“The quality of a reproduction is of the greatest importance. In an original work of merit there is a subtleness of treatment- a certain feeling which, if captured in reproduction, places the finished piece within the realm of art itself.”
– Pietro Caproni, 1911
Years ago, museums, schools and galleries were not filled exclusively with originals, they exhibited large collections of copied (referred to ‘cast’) sculptures. These days, it’s not common to display reproductions alongside original works, but for anyone that’s seen the cast sculpture collection in the Victoria and Albert museum in London, you know what massive weight a collection like that can have. Ancient Egyptian obelisks and columns right next to Michelangelo’s David and the Winged Victory of Samothrace. Collections like that used to be more common, and there were sculpture houses dedicated to the careful reproduction of important works of art for pleasure and study. Perfect copies of Ancient Greek, Roman, Renaissance, and 19th Century, all standing right there next to one another.
For the first time, I recently went out to visit The Giust Gallery here in Woburn, Massachusetts- and brought a group of my students with me. It’s a special place, as inheritor of the Caproni Collection; one of best-documented, successful and well-known American reproduction houses, it’s one of the only remaining reproduced sculpture collections in America. Here’s an excerpt on the history of the collection, from the book The Historic Shops and Restaurants of Boston by Phyllis Meras- I found it on google books, but looks like you can get a copy of the book for around 9-10 dollars. It’s also got a section on Vose Galleries, which is the oldest gallery in the states, and like Giust, another family-run business.
The person that was handed down Lino Giust’s collection is Robert Shure; an artist that has done many public and private sculptures and monuments in the Boston area, and works with the conservation and restoration of many of Boston’s historic sculptures. He was kind enough to spend time with us, explaining not only the unique history of his studio, but many of the current projects that he is working on.
Above, Shure is showing us one of the original Caproni Collection catalogues, from which plaster casts were once ordered. Below, a placard outlining some of the lineage of his sculptural training, and the cast collection’s. Before Giust, or Caproni, the collection was once called the Francis Chickey Company- an americanization of Francesco Cicchi, the tuscan artisan that started the company.
Being at their space felt awfully familiar after all the time I spent at the Florence Academy’s Drawing program.
Above, one of Shure’s assistants is showing is the molds they use- below, a couple of shots of their plaster curing room.
For anyone in New England, I would really recommend going out to visit and see what they do. The allow students to come and draw, and keep aside some ‘seconds’ that they sell to students at discounted rates.
The collection is huge, and you can order many more casts than these from Giust’s recently redesigned website. There aren’t many places in the world today that you can buy a full-sized Nike of Samothrace (I’m saving my pennies). That said, they are still rebuilding the collection after it had fallen into misuse and disrepair after Modernism had eclipsed the attention a collection like Caproni once received. The work that Shure is doing at Giust and Skylight studios does not only preserve a bit of sculpture, it’s an important piece of shared cultural heritage.