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The Three Graces

  • Object:

    Copy of the Three Graces

  • Place of origin:

    Paris (Copy

    (probably), made)
    France (Original, made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1862 (made)
    ca. 1560-63 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Pilon, Germain (sculptor)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Painted plaster cast

  • Museum number:

    REPRO.1862-2668

  • Gallery location:

    Cast Courts, The Ruddock Family Cast Court, Room 46A, case FS, shelf C

The original sculpture of the Three Graces, daughters of Zeus, supported a bronze urn that held the ashes of King Henri II of France (1519–59). The King’s widow, Catherine de Médicis, commissioned the monument from Germain Pilon, one of the leading French sculptors of the time. He took inspiration from the Italian Renaissance to form an elegant composition featuring elongated figures. This was a relatively early cast acquisition by the Museum, purchased over ten years before the Cast Courts were built.

Physical description

Plaster cast of The Three Graces depicting the elegant elongated figures of the three daughters of Zeus.

Place of Origin

Paris (Copy

(probably), made)
France (Original, made)

Date

ca. 1862 (made)
ca. 1560-63 (made)

Artist/maker

Pilon, Germain (sculptor)

Materials and Techniques

Painted plaster cast

Dimensions

Height: 287.5 cm, Width: 114.5 cm

Object history note

Copy of The Three Graces made from plaster in Paris, France about 1862 and possibly purchased from the Musée du Louvre, Paris in 1862 for £33. The original was made in marble by Germain Pilon in France about 1560-63. The original sculpture was commissioned by the widow of King Henri II of France, Catherine de Médicis and supported a bronze urn that held the ashes of King Henri II of France.

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 the Three Graces made in about 1862. The original was made by Germain Pilon in about 1560-63.

Labels and date

Cast of
Germain Pilon (1525–90)
The Three Graces
About 1560–63

The original sculpture of the Three Graces, daughters of Zeus, supported a bronze urn that held the ashes of King Henri II of France (1519–59). The King’s widow, Catherine de Médicis, commissioned the monument from Germain Pilon, one of the leading French sculptors of the time. He took inspiration from the Italian Renaissance to form an elegant composition featuring elongated figures. This was a relatively early cast acquisition by the Museum, purchased over ten years before the Cast Courts were built.

Cast
About 1862
Painted plaster
Probably Paris, France
Museum no. Repro.1862-2668

Original
Marble
France
Musée du Louvre, Paris [21/06/2018]
These three elegant figures, representing the Three Graces, daughters of Zeus, originally supported a bronze urn holding the ashes of King Henri II of France (1519-1559). The sculpture was commissioned by the king’s widow, Catherine de’Medici. The sculptor Germain Pilon was one of the leading French sculptors of his time, and the style of his elongated elegant figures is associated with the court of Fontainebleau, which itself was inspired by the Italian renaissance. The base was designed by the Italian artist Domenico dei Barbieri. This plaster cast was purchased by the Museum for £33; it was acquired in 1862, not long after the Museum’s foundation in 1851.

Holly Trusted []

Materials

Plaster; Paint

Techniques

Casting; Painting

Subjects depicted

Personification; Women; Figures (representations)

Categories

Sculpture; Plaster Cast; Copies; Cast Courts

Production Type

Copy

Collection

Sculpture Collection

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