Cast Courts at the V&A

The Cast Courts at the V&A are among my favourite galleries in the museum.  When the furthest I had travelled was from Norwich to the V&A I knew that one day I wanted to visit Fontevraud Abbey because of the copy of the Angevin tombs that I had seen there.  Copies in a museum?  Yep, that’s right.  Copies of have been at the heart of the V&A collection right since the museum opened, even before it was the called the Victoria and Albert.  

When the V&A opened it was intended to act as a school of design for artists and the public alike.  At the time the vast majority of people would never travel abroad.  So how better to show off the best of the world’s sculpture and architecture than by showing casts of the best bits of world culture.  Yes all the vast intricate stuctures that you see in the Cast Courts were really cast from the real buildings and statues.  Making the casts was a highly skilled job and in the nineteenth century every self respecting design museum would have a cast collection, the V&A is one of the few to remain.

Michelangelo’s David has been part of the V&A collection since day one.  Clemente Papi made the mould using 1,500 tiny moulds that joined together in an amazing 3D jigsaw to make the whole 5 metre structure.  The Grand Duck of Tuscany decided that original marble David was getting too weather beaten living outside and so wanted an exact copy to put in his place. A few years later the Grand Duke decided to present Queen Victoria with a plaster copy to make up for having refused an export licence to a painting coveted by the National Gallery.  Shipping him over cost more than it cost to make the cast!  To preserve Victorian modesty a fig leaf was made, you can still see the enormous leaf at the back of David’s plinth.

Eleanor of Aquitaine is my favourite English Queen she was feisty, intelligent and loved her culture.  What especially appealed to me as a child was that she was reading a book on her tomb. I still pop by to say hello to Eleanor whenever I am in the V&A, tell her what I’m reading or have just seen.  

The Trajan column is so vast that it needs to be displayed in two parts.  You can even go inside the bottom half and gaze up at the incredible structure.  The detail is easier to study here than on the original as there is 150 fewer years of weathering on the V&A’s version.

Another place I was inspired to visit by the Cast Courts was Santiago de Compostela.  The Portico de la Gloria of the cathedral at Santiago de Compostela takes up the whole wall of the rooms.  It is an incredible work of Romanesque work.  When I eventually got to see it in real life it was raining, it quite often rains in that part of Spain.  So far it has never rained on me in the V&A.

It isn’t only huge things in the Cast Courts.  I love this bust of Pietro Mellini, he looks as if he would have interesting tales to tell.  Before you go look down at the floor, the tiles were made by the inmates of the Woking Female Prison.
The best thing about taking the Grand Tour in the Cast Courts at the V&A?  Afterwards you can retreat to one of the finest museum cafés anywhere in the world.

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15 Comments

  1. May 2, 2020 / 8:24 am

    Really interesting post! I’ve only been to the V&A once and didn’t get to spend much time there, so I definitely want to revisit.

  2. May 2, 2020 / 9:10 am

    I love the cast courts! I love the way you’ve brought their stories alive.

  3. theboutiqueadventurergmailcom
    May 3, 2020 / 2:35 pm

    I have been to the V&A several times but have never seen these areas! I will definitely check them out personally next time I visit!

    • Catherine
      Author
      May 4, 2020 / 11:43 am

      They are fascinating and very handy for the tea rooms too!

  4. May 7, 2020 / 9:35 pm

    Wow! #CulturedKids (It’s amazing waht they could do??)

    • Catherine
      Author
      May 7, 2020 / 9:37 pm

      Incredible to think of encasing the Trajan column in a mold

  5. May 7, 2020 / 9:39 pm

    Also my favourite room! The size of the exhibits is what first overwhelms. I also feel like I am walking through a film set from Narnia where all the mythical creatures have been turned to stone. I only discovered it recently, as my children are more dinosaur fans, but I am definitely taking them on my next trip to London. Thanks for sharing some of their stories. #CulturedKids

    • Catherine
      Author
      May 7, 2020 / 9:51 pm

      My boys loved it when they were small

  6. May 10, 2020 / 12:50 pm

    Great to read the stories behind the cast courts. The V&A is my favourite in London #CulturedKids

  7. May 12, 2020 / 4:32 pm

    Always a favourite to go and have a look at, thanks for adding more details so I’ll go with renewed eyes the next time I go! #culturedkids

  8. May 24, 2020 / 4:26 pm

    Thanks – I found this an incredibly interesting post. I didn’t know anything about casts until now. I really think I need to add the V&A to my ever-growing list of places I want to visit!
    #culturedkids

    • Catherine
      Author
      May 24, 2020 / 4:34 pm

      Thank you! My list just gets longer all the time

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