The Gipsformerei is part of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin and since about 1820 it has been producing casts of original works not only of the Berlin museums. Its origin is due to the need of museums and other scientific institutions to have exact original casts of important sculptural works of art. 

The Gipsformerei
The Enlightenment gave rise to a taste for plaster casts, which make admired sculptures physically tangible in the form of copies. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Wilhelm von Humboldt, for example, ordered casts of ancient sculptures in order to create an environment reminiscent of Rome in Weimar and Berlin. At the same time, plaster casts acted as models for artists, both painters and sculptors. Collections of plaster casts were essential parts of the holdings of art schools and artist workshops.

In 1819 King Frederick William III. established the Gipsformerei (Replica Workshop), which is the oldest institution of the Berlin State Museums, as well as the oldest active plaster cast studio in the world. Since the early 19th century it has cast objects for the museums.

While the art collections were evacuated for safekeeping at the beginning of the war, the moulds and models of the Gipsformerei stayed in their Charlottenburg home. Unlike the museum collections, the holdings of the Gipsformerei survived the war intact. If the Zentralarchiv (central archives) is the historical, document-based memory of the Berlin Museums, then the Gipsformerei can be considered their three-dimensional memory. Many of the plaster casts produced specifically for the exhibition "The Lost Museum" provide, for the first time since 1939, a vivid impression of major works that are missing from the Skulpturensammlung.

Resurrection
In addition, the holdings of the Gipsformerei are of utmost importance for the restoration of sculptures surviving in only a fragmentary state, since they provide an exact reproduction of the missing parts of the original. The Bust of a Princess was acquired for the Skulpturensammlung in 1878. Four years later the plaster mould was prepared from which the painted plaster cast was made. The raw cast is extensively reworked before being painted.

Thomas Schelper, moulder in the Gipsformerei, on the technique of plaster casting: “One of the most wellknown and beloved pieces that we possess is the Laocoon group. The original is in the Vatican. The cast had already entered into the inventory at the beginning of the 19th century. The mould is taken in separate sections. After drying, these must be soaked in a wax bath. This makes the mould very resistant; it can last for centuries. For the production of such a mould, one needs a great deal of time. For a mould the size of the Laocoon, an experienced moulder needs at least 3 to 4 weeks."

Of course, some objects are problematic, for example when they are polychrome. In the case of a sensitive material like wood, the objects were wrapped with thin tin foil, and the cast was made over this tin foil.
The release compounds that are used, or were used, were at one time soap, for example curd soap or soft soap, or even wax mixtures that were specially prepared by melting beeswax and thinning it with turpentine. In the past, those were the most popular compounds.

The Gipsformerei sells painted as well as unpainted casts. Among its most treasured holdings are the so-called painter’s models. These were painted and patinated in front of the original and act as a reference for the colour and surface treatment of subsequent casts.

Moulding techniques
Before a finished cast can be made available for sale, it has gone through an elaborate, highly skilled process which, depending on the size and complexity of the project, can take months of work. The path from the original to the replica consists of three main stages: the manufacture of the mould, the casting, and the final application of paint. 

The first step is the creation of a ‘model’ that is archived as a true copy of the original and serves as the base for all further casts.

Memory
The importance of this probably unique institute lies in its extensive collections of forms and casts of the most important pictorial works of almost all departments of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin as well as other famous monuments of the history of sculpture in Germany and abroad. Almost all forms have survived the war. The value of plaster molding is further enhanced by the fact that it has preserved the forms and casts of works of art destroyed or lost as a result of the war. The richness of its holdings, as well as the possibility of the pleasure of a art-loving public to serve in the plastic work of art, gives the plaster moldy the character of a cultural institute of high standing.
Credits: Story

Text: Staatliche Museen zu Berlin - Preußischer Kulturbesitz

Editing / Realization: Malith C. Krishnaratne

© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin – Preußischer Kulturbesitz

www.smb.museum
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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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