'Curating the Colosseum Makers, collectors, and exhibitors of cork models in eighteenth-century Europe,' History Brown Bag Seminar

Room 553, Arts West, North Wing

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Alessandro Antonello


Richard Gillespie, Museums Victoria

In Rome in the 1760s, several artists adapted a traditional technique of cork modelling to create models of classical monuments and structures from ancient Rome and Greece. These cork models were purchased or commissioned by Grand Tourists in the late eighteenth century, including antiquarians, architects and wealthy collectors. In the United Kingdom, models were displayed in private collections, but also in the British Museum and a long-running commercial and educational ‘Classical Exhibition’. This paper explores why cork models became so popular in this period, the diverse motives of those who commissioned models for their collections, and how visitors responded to the public exhibitions. It will address why the interest in cork models of classical monuments gradually declined during the nineteenth century and the fate of those collections. Finally, a comparative study of surviving cork models in European collections allows us to appreciate the different approaches of the modellers, thereby giving potentially clearer attributions and provenance for undocumented models.

Dr Richard Gillespie is Head of Humanities at Museums Victoria and a principal research fellow in the School of Historical and Philosophical Studies, University of Melbourne. He is a historian of science and technology; his publications include two books, Manufacturing Knowledge: A History of the Hawthorne Experiments (1993) and The Great Melbourne Telescope (2011). His recent research is on the history of museum collections, especially architectural models in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Europe, and early museum multimedia in the same period, with a recent article in Journal of the History of Collections (2017) and a forthcoming article in Architectural History (2017).

For the full Semester Two History Brown Bag Seminar series, see the attached poster.