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Copy of a Pillar Cross

Copy of a Pillar Cross

  • Place of origin:

    England (Copy)
    Gosforth (Original)

  • Date:

    1882
    900-1000

  • Artist/Maker:

    Bullen Sergeant (caster)
    Unknown (sculptor)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Plaster cast

  • Museum number:

    REPRO.1882-258

  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

The decoration of the cross, from a church in Cumbria, combines Christian symbolism with elements of Norse mythology. Cumbria was settled by Scandinavians around the 10th century, and so it is possible the cross’s mixture of carvings is evidence of the Norse settlers’ stories being used to illustrate Christian teachings. The copy was made by Sergeant Bullen, who made a number of plaster casts in both London and India for the Museum.

Physical description

Plaster cast of a red sandstone pillar cross carved with the Crucifixion and scenes from the Scandinavian legend of Rangnarok, Anglo-Danish, late 9th century in the churchyard at Gosforth, Cumbria, cast in August 1882

Place of Origin

England (Copy)
Gosforth (Original)

Date

1882
900-1000

Artist/maker

Bullen Sergeant (caster)
Unknown (sculptor)

Materials and Techniques

Plaster cast

Dimensions

Height: 442.5 cm

Object history note

Cast of a pillar cross created in 1882 by Sergeant Bullen for the South Kensington Museum. The cast was created from a red sandstone original, located in St Mary's Church, Gosforth in Cumbria. The carvings on the cross depict a combination of Norse and Christian influences. The cross therefore provides an important insight into the cross-cultural storytelling of Scandinavian settlers in the 10th century.

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 a pillar cross depicting the Crucifixion and scenes from the Scandinavian legend of Rangnarok. Cast made by Sergeant Bullen in August 1882.

Labels and date

Cast of
Unknown artist
Pillar Cross
900–1000

The decoration of the cross, from a church in Cumbria, combines Christian symbolism with elements of Norse mythology. Cumbria was settled by Scandinavians around the 10th century, and so it is possible the cross’s mixture of carvings is evidence of the Norse settlers’ stories being used to illustrate Christian teachings. The copy was made by Sergeant Bullen, who made a number of plaster casts in both London and India for the Museum.

Cast
Sergeant Bullen for the South Kensington Museum
1882
Plaster
England
Museum no. Repro.1882-258

Original
Red sandstone
England
St Mary’s Church, Gosforth
Conservation supported by Allchurches Trust, Owners of Ecclesiastical Insurance Group [21/06/2018]

Materials

Plaster

Techniques

Casting

Subjects depicted

Cross

Categories

Plaster Cast; Copies; Cast Courts; Christianity; Sculpture

Production Type

Copy

Collection

Sculpture Collection

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