In the 19th century, casting became part of a museum’s work. Following the creation of a workshop at the musée du Louvre, with the intention of making accurate casts available on the market, the musée de Saint-Germain developed its own workshop, with internationally renowned and cutting-edge practices. The sale and exchange of these casts contributed not only to the museum’s finances, but also to its museography.
An ancient practice in constant evolution
The oldest known casts date from ancient Egypt. In the 8th century BCE, clay moulds were used. In the 6th century BCE, the technique of lost wax casting was observed in ancient Greece.
With the arrival of the industrial age, relatively detailed impressions could be made using gelatine. The rapid development of the chemical industry following the Second World War brought with it a wider range of raw materials: there were more types of plaster, and elastomer, alginate and plastilina became available, as did composite materials.
Eventually, industrial casting allowed the production of everyday products using a die cast.
Today high-definition 3D scanning has made possible 3D printing. However, manual alterations and a patina are still required to achieve a quality finish.
The casting of artefacts arrives in museums
The casting of artworks and artefacts stands out compared to other types of casting for the attention paid to the finish of the item and its conformity to the original. The moulds for the first casts of this type were made from lost wax, then more recently from plaster, in the form of two-part plaster moulds. The reproductions were usually made from plaster too. A shellac patina and layers of glaze completed this highly precise work. This is the technique developed by Abel Maître, head of the workshops at the musée de Saint-Germain from 1866.
From the 1950s, the flexibility of elastomer allowed for impressions to be made from the original object, both with or without projections, reproducing the smallest details. Whatever the composite material used, the resulting product was an exact copy of the original object. The final touch was a patina, using shellac or acrylic paints.