Six towering early Christian crosses in the Victoria and Albert Museum’s famous Cast Courts have been conserved thanks to a grant from Allchurches Trust.
The crosses were cast in plaster from ancient stone crosses dating from the seventh to 10th Century around the British Isles during the mid-19th century and installed in the Cast Courts, which have been undergoing extensive refurbishment since 2011, along with copies of other architectural and ecclesiastical wonders including the 35-metre high Trajan’s Column.
Collecting plaster cast reproductions and electrotypes reached the height of popularity in the mid to late 19th Century when only a select few could afford to travel to the UK.
The South Kensington Museum (as the V&A was then known) was at the forefront of this enthusiasm, bringing together casts of important European monuments and works of art for visitors to admire and study, making them accessible to far more people.
Allchurches Trust contributed to the V&A’s restoration of the West Court, which will now be called the Ruddock Family Cast Court, and the Central Gallery, which will become the Chitra Nirmal Sethia Gallery.
In the first month that the courts reopened on December 1, 2018, they saw 53,000 people visit. Of these visitors over 10,000 said it was the main reason for visiting the V&A. The refurbishment of the Cast Courts has allowed visitors closer access to many of the casts than has been possible for decades.
During the project all 163 objects in the court were assessed by the V&A’s specialist team of sculpture conservators which helped them choose the most appropriate treatment methods for the casts. Conservation techniques paid attention to structural consolidation, dusting and wet cleaning of the paint layers. This thorough process has now greatly enhanced the cast’s structural conditional, stability and aesthetics; enhancing visitor experience.
The Cast Court galleries now also feature a brand new gallery exploring the history, processes and significance of casts and copies as well as looking to their contemporary relevance and future in the digital age. Entry to the Cast Courts is free.