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Plaster cast

Plaster cast

  • Place of origin:

    Florence (city) (sculpted)
    Florence (city) (cast)

  • Date:

    3rd quarter 15th century (sculpted)
    1893 (cast)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Donatello, born 1385 - died 1466 (sculptor)
    Lelli, Giuseppe (maker)
    Lelli, Oronzio (maker)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Plaster cast

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Medieval & Renaissance, Room 64b, The Simon Sainsbury Gallery, case FS

Physical description

Plaster cast after the bronze original pedestal of the Judith and Holfernes group (1893-486), in the Palazzo Vecchio, Florence. The statue and its base were designed as the centre of a fountain, with water spouts in the corner of the pillow.

Place of Origin

Florence (city) (sculpted)
Florence (city) (cast)


3rd quarter 15th century (sculpted)
1893 (cast)


Donatello, born 1385 - died 1466 (sculptor)
Lelli, Giuseppe (maker)
Lelli, Oronzio (maker)

Materials and Techniques

Plaster cast

Marks and inscriptions

Inscribed around the top of the pedestal

Object history note

Purchased from Lelli for £20 17s 5d.

The Special Committee on Casts at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York wrote to the authorities at South Kensington in August 1892, offering them the opportunity of obtaining a copy of the Judith and Holofernes group by Donatello, under the favourable conditions negotiated by them with the Ministry of Public Instruction of the Kingdom of Italy. The casting was to be undertaken by the Florentine-based plaster cast manufacturer, Oronzio Lelli. The company was based in 95 Corso de' Tintori, 95, Florence. Later the company was headed by Giuseppe Lelli, probably the son of Oronzio. The cost of the copies would be 3808 francs minimum or 5020 francs maximum, depending on the number of institutions taking advantage of the offer. There were a small number of other casts offered, and the South Kensington Museum was invited to ‘co-operate taking advantage of this opportunity to secure first copies of casts taken directly from the originals of these important works’. The fact that these were the first casts taken from moulds of the group was important in ensuring the highest quality casts.

The Science and Art Department agreed to the purchase three copies of the cast, one each for the South Kensington Museum, Dublin Museum and Edinburgh Museum. This was not an unusual practice, and the joint purchasing of reproductions such as this enabled significant savings to be made. A note on the file relating to the acquisition records the recommendation that the Dublin Museum and Edinburgh Museum should have their attention drawn to the fact ‘that the Italian Government very rarely gives permission to cast bronzes and such an opportunity very rarely occurs’.

Oronzio Lelli was informed of the decision and agreed to despatch the casts to the three Museums. He wrote in March 1893 to the authorities at South Kensington stating that the three casts were now ready 'but not dry enough to be sent with safety. This will necessitate about 20 days more before they can be packed'. We can therefore assume that the moulds and casting for the Judith and Holofernes probably took place sometime in the Spring of 1893.

The acquisition of the pedestal was a later acquisition in July 1893. Museum papers record the suggestion that the recently acquired cast of the group 'would not look well unless mounted upon a copy of the original pedestal'. As with the Judith and Holofernes group, it was thought that both the museums at Edinburgh and Dublin would also like to join with the South Kensington Museum in order to obtain the reproductions at a reduced rate. Edward Robinson, the purchasing Agent of the Museum of Fine Art in Boston was also to be advised as it had been his assistance that helped in the acquisition of the cast of the Judith and Holofernes group.

Meanwhile, Lelli had been approached and believed there would be no difficulty in obtaining the necessary permissions to take the cast. Lelli offered copies of the cast of the pedestal at 600 lire if there were several takers, or 1000 lire if only the South Kensington Museum were interested. On 28 July 1893, Lelli wrote to the officials at South Kensington to report that he had that day obtained the permission to cast the pedestal from the local Commission for the Preservation of Monuments in Tuscany.

Later, both casts of the group of Judith and Holofernes and of the pedestal were included in Lelli's catalogue of reproductions available for sale including the Catalogo Illustrato dei Monumenti. Statue, Bassirilievi e altre sculture di varie epoche che si trovano formate in gesso nell laboratorio di Oronzi Lelli in Firenze - Corso de' Tintori, N. 95, 1894, as no. 163. It appears again in the Catalogo dei Monumenti, Statue, Bassirilievi e altre sculpture di varie epoche che si trovano formate in gesso nel premiato stabilimento di Giuseppe Lelli (fu Oronzio), Firenze, 1899, again listed as no. 163 with the price of 1800 lire.

When the cast of Judith and Holofernes was acquired it was not originally shown in the South-East Court (or Architectural Courts, as the Cast Courts were originally known). According to J. H. Pollen, 'Other Italian sculpture, original and in plaster casts, is shown in the corridors that surround the north court' (John Hungerford Pollen, Science and Art Department of the Committee of Council on Education. South Kensington Museum. A Description of the Architecture and Monumental Sculpture in the South-East Court of the South Kensington Museum, London, 1874, p.1.

Historical context note

The statue and its base were designed as the centre of a fountain, with water spouts in the corner of the pillow. Its earliest known location is the garden of the Palazzo Medici. The inscription on the pedestal was added after the fall of the Medici in 1494, when it was removed first into the Palazzo Vecchio and then placed outside it. The statue was taken back into the Palazzo Vecchio in 1980.

Descriptive line

Plaster cast after the bronze original pedestal of the Judith and Holfernes group, in the Palazzo Vecchio, Florence; Donatello, third quarter of the 15th century, cast 1893

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

Board of Education, South Kensington. List of Reproductions in Metal and Plaster acquired by the Victoria and Albert Museum, South Kensington in the Year 1893 (second edition), Wyman and Sons, London, 1900, p.56






Ph_survey; Sculpture; Religion


Sculpture Collection

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