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Trajan's column

  • Object:

    Copy of Trajan's Column

  • Place of origin:

    Rome (Copy

    (probably), made)
    Rome (Original, made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1864 (made)
    106-113 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Apollodorus (Apollodorus of Damascus) (sculptor)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Painted plaster cast

  • Museum number:

    REPRO.1864-128

  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

The Cast Courts are dominated by this massive reproduction of Trajan’s Column in two parts. The Roman Emperor Trajan commissioned the original monumental structure to commemorate his conquest of Dacia, now Romania. The column took seven years to complete and has stood in Rome ever since, surviving for nearly 2000 years.

In the early 1860s, Napoleon III ordered a mould to be made of the column. A metal copy, or electrotype, was made in pieces from this mould, and then sets of plaster cast copies were produced from the electrotype. In 1864, the South Kensington Museum (now the V&A) bought one of these sets.

Measuring 35 metres high, the column copy was too tall to be constructed at full height within the Museum building at the time. So in 1873, the Museum built the Architectural Courts to house its growing collection of monumental copies. These are the galleries in which you are standing today. The height of the Courts was determined by Trajan’s Column, but even then they could only be built high enough to display the column in two sections, assembled around inner brick chimneys.

Physical description

Plaster cast of Trajan's Column which is displayed in two sections due to its height.

Place of Origin

Rome (Copy

(probably), made)
Rome (Original, made)

Date

ca. 1864 (made)
106-113 (made)

Artist/maker

Apollodorus (Apollodorus of Damascus) (sculptor)

Materials and Techniques

Painted plaster cast

Dimensions

Height: 523.5 cm, Diameter: 422.5 cm base

Object history note

Copy of Trajan's Column made in plaster about 1864 probably in Rome, Italy and purchased from M. Oudry in 1864 for £301 15s 2d. Napoleon III ordered a mould to be made of the column. A metal copy, or electrotype, was made in pieces from this mould, and then sets of plaster cast copies were produced from the electrotype. The original was perhaps made by Apollodorus of Damascus in 106-113 AD in Rome, Italy. It was made for the Roman Emperor Trajan who commissioned the original to commemorate his conquest of Dacia.

Historical context note

Making plaster copies is a centuries-old tradition that reached the height of its popularity during the 19th century. The V&A's casts are of large-scale architectural and sculptural works as well as small scale, jewelled book covers and ivory plaques, these last known as fictile ivories.

The Museum commissioned casts directly from makers and acquired others in exchange. Oronzio Lelli, of Florence was a key overseas supplier while, in London, Giovanni Franchi and Domenico Brucciani upheld a strong Italian tradition as highly-skilled mould-makers, or formatori.

Some casts are highly accurate depictions of original works, whilst others are more selective, replicating the outer surface of the original work, rather than its whole structure. Like a photograph, they record the moment the cast was taken: alterations, repairs and the wear and tear of age are all reproduced in the copies. The plasters can also be re-worked, so that their appearance differs slightly from the original from which they were taken.

To make a plaster cast, a negative mould has to be taken of the original object. The initial mould could be made from one of several ways. A flexible mould could be made by mixing wax with gutta-percha, a rubbery latex product taken from tropical trees. These two substances formed a mould that had a slightly elastic quality, so that it could easily be removed from the original object. Moulds were also made from gelatine, plaster or clay, and could then be used to create a plaster mould to use for casting.
When mixed with water, plaster can be poured into a prepared mould, allowed to set, and can be removed to produce a finished solid form. The moulds are coated with a separating or paring agent to prevent the newly poured plaster sticking to them. The smooth liquid state and slight expansion while setting allowed the quick drying plaster to infill even the most intricate contours of a mould.
Flatter, smaller objects in low relief usually require only one mould to cast the object. For more complex objects, with a raised surface, the mould would have to be made from a number of sections, known as piece-moulds. These pieces are held together in the so-called mother-mould, in order to create a mould of the whole object. Once the object has been cast from this mother-mould, the piece-moulds can be easily removed one by one, to create a cast of the three-dimensional object.

Descriptive line

Plaster cast of Trajan's Column made about 1864. The original was made perhaps by Apollodorus of Damascus in 106-113 AD.

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.

Labels and date

Cast of
Perhaps Apollodorus of Damascus
Trajan’s Column
AD 106–113

The Cast Courts are dominated by this massive reproduction of Trajan’s Column in two parts. The Roman Emperor Trajan commissioned the original monumental structure to commemorate his conquest of Dacia, now Romania. The column took seven years to complete and has stood in Rome ever since, surviving for nearly 2000 years.

In the early 1860s, Napoleon III ordered a mould to be made of the column. A metal copy, or electrotype, was made in pieces from this mould, and then sets of plaster cast copies were produced from the electrotype. In 1864, the South Kensington Museum (now the V&A) bought one of these sets.

Measuring 35 metres high, the column copy was too tall to be constructed at full height within the Museum building at the time. So in 1873, the Museum built the Architectural Courts to house its growing collection of monumental copies. These are the galleries in which you are standing today. The height of the Courts was determined by Trajan’s Column, but even then they could only be built high enough to display the column in two sections, assembled around inner brick chimneys.

Cast
About 1864
Painted plaster
Probably Rome, Italy
Museum no. Repro.1864-128

Original
Carved marble
Rome, Italy [21/06/2018]
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.

Holly Trusted []

Materials

Plaster; Paint

Techniques

Casting; Painting

Subjects depicted

Arms; Figures; Memorial columns; Armour

Categories

Sculpture; Archaeology; Architecture; Plaster Cast; Copies; Cast Courts

Production Type

Copy

Collection

Sculpture Collection

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