Plaster religious statuary is sometimes associated with substandard art. This beautiful 19th Century corpus which I've been restoring tells me otherwise.
Religious figures were often modeled for mass production by highly skilled sculptors. The fact that they were produced in plaster did not make the work less noteworthy artistically. The sculptor who modeled this figure would have studied anatomy inside and out. He/she shows great sensitivity in the modeling of the musculature and underlying bone structure.
However, commercialism can reduce quality, and I'll explain this further on.
In earlier times, both animal gelatin and rubber were used to make moulds for architectural and figurative pieces.
Gelatin, has a short shelf life, it breaks down fairly quickly, and as the gelatin deteriorates, so does the mould. Its ability to replicate sharp detail is reduced. In commercial terms, few replicas could be produced using this material. Because moulds are expensive and time consuming to make, commercial producers occasionally over-used rubber moulds which were past their best.
While first edition figures would retain all the detail of the original model, those produced using a mould which had lost it elasticity from over -use were substantially different.
I believe it is these latter figures which give religious plaster statuary a bad name. Hardly surprising if one hasn't had the opportunity to view the first editions.
There are still some good examples of plaster statuary which retain all their original details; though sadly, the commercial push to promote resin statuary means that fewer of these figures might be preserved for the future.
The corpus here is depicted with an open mouth, inviting us to contemplation of Christs last words on the cross, "Into your hands I commend my spirit... it is done!""
The figure is not a sentimental representation, but invites us to think deeply about the spiritual significance of these words for us.
It has weathered church devotions for over a century and a half, and hopefully now one hundred more!
I admit that I regard humble plaster figures with some affection. I am sure when God created plaster, he knew that it would serve to build up the church throughout time. Even though mass produced religious statuary has its faults, it did much to further popular devotion during the 19th Century.
Long may our beloved plaster statues continue!
An artist's paintbrushes, are the tools of his trade. I once counted that I had used over 14 different types of brush on one statue.
If you are aware that a posi-drive screwdriver is not suitable for a flat slot screw head- then you will have some appreciation for the virtue of having the right paintbrush for the right job.
A house painter and decorator will agree that choosing the correct brush for the job is important. While house paint brushes are pretty standard in appearance, artists brushes come in a huge variety of shapes, sizes and bristle types.
The liner below will produce long thin marks, This one has natural bristles of sable. The gilders tip - used for placing gold sheets onto a surface for gilded decoration, can be made of squirrel or badger hair. While it is not used for painting, it is an important tool in my emporium!
In years gone by, the addition of lead or tin to paints, gave artists the ability to create sinuous lines, and a satisfying opaque finish to works. These heavy metals gave the paints greater longevity. However, they decreased the longevity of the artist's life - (and that of their manufacturers) - so these metals have since been removed.
The result is that the fluidity of the paint has been compromised, and creates more of a challenge for the artist/restorer.
The image above shows, the decorative detail of a Sacred Heart statue I'm currently restoring, I am using two differently shaped brushes with different hair types to replicate the quality of line used in the original.
The internet shop photo hadn't shown the greasy glob of goo which sat on his forehead. A candle stand had hidden the missing fingers of his left hand.
The all important "Heart" had been nailed to his chest at a jaunty angle.
Despite this, someone saw past the rash of problems - and brought him to us for rescue!
With all the old paint and goo removed, the statue revealed that it had been made from open grained low grade wood which split easily. We carefully pared down the front of the mantle so that the heart would sit comfortably on his chest .
With these two alterations, the figure immediately took on a more dignified appearance.
The next remedy was to carve some new fingers. We used a denser wood than that used for the figure, and spliced these into the palm of the hand. as shown below.as
This statue of the Sacred Heart was intended for a church sanctuary. As we were also restoring the figure of Our Lady for the same sanctuary, I designed a motif which would suit both figures, to give them unity.
Below is the finished figure (photographed at my studio) with its new look complete.
Liturgical artist/restorer. Bachelor of Art and Design, Catholic Blogger
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