Walk through a display about how artists learnt to draw at the RA

Take a guided tour of artworks in The Julia and Hans Rausing Hall – a space for free displays underground at the RA.

Here below ground is the Julia and Hans Rausing Hall, which from 2018 until the end of 2020 is hosting a free display called The Making of an Artist: Learning to Draw (details).

Through objects from the RA Collection, the display explores how art has been taught at the Royal Academy since it was founded in 1768, and gives a glimpse of what happens now.

Let's take a look at a few of the works on show...

This is a partial plaster cast of Michelangelo’s Pietà. The original sculpture is in Rome, and shows a dead Jesus being held in his mother Mary's arms. Only the figure of Jesus was cast in this case (although you can see part of Mary's cloak behind his left arm).

The work was Michelangelo's first commission for a major religious sculpture.

On the wall behind is Liane Lang's 2006 photo work, Smugglerius – part of her Casts series (details).

The series animated plaster casts from the RA Collection with seemingly living figures, which are in fact also casts (made of latex). Lang described the act of making these photographs as an “intervention with an existing object... An act of vandalism. It’s similar to graffiti”.

Here's the original Smugglerius, a plaster cast made from a skinned corpse. Studying human anatomy was a central part of artists' training at the RA Schools but dissecting bodies in classes was time-consuming and complicated. As an alternative, the RA's first Professor of Anatomy began to collect more anatomical sculptures.

He commissioned this one from the sculptor Carlini, who got a freshly dead body from the gallows (the chosen person had been convicted of smuggling). The skin was removed, and the body positioned to imitate the ancient Roman statue the Dying Gaul – hence the cast's pseudo-classical title, Smugglerius.

Similarly, this figure was cast from the corpse of a person convicted of murder in 1801, taken straight from the gallows to be stripped of its skin and nailed to a cross.

The work was made to settle a debate among Royal Academicians, concerning whether most depictions of the Jesus's crucifixion were anatomically incorrect.

Until the passing of the Anatomy Act of 1832, the only bodies legally available for dissection in England were those of executed criminals. Casts of skinned bodies (known as écorchés) were therefore important as models for teaching anatomy both in medical and art schools.

Conventional écorchés made for artists consisted of a standing male figure set in a classicising pose and flayed to expose the first layer of muscles. In the late 18th century, artists and anatomists began to experiment with more elaborate poses and deeper levels of dissection.

This sculpture is Kira Freije's Standing Woman Arms Folded, made in 2015 (details).

The work is part of a series of text-based sculptures by Freije. She describes them as “explicit and confident in their sculptural form, but they are also full of contradictions. They are firmly rooted and momentary, flippant and wistful, suggestive and rigid. They are a way of making metal work with poetry”.

This is a cast of the ancient Greeks' mythological figure Hercules.

The sculpture makes reference to some of Hercules' 12 labours: challenges that he was set by the king to make amends for killing his own children. The skin of a lion is draped over the club under his arm, because killing the beast was one of Hercules's first tasks. With the other arm, he holds three golden apples stolen from the Garden of the Hesperides – one of his last labours.

This cast was produced from a sculpture made in the third century AD. It was made in Rome specially for the RA Schools and shipped over around 1790.

This cast is one of several in the RA Collection with a metal pin protruding from the lower abdomen. In the 18th century when the Royal Academy was open to the public for the annual Summer Exhibition, a fig leaf would have hung from the pin to cover any genitals. There was a furore in the press in 1780 when the casts were left uncovered; The Morning Post decried "the shameful state of nudity, to the terror of every decent woman who enters the room".

This is a plaster cast of the Venus de’ Medici, one of the most reproduced and admired sculptures from antiquity.

This is a plaster cast of the Dancing Faun (details), a marble sculpture most likely made in ancient Rome.

The faun is making music by playing the crotala (similar to cymbals) in his hands and the scabellum or croupezion under his right foot.

You can venture through the doors at the top of the stairs to keep exploring the RA, or take this guided online tour.

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