Princesses Luise and Friederike © Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Gipsformerei / Jürgen Hohmuth, Zeitort
Plaster is the ideal material for reproducing the fine details of original artefacts. The casts are made from a special mix of the finest, high-quality plaster of Paris. Creating these replicas from moulds that are at times 200 years old is a complicated and extremely time-consuming process.
In addition to preparing and finishing the moulds before casting, numerous individual components have to be assembled and subsequently modelled, too. In some cases, the valuable historical moulds have outlived the original objects on which they were based and show us how the objects once looked before they were irretrievably lost, destroyed or damaged.
The plaster cast is one of the oldest artistic techniques used by humans and has been deployed by sculptors since antiquity. Its special attraction is its precision and its ability to faithfully reproduce details.
Plaster casts were considered works of art in their own right in antiquity. Casts of classical Greek and Roman works made it possible to visualise the ideals of the ancient world in the studio. In the early modern period, a classical canon was established, however, that did not encompass all of antiquity but was shaped and spread further through the use of plaster casts in the art academies.
In the 18th century, collections of plaster casts at art academies and galleries of the houses of the nobility helped to advance scholarship: numerous classical works gathered in small spaces facilitated direct comparisons, enabling scholars to sort and classify them and ultimately reconstruct a history of style. With the realisation that it was easier to study ancient works from plaster casts than from the copper engravings that had been previously used, many universities set up their own cast collections for study purposes. From there, it did not take long for the casts to find their way into museums, and whole departments were dedicated to replicas in the 19th century. It was in this spirit that the Gipsformerei was founded in Berlin in 1819.