Edinburgh Cast Collection - Research, Conservation, Interpretation

the collection

The Edinburgh Cast Collection comprises 265 plaster casts of Antique, Renaissance, and Gothic statues, bas reliefs, and architectural passages held at the Edinburgh College of Art and the University of Edinburgh. The plaster casts at the Edinburgh College of Art are displayed in an A-listed building, including a beautiful neo-Classical sculpture court specifically designed to house our casts of the Parthenon frieze - works donated directly by Lord Elgin especially for the education of artists in Scotland. The casts at the University of Edinburgh were acquired at the end of the 19th century as a teaching collection to illustrate Classical art history.

The collection of plaster casts of the former Trustees’ Academy in Edinburgh – the first public school of art in Britain, founded in 1760 – was acquired in the late 18th- and early 19th-century for the training of fine artists in Scotland. The collection was eventually transferred to the Edinburgh College of Art in 1911 on condition that it remained open to the public (as it still is today). A smaller group of pieces that were sold off in 1838 are now part of the teaching collection of the Classics Department of the University of Edinburgh. The collection of 194 casts at the College includes Antique, Renaissance, and Gothic statues, bas reliefs, and architectural casts. The first printed catalogue dates from 1837 (reissued four times up to 1904). The collection at the University, which was founded for the education of classical scholars, comprises 71 casts from the Antique.

While changing values in art education have led to the destruction of many of the world’s plaster cast collections, the Edinburgh collection represents a remarkable survival still displayed in the setting designed for it in 1910. Besides being an early example of a publicly available teaching collection and a vivid illustration of the art education that prevailed from the Renaissance to the early 20th century, the Edinburgh collection is historically significant in two more ways: for the intrinsic historical and archaeological value of its many early and unique casts, and for its cultural and architectural contribution to the re-invention of Edinburgh as the‘Athens of the North’ in the 19th century.