Marjorie Trusted - The cast courts at the Victoria and Albert Museum: a brief history and plans for the future

Recognized from the first as enormously impressive spaces, the Cast Courts at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London house both visually and educationally exciting material. They were and are encyclopedia, a visual library of art, conceived in an era when illustrated art books were rare, while foreign travel was expensive and difficult for most students. Their visual impact is still very much evident, and, along with their educational role, one of the main reasons for their having such prominence, and being so widely admired within the Museum and beyond. My paper aims to set out some aspects of their history during the nineteenth and early twentieth century, and to put in context our plans for their future.

The Cast Courts at the V&A retain more or less the same functions as when they were first opened in the nineteenth century. They are a fundamental element in the history of the institution, forming part of the vision of its first Director, Henry Cole (1808-1882), and of its first curator, John Charles Robinson (1824-1913). But they also epitomise a history of European art, and evince important links with very different collections of plaster casts in Paris, Pittsburgh, Oxford and Edinburgh, as well as elsewhere in Europe and the United States. I hope to show the diverse character of the V&A’s Cast Courts, and to explore some of the history of the collection, and their current role and context within the Museum.


Dr Marjorie Trusted FSA is a graduate of Cambridge University and the Courtauld Institute of Art. She is Senior Curator of Sculpture at the Victoria and Albert Museum, where she has been based since 1979. She specialises in British and Spanish sculpture, and has recently completed a catalogue of the baroque and later ivories in the V&A, due to be published in November 2013. Her catalogue of British sculpture in the V&A, which she wrote jointly with Diane Bilbey, appeared in 2002. She is currently working on the renovation of the Cast Courts at the V&A, and is preparing a book on the history of the collection of plaster casts in the Museum.

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