The need to reproduce world-famous sculpture dates back to the Renaissance. Casts of sculptures are made to order in plaster foundries, going all over the world. This makes it possible to study such sculptures in reproduction.

Around 1800, art education gains momentum for training artisans. Clients are desperately in need of good craftsmen. They start craft schools to train people to ensure enough quality hands to richly decorate palaces, country houses and government buildings. Necessary to this education are copies of high-profile statues and reliefs from various cultures. Only the three-dimensional objects elevate drawing and design from the flat plane. After all, the sculptures to be made are also three-dimensional. 

Various schools thus build up study collections of sculptures in cast plaster. During the 19th century, the Government draws education to itself and these private courses are lost. The plaster sculptures purchased from important producers in Rome, Berlin, London and Lisbon, among others, go with them as collections. An inventory of what was produced and where it can still be found yields a range of collections of cast plaster sculptures. Large collections remain in Berlin, Bonn, London, Lisbon, Brussels, Strasbourg and Maastricht, among others. Mostly silent heritage, hidden in depots.

In addition to these study collections for education, the passion for collecting in museums takes off in the 19th century. Casts of famous sculptures, statues, architectural decorations and details are given a separate place in museums: the arts and crafts departments. The 19th century thus has a tremendous flowering of these arts and crafts collections. Visitors, artists, craftsmen, architects and patrons could thus learn about the great sculptures, ornaments and decorations from all over the world "just around the corner." Applications found their way into buildings and public spaces.

The production of plaster sculptures was and is a craft. The plaster was poured into molds. Special workshops owned these molds and had mastered the casting techniques to cast all kinds of sculptures in complex, composite and removable molds. To this day, such studios still exist and produce not only in plaster but also in contemporary plastics to accommodate castings in all weathers.

After the hype in the 19th century, large collections disappear into museum depots and sales catalogs are put away. For art education, the importance of collections declines due to changing understandings of teaching methods and materials. But fortunately, such collections still command so much respect that destruction or sale is hardly an issue. Storage in depots or in hidden nooks and crannies of institutions keep the collections largely intact.

At the beginning of the 21st century, a renewed interest in these collections of cast plaster sculptures is slowly awakening. The realization that these art expressions were created over two centuries ago and were essential throughout the 19th century in being able to learn about the past, use in education, decorating interiors, public spaces is growing and shows quests of what the possibilities are for giving these collections a place in the 21st century. 

The impact that this 19th century development has brought to knowledge development and the richness of 19th century interiors and collections is barely penetrating and leaves ample room for new research. 

This part of the conference, as part of the exhibition of the cast plaster sculptures, will address the making and conservation of cast plaster sculptures, the (mass) production and uniques that have survived, and a renewed positioning of these collections for education. Not everything can be digital, and three-dimensional sculptures that can be touched and felt provide experiences that artists can further mature in their own practice.