Valentina Risdonne

Valentina Risdonne

Cast in a New Light: the surface coatings of nineteenth century plaster casts and their conservation.

The subject of plaster casts as historic objects in gaining in attention, however written information on 19th century casts is limited, and scattered. There is well established literature on the role of plaster casts within the study of the antique, however the topic of plaster reproductions of the art and architecture of later periods is less well served. The subject is touched on in chapters and conference papers, and publications tend to cover the topic more broadly. Specific groups of casts by artists such as Velazquez or Canova have also been the focus of art historical publications. The PhD will seek to uncover how the presentation of the casts, in the form of their coatings, in the mid 19th century and after, differed from earlier collections, and how this information can support the on-going preservation of the V&A’s collection. Specifically, the project will investigate

  • What were the original historic materials and methods employed to make the V&A’s 19th century plaster casts, and how did that differ from those in earlier periods?
  • How did these materials influence the reception of the casts in the 19th century?
  • Was the introduction of colour significant and how would people have understood that?
  • The V&A’s collection has a variety of sources in different countries, through direct purchase, exchange and commission. How do the recipes differ between countries? What archival evidence is there for the makers’ practice? How effective were the different recipes for durability?
  • The casts have had several periods of treatment since their early display. Can we distinguish between the original coatings and later restorations?
  • How do the latter impact on the appearance and condition of the historic plaster objects today and what do they reveal about collecting and collectors of casts in the 19th Century?
  • How do conservation treatments today perform in terms of improving the appearance of the objects after treatment, whilst minimising the risks of the plaster degradation, and how can these treatments be optimised and how can we best evaluate these treatments?
  • How does a greater understanding about coatings and colour contribute to discussion on the value of the copy in the 19th century?


Valentina Risdonne, born in Italy, B.Sc. (Univerity of Perugia) and M.Sc. (University of Parma) in Science Conservation. She occasionally collaborates with the Victoria and Albert Museum Science Section since 2015. Her research interests included until now lacquer object, pigments and plaster casts. She is an objects analyst and a plaster conservator.