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Monument to Ernst, Duke of Saxony and Archbishop of Magdeburg

  • Object:

    Copy of a Monument

  • Place of origin:

    Berlin (Copy, made)
    Magdeburg (Original

    (probably), made)

  • Date:

    1904 (made)
    ca. 1497 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Vischer, Peter (sculptor)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Painted plaster cast

  • Museum number:

    REPRO.1904:0-55

  • Gallery location:

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

Ernst, Duke of Saxony, built the chapel of St Mary in Magdeburg Cathedral in 1494. A year later, at the age of 31, he commissioned his bronze tomb to be placed in the chapel, although he did not die until 1513. The V&A purchased the plaster cast of the tomb to add to its display of other reproductions of important 15th- and 16th-century German sculptures, including a cluster of key works like this by the Peter Vischer workshop.

Physical description

Plaster cast of a monument of Ernst, Duke of Saxony and Archbishop of Magdeburg from the Magdeburg Cathedral.

Place of Origin

Berlin (Copy, made)
Magdeburg (Original

(probably), made)

Date

1904 (made)
ca. 1497 (made)

Artist/maker

Vischer, Peter (sculptor)

Materials and Techniques

Painted plaster cast

Dimensions

Length: 333 cm, Width: 155 cm

Object history note

Copy of a monument of Ernst, Duke of Saxony and Archbishop of Magdeburg made in plaster in Berlin, 1904 and purchased from General-Verwaltung de Königliche Museen, Berlin in 1904 for £136 3s (2500 marks). The original was cast in bronze by Peter Vischer the Elder probably in Magdeburg about 1497 for the chapel at Magdeburg Cathedral.

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 monument of Ernst, Duke of Saxony, made in Berlin in 1904. The original was made by Peter Vischer the Elder about 1497.

Labels and date

Cast of
Peter Vischer the Elder (about 1455–1529)
Monument of Ernst, Duke of Saxony and Archbishop of Magdeburg
About 1497

Ernst, Duke of Saxony, built the chapel of St Mary in Magdeburg Cathedral in 1494. A year later, at the age of 31, he commissioned his bronze tomb to be placed in the chapel, although he did not die until 1513. The V&A purchased the plaster cast of the tomb to add to its display of other reproductions of important 15th- and 16th-century German sculptures, including a cluster of key works like this by the Peter Vischer workshop.

Cast
1904
Painted plaster
Berlin
Bought from General-Verwaltung der Königliche Museen, Berlin in 1904
Museum no. Repro.1904:0-55

Original
Cast bronze
Probably Magdeburg
Magdeburg Cathedral
Conservation supported by The Pilgrim Trust [21/06/2018]
The bronze monument of Ernst, Duke of Saxony and Archbishop of Magdeburg (1464-1513), is housed in Magdeburg Cathedral, Germany. It was produced by Peter Vischer the Elder’s workshop, and dates from around 1497. In 1494 Ernst Duke of Saxony had erected the chapel of St. Mary in the cathedral, and in 1495, as a still relatively young man, he commissioned the impressive bronze tomb from the Vischer workshop, to be placed in the chapel. Duke Ernst was from the noble family of Wettin, and had been appointed as Archbishop of Magdeburg as a child, his supporters having purchased a special dispensation for this role from the Pope, despite his youth and lack of qualifications. His relationship with the city was often troubled and caused conflicts; in 1493 he expelled the Jewish community from the city. The head of his effigy is an apparently realistic portrait of the Archbishop, suggesting it was based on observation, made from the life. He is dressed in highly decorated embroidered vestments and the effigy lies on an elaborate base. The whole is one of the great masterpieces in bronze of the Vischer workshop.

The plaster cast of the tomb was purchased by the V&A in 1904, when it was displayed in the Museum's Cast Court. It was to be seen in close proximity to a number of other reproductions of important German sculptures dating from the late 15th and early 16th centuries, including a cluster of key works by the Peter Vischer workshop.

Holly Trusted []

Production Note

Original dated 1497

Materials

Plaster; Paint

Techniques

Casting; Painting

Subjects depicted

Crosiers; Archbishops; Death; Eagles; Sepulchral monuments

Categories

Ph_survey; Sculpture; Plaster Cast; Copies; Cast Courts

Production Type

Copy

Collection

Sculpture Collection

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