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ARQ (Santiago)

versión On-line ISSN 0717-6996

ARQ (Santiago)  no.95 Santiago abr. 2017 


The Museum of Copies

Gloria Cortés1  * 

Cristián Valenzuela1 

1 Curadora, Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Santiago, Chile.


As a pedagogical tool aimed at the intellect, the copying of preexisting models - or references - was a common practice in the nineteenth century. Given the collection of reproductions accumulated prior to the creation of the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes in Chile, this exhibition reassess the role of these replicas at a time when notions such as creativity or originality are being questioned.

Keywords: Reproduction; imitation; pedagogy; Fine Arts; Chile

(c) Cristián Valenzuela Pinto

Figure 1 Signa manufacture. David's head, c. 1900. Terracotta, 110 × 67 × 60 cm. Reproduction (fragment) of Michelangelo's original (1475-1564) developed between 1501 and 1504. Currently exhibited at the Gallery of the Academy of Florence. In the back: Henriette Petit, Juventud, Goya, Bacchante with Roses, Ippolita Maria Sforza, Marietta Strozzi, Nefertiti, Matilde Sotomayor and Venus of Arles, among others.. 

(c) Cristián Valenzuela Pinto

Figure 2 N/A. Lorenzo de Médici (according to Michelangelo), c. 1900. Plaster casting, 182 × 75 × 90 cm. Reproduction of Michelangelo's original work (1475-1564) developed between 1520-1534 and located at the Medici Chapel in the New Sacristy of San Lorenzo, Florence. 

The project for Alberto Mackenna's Museum of Copies appears for the first time in 1899. Based on the imitative art that reproduced the great works of classical antiquity, the Renaissance, and even the nineteenth-century artists, it assembled the taste of the period. The purpose of these sculptures - travelling from the most important casting workshops in Europe or from museums such as the Louvre - was to complete and expand both the education and the aesthetic sense of Chilean artists in the Painting Academy and the Sculpture Course, according to the modernizing program of the time.

(c) Cristián Valenzuela Pinto

Figure 3 The practice of copying was intended for the artist's intellect rather than his/her sensitivity, since it sought to promote the careful study of the forms and techniques of classical sculpture - with a prevailing interest in erudition instead of creativity. 

(c) Cristián Valenzuela Pinto

Figure 4 Boy with thorn, nineteenth century. Bronze casting, 76 × 50 × 58 cm. Reproduction of the Greco-Roman original belonging the Hellenistic period (330 BC - 30 BC) and preserved at the Capitoline Museums in Rome. 

Thus, through these sculptures that narrated the history and evolution of Western Art styles - from antiquity to modern times - the academies encouraged copying those classical bodies, their anatomy and volume, which in turn were associated with values and ideals that republican society posed as moralizing. The intention was to didactically educate the masses on the Humanist culture - although restricted to the Western European world - as a discursive strategy of the elite.

(c) Cristián Valenzuela Pinto

Figure 5 Louvre molding workshop. Nike adjusting her sandal, c. 1900. Plaster casting, 96.5 × 55 × 16 cm. Reproduction of the original Nike - represented as Victoria - adjusting her sandal (427 BC), attributed to Phidias workshop. Located at the Acropolis Museum, Athens. Originally located at the parapet of the Temple of Athena-Nike. 

Of the more than 550 pieces that constituted the Museum of Copies - commissioned by the government to Alberto Mackenna in 1901 and occupying the entire hall of the Museum of Fine Arts in Santiago - today only about 40 remain. Decorations, paintings, lithographs, prints and drawings - donated, acquired or originated in the former Academy - have been added to the sculptures, complementing this aesthetic view of art.

(c) Cristián Valenzuela Pinto

Figure 6 Ernesto Gazzeri. Venus kneeling, c. 1900. Bonded marble, 88 × 44 × 50 cm. Reproduction of the Greek original s iii BC. A Roman copy is currently kept at the Vatican Museum. 

Until the twentieth century the copy circulated without distinction, increasing collections and composing a cartography of images which redefined Chilean public and private spaces, especially among a bourgeois society that sought in these works a way to cultivate the taste for beauty.

(c) Cristián Valenzuela Pinto

Figure 7 St. George (according to Donatello), c. 1900. Plaster casting, 227 × 76 × 50 cm. Reproduction of Donatello's original work (c. 1386-1466) dated 1416-1417. 

Hence, the copy transcends, pushing the boundaries between veracity, the original and its multiple reproductions as well as the function in the process of apprehending the artwork and the collective images. How did these works influence the education and visual construction of Chilean artists, what iconographic transfers operated in the artists' studios, and how does this influence the creation of a museum repertoire led by the same agents and intermediaries that enabled the acquisitions of these works, are some of the questions that arise after the first stage of research on the collection.

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