Why I love the V&A Cast Courts

As the V&A in London completes its redevelopment of its iconic Cast Courts, which hold a collection of 19th century plaster casts of works of antiquity, Eliza Williams reflects on what they reveal about art, history and the power of the copy

I first visited the V&A Cast Courts in the early 1990s, on a trip with my university’s art history department. We were studying Michelangelo at the time, and prior to our trip to the V&A my only experience of his works was via slides (this was pre the digital age, remember) and while the many stories of Michelangelo’s tempestuous approach to the creation of his art had piqued my interest, the low-lit, projected images had done little to bring his sculptures to life in my mind.

But at the V&A, a whole load of them were suddenly there in life size form, all in one room. David stood gigantic in the centre of the cavernous space, accompanied by Moses, The Dying Slave, Brutus and many others. And not only that, Donatello’s David, who we’d also examined in depth via slides, was tucked in there too! And across the hall, in a second room, even greater treasures lay, at the centre of which was a reproduction of Trajan’s Column, originally commissioned by the Roman Emperor Trajan in AD 106-113, standing at 35 metres high.

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