George Mason University Plaster Cast Collection
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Cast no.64

Dublin Core


Cast no.64


Torso of Gordon Ross.
Plaster original.
Incised on top of neck: "Gordon Ross/19 years old/cast from life/1938."
H 23 in.
Not in Metropolitan cast catalogue.
Long-term loan.
Cast Location: Robinson B359 hallway

This physically fit male torso, from the neck to below the navel, arms only to the upper biceps, was cast from life. Notwithstanding the inscription, nothing is known about Gordon Ross or the mold-maker. In keeping with traditional practices, his body may have been used as an "ideal" male form for teaching purposes.

The process of casting from life has a long history as an art form. Florentine painter Cennino Cennini (c. 1370-1440) wrote a handbook for artists in 1400. The sections on making casts from life give a good sense of the concerns. Noting particularly the model's social status, the materials used, and the methods, the section entitled "How to Take a Life Mask" reads "If you wish to have a face of a man or woman, of any rank, adopt this method. Get the young man or woman, or an old man, though you can hardly do the beard or hair, but have the beard shaved off. Take rose-scented, perfumed oil, anoint the face with a good-sized minever brush."

Then Cennini describes the method of winding bandages around the head and other preparations, followed by instructions for making breathing tubes of brass or silver. In the midst of explaining how to apply the plaster, he reminds the reader thus: "And bear in mind that if this person whom you are casting is very important, as in the case of lords, kings, popes, emperors, you mix this plaster with tepid rose water; and for other people, any tepid spring or well or river water is good enough." In order to "Make a Cast of Your Own Person," the reader must first have the plaster prepared, then "have it spread out on a good broad table, such as a dining table. Have in placed on the ground; have this plaster or clay spread out on it a foot deep. Fling yourself on it, on whichever side you wish, front or back or side. And if this plaster or clay takes you well, get yourself pulled out of it neatly, pulling yourself out straight, so as not to shift it in any direction."

Then the same must be done to the opposite side of the body, before a worker joins the two halves together and casts the whole in lead or another metal. Today's methods have greatly increased the comfort-level of the model. Making a life cast now involves spreading a coat of petroleum jelly on the model's body, thicker in the armpit and pubic areas, followed by a coat of dental alginate (a stabilizer) with the consistency of yoghurt. "When dry, the Alginate is very rubbery requiring a support shell, or 'mother'mold." Plaster-coated cloth bandages are applied over the area to be cast and removed after they have set. "At this stage the mold is held tightly against the skin by a vacuum. One must slip a hand around the edges to break the seal. The cast should then pop off. The entire modeling time is about 45 minutes.

Gone is the need for repeated efforts should the model happen to fling himself into the plaster crookedly! Modern methods are relatively easy and uneventful, but from the evidence of body hair on the inside of our cast, the method used by our model did not benefit from alginate, though the flinging was probably eliminated.

~Ellen McV. Layman

Bibliographic Citation


See ArtMolds Sculpture Studio LLC, "Creating a Torso Mold" 1998-2001; Cennino Cennini. The Craftsman's Handbook, trans. and ed. Daniel V. Thompson Jr. NY: Dover, 1954, p. 91, after Cennino Cennini, Il Libre dell'Arte, Milan, 1890 ed., Section 14.


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