic brick columns. The monument at the V&A is a tremendous feat of both 19th-century engineering and casting in plaster. The casts were made from metal versions produced by craftsmen working under the direction of Emperor Napoleon III in 1862. These were once displayed at the Louvre, and now survive in parts at the Château of St Germain en Laye, just outside Paris.
Most of the plasters at the V&A were acquired from a M. Oudry in Paris in 1864, with a second tranche of casts completing the sequence arriving at the Museum in 1870-2, at a total cost of just under £2,500. Another set of plaster copies is in Rome at the Museum of Roman Civilisation, and a third at the National Museum of Romanian History, Bucharest. Separate plaster panels are to be found in other collections elsewhere.
When first acquired by South Kensington in the 1860s the cast reliefs could not be accommodated on high columns, and were shown mounted on smaller structures in the Museum. Once the Architectural Courts (now the Cast Courts) were built in 1873, they could all be shown on the two tall brick cores to be seen there today. Each plaster section was individually numbered, so that the columns could be assembled like an enormous jigsaw puzzle, reflecting the sequence of the marble original. This vast simulacrum of the original column in Rome allowed students, scholars and innumerable other visitors to the Museum to admire this great relic of the classical world.
Trajan's Column in Rome was erected to commemorate the two successful campaigns of the Emperor Trajan against the Dacians along the Danube frontier in AD 101-2 and 105-6. It was designed and constructed probably under the supervision of the architect Apollodorus of Damascus, and stood at the focal point of Trajan’s Forum in the Imperial City. Its form is a hollow shaft built of 29 blocks of Carrara marble, 3.83 metres in diameter at the base, rising to a height of 38 metres, including the square plinth upon which it stands, and the capital that surmounts it. An internal spiral staircase of 185 steps, lit by narrow windows, gives access to the platform above. The continuous frieze in low relief depicting the history of Trajan's campaigns winds up and around the column for a total length of over 200 metres, depicting over 2500 individual figures. In antiquity, placed as it was between the two libraries of the Forum, the reliefs could be studied at close quarters up to a certain height, the whole sculpted surface picked out in colour and enriched with metal accessories. Trajan's ashes were buried in a chamber at the base of the column, and it was once surmounted by a colossal bronze statue of the Emperor (lost in the Middle Ages). This statue was replaced in 1587 by the present bronze figure of St Peter, made by Bastiano Torrigiano (d.1596).
The cast of Trajan's Column at the V&A inspires awe and wonder amongst visitors to the Cast Courts, and is much studied by students of classical archaeology and art history. This is partly because the figurative forms and lettering can be seen more clearly here than those on the weathered original in Rome. The inscription at the base of the column is also of great importance. It is possibly the most famous example of Roman square capitals, a script often used for monuments. The calligraphy has long been acclaimed, and is emulated even today, inspiring modern typefaces.

Place of Origin

Rome (This is where the original column was carved., made)
Paris (the reproduction , cast)


113 (made)
ca. 1864 (cast)



Materials and Techniques

Plaster cast


Height: 523.5 cm, Diameter: 422.5 cm base

Object history note

Purchased from M. Oudry in 1864 for £301 15s 2d.

Descriptive line

Column, plaster cast, reproduction of Trajan's Column, cast by Monsieur Oudry, Paris, ca. 1864, after the original erected AD 113 in Rome

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Trusted, Majorie. ed. The Making of Sculpture: the Materials and Techniques of European Sculpture. London: V&A Publications, 2007, pp. 162-163, pl. 312
Cormier, Brendan and Thom, Danielle, eds. A World of Fragile Parts, London, 2016, pp. 17, 35, 36, 114.



Subjects depicted

Figures; Armour; Arms; Memorial columns


Sculpture; Archaeology; Architecture


Sculpture Collection

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