Turning over an old leaf - Crawford Art Gallery statues to make 'Fig Reveal' in Cork

Turning over an old leaf - Crawford Art Gallery statues to make 'Fig Reveal' in Cork
Some of the statues in the Crawford Art Gallery's Canova Casts collection. Pic: David Keane

A somewhat unusual conservation project is about to begin in Cork - taking a peek under some fig leaves hiding the modesty of six 200-year-old sculptures of males.

Over the course of two weeks, as part of Cork Midsummer Festival, sculpture conservator, Eoghan Daltun, will remove the fig-leaves from six male figures from Crawford Art Gallery’s historic collection of Canova Casts.

The 200-year-old casts have a rich history. Born out of the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo, they were a gift to the Prince Regent (later King George IV) who, in turn, regifted them to the people of Cork.

The six plaster casts to receive conservation treatment are Adonis, Apollo Belvedere, Laocoon and His Sons, and the Belvedere Torso. It is thought these fig leaves were added following the arrival of the Canova Casts in 1818 and the conservation work will solve the mystery of what lies beneath them.

Now that the much-loved sculpture gallery in which the works are displayed has been redecorated, it is the turn of the casts to receive the next phase in their conservation work from an expert conservator.

Fig leaves have often been used to conceal nudity in art - a direct reference to Adam and Eve’s use of them to cover their modesty following their expulsion from paradise. After the ‘fig reveal’, the plaster leaves will be retained and placed on display as archival objects in their own right.

The question of whether or not the casts require some sensitive remodelling to restore them to reflect the marble originals in the Vatican Museums is one that has gallery staff on tenterhooks. And the public can witness the important conservation work as it happens.

The Canova Casts were made under the supervision of renowned neo-classical Italian sculptor, Antonio Di Canova, and were originally made up of 219 whole figures, torsos, busts, reliefs and fragments.

Visitors can drop in and watch the conservation work live in the sculpture gallery weekdays from 17 - 21 and 24 - 28 June 2019, and follow the Gallery on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram for live updates of The Fig Reveal.


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