Ellen Perry, Professor of Classics, College of the Holy Cross
At the turn of the last century, what most Americans knew about Greek and Roman art they knew through the medium of plaster. For a time, prominent museums and schools in America gave over most of their ancient exhibition space to casts of famous masterpieces such as the Laocoön, the Nike of Paionios, and the Venus de Milo. Plaster was, moreover, a popular medium for the classicizing sculptures designed by artists of the day. And, like the ancient sculptures they reproduced and imitated, plaster casts were not always white. Not only that, but the quality of the coloring seems to have mattered a great deal. For the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, the sculptor Daniel Chester French gilded a colossal statue titled The Republic—and was roundly criticized for the results. But when Augustus Saint-Gaudens, perhaps the most famous American sculptor of his day, acquired casts of a portion of the Parthenon frieze to decorate his home in Cornish, New Hampshire, he tinted and retinted it three times before he was satisfied. These and similar stories provide us with some insight into plaster casts as a mechanism of taste formation, as well as into the particular role of color in that taste formation.
Free; no reservation required.
This lecture is hosted by the Department of Art History and Art at Case Western Reserve University and co-sponsored by the Cleveland Museum of Art.