December 10, 2013

Your chance to purchase a historic cast of the Parthenon frieze

Posted at 2:13 pm in British Museum, Elgin Marbles

Quite aside from the ethical implications, no private individual today is ever going to get to own the Parthenon Sculptures. The closest you could get to having a piece of them in your own home is to have a high quality cast. Many casts were made at one time or another, but some are better than others – it depends a lot on which generation they are, in terms of how far removed they are from the original sculptures.

Nowadays the British Museum Shop makes resin casts. The horse of Selene appears in Charlton Heston’s garden at the end of the film Bowling for Columbine, and I happen to know that British TV presenter William G Stewart also has a similar piece in his garden.

Some of the best casts are those that were made by the Brucciani company. Laura Steel, a teacher in Classics at Northern Illinois University, acquired what is thought to be one of these casts, and she has now advertised it for sale on Ebay.

Its the sort of thing that should ideally go to a university or museum, but I would imagine that it would also be of interest to many private collectors too.

For those of you gulping at the price tag for a plaster cast, as she explains at the end of the auction notes, this is comparable to the values that other similar pieces have sold for in recent years.

Parthenon frieze slab cast by D Brucciani & Co

Parthenon frieze slab cast by D Brucciani & Co

From:
Ebay

Full-sized Brucciani plaster copy of Parthenon frieze slab Athena Greek Greece
RARE and IRREPLACEABLE cast of one of the Elgin Marbles

Price:
US $7,500.00

Seller Notes: “Excellent used/vintage condition, with no visible flaws in the front surface. There is one larger chip in rear lower framing and a few tiny flakes from upper/lower edges (see photos).”

Regarding the piece for sale:
This piece is an irreplaceable, vintage, life-scale plaster copy of the East V Parthenon frieze slab depicting Athena and Hephaestus seated that was likely situated directly above the main entrance to the Parthenon (see photo for accepted scholarly placement of this slab within the frieze). The original is one of the Elgin Marbles held by the British Museum. While it would be even more ideal for potential buyers to see this piece in the (plaster) flesh, the photos should at least demonstrate that the cast is in excellent condition and is made in the traditional way, with un-sanded plastered strips along the back. It measures approximately 119 x 101 x 13 cm and appears to have metal framing, at least along the top edge, that would be strong enough to hang the piece on a wall surface without attaching any additional hardware.

Unfortunately, the cast comes without provenance, and I could not obtain any information about its most recent owner. The research I have done suggests that this copy is based upon the molds used by D Brucciani & Co in London in the late 19th/early 20th centuries, Domenico Brucciani was the official cast-maker to the British Museum until his death in 1880, at which point his casts continued in use by the family business. This copy appears to be a somewhat later vintage than the Brucciani copies in the Museum of Classical Archaeology at Cambridge (acquired 1884) and at Harvard (acquired 1895). It is numbered “18″ in the upper right-hand corner, just as are the other Brucciani copies, and it bears roughly the same mold lines; I suspect it might be a re-casting from sometime in the early to mid-20th century. It seems that the British Museum inherited the Brucciani molds for this slab and might have continued offering copies for some time in the 20th century after the Brucciani family firm was dissolved.

Many universities, colleges, museums, and libraries in the U.S. purchased plaster casts of Greek and Roman sculpture to form teaching collections in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, only to discard them in the mid-20th c. as “fakes.” The British Museum does not currently offer full-sized copies of this slab, nor is it reproduced by any other contemporary makers (such as the Giust Gallery and Felice Calchi) so far as I have been able to tell. I doubt that the British Museum will ever again permit molds to be taken of the Elgin Marbles in the future, since more recent studies confirm the surface damage that occurs to original reliefs during this process. Thus, this plaster copy is irreplaceable.

A note on price:
Full-sized, vintage plaster copies of Parthenon frieze slabs such as this one come on the market only very rarely, and most institutions are choosing to restore their re-discovered casts (often to the tune of many thousands of dollars) rather than to sell them. Brucciani Parthenon frieze casts have recently fetched high prices at Christies (2012 Aynhoe Park sale: http://www.christies.com/lotfinder/furniture-lighting/twelve-plaster-sections-from-the-parthenon-frieze-5606458-details.aspx?from=searchresults&intObjectID=5606458&sid=c5ac1935-c38b-4339-979f-872c47a8bce2) and at Sotheby’s (2006 NY Met sale: http://www.sothebys.com/en/auctions/ecatalogue/2006/historic-plaster-casts-from-the-metropolitan-museum-of-art-new-york-n08176/lot.169.html), and neither of those sales included a copy of East V, which of course is of particular historic interest as the likely centerpiece of the Parthenon frieze.

I would be most willing to consider counteroffers by institutional buyers who could make the piece accessible to the viewing public.

Regarding shipping:
The piece weighs approximately 100 pounds and is somewhat fragile. The buyer must arrange and pay for appropriate shipping and delivery methods.

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7 Comments »

  1. carolemadge said,

    12.10.13 at 3:26 pm

    RT @elginism: Blog post: Your chance to purchase a historic cast of the Parthenon frieze http://t.co/LBlo5KeSmq

  2. remersereau said,

    12.10.13 at 3:57 pm

    RT @elginism: Blog post: Your chance to purchase a historic cast of the Parthenon frieze http://t.co/LBlo5KeSmq

  3. MrCuts73 said,

    12.11.13 at 1:42 am

    RT @elginism: Blog post: Your chance to purchase a historic cast of the Parthenon frieze http://t.co/LBlo5KeSmq

  4. mat8iou said,

    12.11.13 at 7:54 am

    RT @elginism: Blog post: Your chance to purchase a historic cast of the Parthenon frieze http://t.co/LBlo5KeSmq

  5. stevelorenti said,

    12.13.13 at 1:34 am

    @elginism Spurlock Museum (Univ. of Illinois) has Caproni casts but this one attributed to Brucciani? Unlikely. http://t.co/GCkEwXlikM.

  6. Irene said,

    04.14.14 at 5:35 am

    I have a real piece of the Parthenon passed on from generations. It is about 15 cm in length and at the thickest point 7cm to 2cm. What is the dollar value of this rock?

  7. Matthew said,

    04.14.14 at 7:29 am

    Its value on the public open market would be very little. Most auction sites would take it down as being illicitly acquired & without any form of provenance, it is hard to prove where it really came from.

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