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Conservation of plaster collections

Manufacture, consolidation, cleaning and use of plaster casts, models and objects.

This project focused on the manufacturing technique, consolidation and cleaning methods of plaster casts, as well as the use of plaster models and objects in collections.

Plaster cast broken by a horizontal force. photo: National Museum of Antiquities

Plaster cast broken by a horizontal force. photo: National Museum of Antiquities

For several years there has been renewed attention in museums for collections of plaster casts removed from display in previous decades.


Europe has a large number of collections of plaster figures: casts of famous people and famous sculptures from antiquity, but also from the Middle Ages and Renaissance. In the mid-20th century, when the emphasis was placed on the display of original objects, most plaster casts were removed to depots, given away or destroyed. After years of neglect, many of these figures are now too dirty and damaged to be displayed.

Conservation issues

The conservation and restoration of these plaster objects is not so simple. Gypsum is a porous, water- and dirt-sensitive material. It is also very soft and fragile, making consolidation and adhesion difficult. Sometimes objects present rust stains on the surface caused by the corrosion of metal fixtures. Many original plaster collections were scattered in the 20th century and partly lost because as copies they were considered to be of little importance.


Now that there is more interest, research into the valuation of the remaining collections is becoming increasingly important. However many plaster sculptures are in poor condition. Knowledge of the originally intended appearance is required for the valuation of the object and a good conservation and/or restoration treatment.