- 19th century-20th century (Creation)
Level of description
Content and Structure
Scope and content
Collection of plaster casts comprising human figures, architectural fragments, plaster friezes, plaster reliefs, marble reliefs, tondos and busts.
Casts were used as an important teaching aid by the School, from the late 19th century onwards. The casts are generally based on classical statuary and were originally sourced from Greek, Roman and later Italian and medieval periods. Whilst not totally unique (most art schools in the UK and across Europe owned their own collections, purchased from established suppliers in London, Paris etc.), their continued existence within their original setting gives them an added significance. Importantly, the Glasgow School of Art's photographic archive contains many period images of how these casts have been used by staff and students since they were first introduced.
The majority of GSA's plaster cast collection was located in the School's Mackintosh Building at the time of a fire in the building on 23rd May 2014. As a result the majority of the collection suffered damage, of varying degrees, and all casts were subsequently surveyed by a conservator. Six casts were lost in the fire and eleven larger casts have undergone remedial conservation in 2016-17. The majority of the remaining casts have undergone cleaning before being repositioned around GSA's campus during 2019.
Appraisal, destruction and scheduling
System of arrangement
Name of creator
Physical Description and Conditions of Use
Conditions governing access
Conditions governing reproduction
Application for permission to reproduce should be submitted to The Archives and Collections at The Glasgow School of Art.
Reproduction subject to usual conditions: educational use and condition of material.
For further details, please refer to our Reprographic Service Guide @ https://gsaarchives.com/policies
Language of material
Script of material
Language and script notes
Existence and location of originals
Existence and location of copies
Collection Historical Note
In the nineteenth century, drawing was the foundation stone for all of Glasgow School of Art's courses. Students were encouraged to spend weeks perfecting their skills by drawing the 'ideal forms' of the cast collection; which are a mixture of figures, animal and architectural representations.
Throughout the second half of the 19th century (the school was established in 1845) and the early 20th century the school regularly bought plaster casts, similarly to most art schools across Europe. These were bought from manufacturers who would produce life size and scale replicas of the original sculptures and reliefs.
The majority of the purchases that can be attributed at Glasgow School of Art are from D.Brucciani, Ltd who offered casts of Greek and Roman ornament alongside those of works from the Byzantine, Gothic and Renaissance periods, and who also worked for The British Museum and the Victoria & Albert Museum.
Glasgow School of Art’s archives (including inventories, studies by students, photographs and governors books) provide an insight into the previous life of the casts; where they were stored, who used them and how much vaster the collection was in its heyday. The earliest inventory of the collection was in 1849, from which a small number of current casts can be identified including a cast of Michelangelo’s ‘Dying Slave’ (First Floor). Further inventories note additions to the collection though not all records can be identified as singular pieces of the collection as general descriptions mean they could be recording any number of pieces.
The current collection held by the school is spread over several buildings, though is primarily held in the Mackintosh Building; which is primarily large statues lining the corridors, and fragments of architectural ornament mounted on the walls and on shelves, and a small number of animals and statuettes. Most figurative sculpture casts are of Classical and Hellenistic styles, the former of strong stature but displaying naturalistic poses and the later becoming more realistic rather than depicting people as the pinnacle of beauty and perfection. However, there are also examples of later Gothic styles such as cast of an Archbishop (Basement corridor), which is of secular origin and expressive in form. There is a greater variety of styles in the architectural fragments which range from the strict classical orders to the expressive renaissance and baroque relief sculpture.
The casts were cleaned and conserved from 2008 to 2010. Many of the casts, particularly the full sized ones, had previously been painted to retain a purity of colour (so form could be concentrated on) which was not removed in case of any further damage. In 2014 the catalogue for the casts was updated; adding photographs and additional information to pre-existing records.
Place access points
People and Organisations
- The Glasgow School of Art (Subject)
Genre access points
Rules and/or conventions used
Level of detail
- Descriptions updated and images uploaded by Penelope Hines, University of Glasgow student placement, 2014.
- Catalogue imported to Archon software and updated by Michelle Kaye, Archon Project Officer, April 2014.
- Catalogue exported from Archon and imported into AtoM during system migration, 2018-2019.