The history of the collection of plaster casts from the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków

The collection of plaster casts at the Museum of the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków currently includes 23 exhibits and is one of three collections of this type in Kraków. The other two belong to the Jagiellonian University and the Kraków University of Technology. The collection of the Museum of the Academy of Fine Arts was first established at the time when the future art school was being created under the auspices of the Jagiellonian University. In Poland, apart from the collections amassed in Kraków, there is a significant Stanisław August Poniatowski’s collection, gathered by the ruler for the purpose of establishing the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw. This collection, supplied with other casts, is now located in the Old Orangery at Łazienki Park in Warsaw.
The largest of the cast collections in Kraków belongs to the Jagiellonian University. It consists of 88 antique sculptures, in addition to which the collections of the Jagiellonian University also include copies of medieval and renaissance pieces of art. The smallest collection, consisting of 15 casts, is owned by the Faculty of Architecture of the Kraków University of Technology.
It is impossible to speak about the collection of casts without mentioning the formation of the future Academy, because the creation of the collection of plaster copies is closely connected with the development of the academic methods of artistic education, and the set preserved to this day serves as the foundation of the ever-expanding collection of works of art at the Academy in Kraków. The plaster casts were originally used as teaching aids. During the early years of their studies, the students made drawing and painting studies of the plaster casts. They were also used to teach the casting techniques used in sculpting: students took advantage of casts from plaster figures, which was practiced until recently.
The beginnings of the collection of plaster casts at the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków are associated with the first attempts to found a painting school in Kraków. With the rector’s consent, in 1766, The statutes or acts and laws of the noble Painting Congregation at the Prominent Kraków Academy under the title of Saint Luke[1] were proclaimed. They defined the aims and methods of teaching painting, as well as specified its position with regard to academic and creative activities. Painters who were members of the Congregation were given a classroom for their needs at a school coming under the supervision the University, owned by Bartłomiej Nowodworski (Gimnazjum św. Anny). This was the place where plaster casts of sculptures, imported from Rome and intended for copying by students, were brought. The first post-partition years were not favourable to establishing an independent arts school. The situation of the Congregation did not change until 1815, when — by virtue of a decision of the Vienna Congress — the semi-autonomous Free City of Kraków was established.
In 1818, two painters, Józef Peszka and Józef Brodowski, developed two independent projects of creating an
arts school, which they then presented to the Organizational Committee.[2] Upon consideration of the projects, the Commission rendered a decision to establish the School of Drawing and Painting under the Department of Literature of the Faculty of Philosophy at the Jagiellonian University, whose organizational structure was based on Brodowski’s plan, modelled on the statutes of foreign academies, including the Vienna Academy. Initially, there were only two faculties within the school’s structure: the Faculty of Drawing, led by Józef Peszka and the Faculty of Painting, led by Józef Brodowski. A little later, the Faculty of Sculpture was opened, whose supervision was entrusted to Józef Riedlinger from Vienna. The establishment of an arts school gave rise to the need to find teaching aids necessary for drawing, copying, and teaching about styles and proportions in arts in general. To this end, a decision was made to import plaster casts of the most famous ancient and medieval sculptures. The School’s limited funds did not allow for the purchase of casts of the best quality. Therefore, the majority of the purchased casts were not copies of the original sculptures or original matrices, but of already existing casts.

The first casts were procured by Józef Peszka in 1818 in Warsaw for a sum of 1,356 Polish Zlotys. Józef Brodowski made purchases amounting to 2,000 Polish Zlotys in Vienna at a similar time. The following year, while in Vienna, Józef Riedlinger purchased casts from the collection of count Joseph Deym von Stritez
[3] A substantial collection of plaster casts accumulated, thanks to these purchases, was deposited in a building at Grodzka Street, due to a shortage of space. Due to the bad conditions predominating there and the lack of proper care, the plaster casts deteriorated rapidly and had to be repaired. A few of them were most likely seriously damaged, because, in 1822–1823, similar copies were already sought after. In 1822, there were 23 casts in the School’s collection. At that time, efforts were made to bring in new casts from Rome, but, ultimately, the funds were insufficient. In 1825, the University Council again noticed the poor condition of casts, which resulted in the purchase of 24 new figures in Vienna, for the sum of 4,537.34 Polish Zlotys. In 1826, for the sake of proper storing and exhibition, pedestals for the sculptures were also bought.
In subsequent years, the Academy of Fine Arts became a separate faculty of the University. In its newly drafted statute, there were guidelines for teaching, based on copying ancient figures. This applied to second grade students. The next set of castings was purchased by Wojciech Stattler, a painting professor who, while staying in Rome in 1830, bought several casts for money donated by the local Polish community during a fund-raising event. In the 1830s, a supervisory body called Kuratoria Generalna,[4] was dissolved and supervision over the Academy was taken over by the Great University Council,[5] on whose request a committee was appointed with a view to reorganizing the school. Its members included, among others, Józef Brodowski, Józef Peszka, Wojciech Stattler and Józef Szmelcer. On 28 January 1833, a new statute of the School was approved, which — although developed by Jan Nepomucen Bizański — was presented by Rector Alojzy Rafał Estreicher as his own. The new curriculum defined the role of plaster casts in the education process, specifying their use during particular years of study. First year students were supposed to create casts on the basis of drawings, paintings, and engravings depicting still lifes and ancient works of art. Education began with drawing geometric figures, then individual parts of the body, followed by sections of the head, and finally, the proportions of the entire human figure. Second-grade students made contour drawings of human heads and during the winter season, under the light of lamps, a chiaroscuro drawings of plaster figures, the skeleton, and musculature. The students also drew works depicting still-life, copied compositions from paintings, and learned perspective drawing, lithography, and etching. Third year students made a precise, full-figure chiaroscuro drawing of a real-life model, including the portrayal of facial features.[6]
In 1833, as a result of the reorganizational committee’s activity, the School of Drawing and Painting was separated from the University and incorporated into the Technical Institute. It then lost its academic status and its operating conditions deteriorated considerably. This event marked the end of the first stage of the School's operation, during which teaching was based primarily on copying images and plaster casts.
Due to the modest funds of the Technical Institute, the condition of the plaster casts collection gradually deteriorated. The casts did not undergo maintenance, and the collection was not supplemented with new purchases but only with copies made by students. The casts were still used for educational purposes at that time:
“First grade students should paint oil-coloured antique heads (grey), that is, essentially, in the natural colour of plaster, the student imitates as precisely as possible both the outer shapes, as well as the chiaroscuro or colour, the semblance thereof, making all of the above properly illuminated, because imitating the truth in such a way would lead them gradually with no hindrance to developing a strong sense of the sheer coloration of the human body from a real-life model.[7]
Second-grade students were obliged to paint individual parts of the body in a similar way, in different positions and foreshortenings. At that time, in 1838, the School had 44 plaster castings that were used for educational purposes.
In the following years, despite the unfavourable political situation after the shut-down of the Free City of Kraków and the great fire of Kraków in 1850, the library and art collections of the School of Painting and Sculpture continued to grow. Numerous gifts were received, and teaching aids were purchased from the meagre funds of the Technical Institute and from Kraków's social insurance. In the years 1864–1865, the School had 72 antiques, 27 plaster casts, over 180 drawings; while in 1870: 350 sculptures and casts, 180 paintings and 1,552 drawings. In the School, the use of live models has become more and more popular, which, at the same time, reduced the role of casts in the didactic process.
After Galicia was granted autonomy, there was a revival with regard to artistic and educational activities in Kraków. At that time, the Archaeological Institute was established at the University's Faculty of Philosophy, which, at the initiative of the founder, Prof. Józef Łepkowski, by way of purchases and donations, was enriched by many original monuments and plaster casts acquired in Vienna.
An important event in the university's history was the exclusion of the School of Drawing and Painting from the Technical Institute, as a result of which, in 1873, it became an independent School of Fine Arts, and its director was Jan Matejko. According to Matejko's original project, the School was to be divided into three divisions: painting, drawing and sculpture. However, the department of sculpture was not opened until 1881, due to the Statute from 1876, approved by the authorities, which provided for the existence of only two branches. In the “curriculum of modelling with initial education in sculpting”, developed by Walery Gadomski in 1881, we can read the following: “students of the first and second departments use plaster casts and patterns, and, after passing these courses, devoted sculptors sculpt “the heads and figures from a live man.” In 1884, Izydor Jabłoński, in the presented drawing curriculum in department II, recommended the use of comparative studies of antiques with nude academic figures, so that the student “would develop a sense of classical aesthetics”.[8] He also recommended studying nude figures with the position of the model changing every day, so that “the students are able to capture his movements and proportions within two hours.”[9] Florian Cynk, meanwhile, pointed out in the study curriculum for department IV, that, when transitioning from drawing to painting, the best rests are yielded by analysing a painting study of a white head made of plaster, because it can be made using the technique of value modelling with the help of white and black paint.
In 1879, the edifice of today's Academy of Fine Arts was erected, which resulted in the improved conditions of the premises. However, there was a lack of funds for new teaching aids and maintenance of the existing collection of castings. Out of 377 plaster ones, 268 were damaged. With regards to the library and the collection of antiques, the situation was similar. After the first ten years of the School's operation, most of the collection lost its educational use. As a result, small purchases were made, while consulting the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts. There was also a demand for castings of women's statues, because, back then, the practice of drawing female models had not yet been implemented. During Matejko's tenure, the Academy's collection included, among others, a copy of the statue of Venus Kallipygos which, translated literally, means Venus with beautiful buttocks. At that time, the Institute of History of Art, which started collecting plaster castings, was established at the Jagiellonian University. Among others things, the University’s collections were supplied with a part of the collection of plaster castings from the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków: in 1908, 22 sculpture casts were bought from the Academy.
After the death of Jan Matejko in 1893, Władysław Łuszczkiewicz served a two-year term, and, in 1895, Julian Fałat became the director, who, then, in the years 1905–1909, held the post of the rector of the Academy of Fine Arts. Fałat's greatest achievement should have been the transformation of the School of Fine Arts into the Academy of Fine Arts, and consequently the acquisition of the academic status lost in 1833. This took place in 1900. During Fałat's tenure,the most outstanding artists of Young Poland were appointed to the positions of professors at the Academy of Fine Art: Jacek Malczewski, Leon Wyczółkowski, Jan Stanisławski, Teodor Axentowicz, Stanisław Wyspiański, Józef Mehoffer and Konstanty Laszczka.
In 1906, a new statute was approved, which provided for major changes to the existing education system. The role of castings was marginalised, the focus was shifted to drawing on the basis of a live model, including a female one. Plaster casts were still used at the Faculty of Sculpture and later the Faculty of Architecture. In 1912, the idea of ​​organising a museum of plaster casting at the Academy was entertained, for which the university received special funds. However, the outbreak of the World War I did not allow for the implementation of this project. The idea was not reconsidered until 1923. The collections of the Museum of the Academy of Fine Arts, in addition to serving an educational purpose, were also supposed to enrich the knowledge of the inhabitants of Kraków about the history of sculpturing from antiquity to modern times. The idea of ​​creating a museum, however, did not get finance from Ministerstwo Wyznań Religijnych i Oświecenia Publicznego [Polish Ministry of Religious Beliefs and Public Enlightenment]. Over the following years, the collections were damaged due to improper storage and, because of the lack of exhibition space, they were dispersed across various faculties of the Academy. In the interwar period, the collection of sculptures numbered only 55 items, some of which were later handed over to Wawel by Professor Adolf Szyszko-Bochusz — head of the Department of Conservation of Architectural Monuments at the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków — who, since 1920, was also head of renewal of the Royal Castle at Wawel. The casts donated to Wawel in 1948 were then given to the Faculty of Architecture of the Kraków University of Technology.
After the outbreak of World War II, casts from the collections of the Jagiellonian University were transferred to the edifice of the Academy of Fine Arts. Then, all castings — belonging to both the Academy and the University — were placed in the Tempel Synagogue at Miodowa Street, part of one of Kraków’s districts called Kazimierz. Many of them were then damaged or destroyed. In 1945, the university collection returned to the building of Collegium Novodvorscianum at Św. Anny Street, to then be transferred to Collegium Maius in 1955, where it was restored in 1962–1964 and partly exhibited. Maintenance was carried out once again in recent years. During the World War II, the already modest collection of the Academy’s castings was depleted once more. A total of 32 plaster castings were lost.[10]
Plaster castings of sculptures currently displayed in the corridors of the main building of the Academy are under the care of the Museum of the Academy of Fine Arts, established in 2003, and are awaiting maintenance work. The oldest and most valuable, in addition to the original metal maker’s marks placed at the base with the name of the foundry on them, bear traces of history in the form of dark, worn shellac patina, as well as mechanical damage, sometimes indicative of vandalism. Due to the small number of historical plaster copies, the corridor of the Faculty of Sculpture is also decorated with contemporary castings made by students during workshops.
Although plaster castings of sculptures have lost their original significance in academic teaching, today it is difficult to imagine the corridors of the main building of the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków without a row of plaster statues and walls hung with reliefs. These are proof of the Academy’s long tradition and silent witnesses of its history.

Elaborated by Dr Magdalena Szymańska

(Museum of the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków),
Licencja Creative Commons

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Poland License..

[1] Janusz A. Ostrowski, Gipsowe odlewy rzeźb antycznych w kolekcjach krakowskich [Plaster casts of ancient sculptures in Kraków's collections], Polish Academy of Sciences, Philological Archive, Wrocław, Warsaw, Kraków 1991, p. 7.
[2] The Organizational Committee operated in the years 1815–1818 and was a body established by the partitioning powers to determine the political system of the Free City of Kraków.
[3] Zbigniew Michalczyk, Wiedeńska Akademie der bildenden Künste a krakowska Szkoła Rysunku i Malarstwa przy Uniwersytecie Jagiellońskim (1818-1833) [The Viennese Akademie der bildenden Künste and Kraków's School of Drawing and Painting at the Jagiellonian University (1818-1833)], Modus. Prace z historii sztuki, [Modus, Works from the field of history of arts”] XIV, 2014, p. 212.
[4] The body of the Administrative Council of the Kingdom of Poland exercising supervision over schools.
[5] The Assembly of professors of the Jagiellonian University.
[6] Materiały do dziejów Akademii Sztuk Pięknych w Krakowie 1816-1895 [Material for the history of the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków 1816–1895], Wrocław 1959, pp. 103–106.
[7] A quote from Jan Nepomucen Głowackis letter to the Government Commissioner expressing his opinion on the painting education curriculum by Wojciech Kornel Józef Stattler. Original record [in]: Materiały do dziejów Akademii Sztuk Pięknych w Krakowie 18161895, Wrocław 1959, pp. 111–112.
[8] Materiały do dziejów Akademii Sztuk Pięknych w Krakowie 1816-1895, op. cit., p. 50.
[9] Ibid.
[10] The list of missing casts was prepared by Bogumiła Rzechakowa, who took care of the collections of the Academy of Fine Arts in the 1980s. The list included: Janusz A. Ostrowski, Gipsowe odlewy rzeźb antycznych w kolekcjach krakowskich, Polish Academy of Sciences, Philological Archive; Wrocław, Warsaw, Kraków1991.