Emma Payne

Cast from the Antique: Revealing Hidden Archaeology

Formation of cast collections of classical sculpture peaked during the long nineteenth century (1789-1914). Many collections were neglected in later decades; cast condition declined and jeopardized their capacity to reflect their full value. My research explores their potential historical and archaeological significances with the under-investigated British Museum collection forming the main case study. Casts reflect nineteenth century craft techniques and attitudes to classical sculpture. Moreover, where the originals remained in situ post-moulding, they can preserve surface features lost from the originals by weathering. Yet craftsmen were also known to doctor their moulds such that a cast of a damaged sculpture would appear more complete. These interventions compare with the propensity for restoration of classical sculpture conducted to varying degrees, sometimes fancifully, in the centuries following the Renaissance. Such restorations, some now removed from the originals, may also be preserved in casts. Together with the twentieth century decline in cast condition, these factors complicate the interpretation of casts; a subject that this research will illuminate, if not fully remedy.

I evaluate digital imaging techniques for their capacity to investigate surface features of casts and to complete comparative study with the corresponding originals. The project then incorporates a broader historical scope, including examination of the Roman casts discovered at Baiae, commonly believed to have been moulded from ancient Greek bronze sculptures. These are technically similar to the nineteenth century casts and stimulate further questions regarding the production of ancient copies and casts, and the extent of craft continuity between ancient and modern times. A long historical tradition of restoration, reuse, and adaptive copying and casting of sculpture can be documented throughout much of the classical past right up to the present day. Curators, conservators, and archaeologists must consider the full weight of this history when approaching the casts and considering their future.

Funding organisation


 Educational background

  • BA, Literae Humaniores (Classics), Oxford University, 2009
  • MA, Principles of Conservation, UCL, 2011
  • MSc, Conservation for Archaeology and Museums, UCL, 2013

Payne, E. M. 2017. From pillar to post: Classical casts at the British Museum. To be included in the volume: Destroy the Copy for the series Transformationen der Antike (DeGruyter) (forthcoming)

Payne, E. M. & Booms, D. 2014. Analysis of pigment palettes as evidence for room status in Nero’s Golden House. British Museum Technical Research Bulletin 2014, Vol. 8., 117–126 

Payne, E. M. 2013. Imaging techniques in conservation. Journal of Conservation & Museum Studies (JCMS) 2013 10(2), 17–29 

Conference Proceedings

Payne, E. M. 2016. Comparative 3D-scanning of historical casts: The Parthenon casts at the British Museum. In: Haak, C. & Helfrich, M. (eds.) Casting. Ein analoger Weg ins Zeitalter der Digitalisierung?: Ein Symposium zur Gipsformerei der Staalichen Museen zu Berlin, Heidelberg. DOI: 10.11588/arthistoricum.95.114

Book Review

Payne, E. M. 2015. Review of Ethics & Critical Thinking in Conservation. Edited by Pamela Hatchfield. Washington D.C: American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works. 2013. Public Archaeology, Vol. 14. No. 2. May 2015, 150–154

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