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!
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.
Children and Artists learn by observation, and in all learning, there is an element of imitation or copying of what has been seen. it is an old adage that we learn from example, and so I am of the belief that children deserve to experience art that is good.
the pain of that first fall so many of us had in the school playground, when we limped home with grazed knees; its a detail that can't be missed out!
And did you spot it? Yes, I added a little extra cloth to the ephod, so as to cover his bare groin.
The green tinged torso on the left, would never have worked with the new blue detailing, added to replicate the schools colours.
With the wood cleaned, smoothed and replenished, the crucifix looks resplendent.
I hope it will catch the attention of the young students, just as would a bright new butterfly which has come to rest on the school corridor wall.
The month of October has brought us a number of crucifixes for restoration. Here I am posting just a couple of examples which were adapted to our clients needs.
This example had been stained with a brown paint, to give the figure some definition. When we removed the corpus for treatment, it revealed that the brown staining had "soiled" the wood beneath it. This meant that the staining had been applied while the corpus was still attached to the cross.
This staining had to be removed from both the corpus and the wood of the cross before further work could be done.The
The religious sisters wanted the corpus to have a more realistic appearance, so as to aid their contemplation of Christ's wounds.
The question of how real is too real is very much a personal and cultural matter, especially in the application of painted wounds and their bloodiness.
In addition to moving the spear wound to the right hand side, I added more grazing to the knees and added the shoulder wound for the sisters.
The INRI plaque was also repaired and repainted and the wooden cross bar stabilised; this is something that often works loose with time, and can be a cause of damage to the figure itself if not corrected.
I applied the skin tones in several layers, which gives it a more realistic appearance. Because the navel of the torso was neither here not there - it needed some re-modelling to add to the sense of realism. A small detail perhaps, but worth the effort I think.
My next post shows a crucifix restored for a school, with a slightly different approach to colours.
Liturgical artist/restorer. Bachelor of Art and Design, Catholic Blogger
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