A Rare Plaster Library Bust of Julius Caesar by D Brucciani & Co. London, for the British Museum; 1870

Origin: English
Period: Mid-Victorian
Provenance: D. Brucciani & Co for The British Museum, London
Date: c.1870
Height: 18.75”
Width: 7”
Depth: 9” or 6.75” at socle base (all at extremities)

The finely cast plaster study of Julius Caesar (100 BC–44 BC) in his prime years, marked 1870 BM, for Brucciani (1815–1880) & Co to the central tablet, and hand signed to the rear, the bust crafted under the auspices of The British Museum, London,  and the whole mounted on a socle base, and surviving from mid-Victorian England.

The bust is in complete order with expected wear and small losses due to the medium used. The glaze is worn and the finish is now uneven making it very decorative.

This particular plaster cast wasn’t ever a British Museum object per se, but was rather sold when Domenico Brucciani operated under the auspices of the museum. This still makes the piece highly desirable and very few have seemingly survived. We can only find one other comparable example of this bust which is in The Falconer Museum in Scotland.

Domenico Brucciani (1814-80) was the son of Vincenzo Brucciani, and christened Domenico Antonio Brucciani. Born in Lucca in 1814, he set up business in London, establishing a Gallery of Casts in Covent Garden by 1837. In the 1851 census, his age was recorded as 33 and his occupation as ‘Professor of Modelling in Clay’. Brucciani worked as a modeller for the South Kensington Museum (now the Victoria and Albert Museum) and the British Museum, taking casts of items in their collections and supplying other casts. He described himself as ‘Formatore [i.e., maker] & Modeller to the Science and Art Department’, as well as to the British Museum and the Royal Academy of Arts, on his handsome blue invoice paper. His most illustrious commission for the South Kensington Museum was the casting of the Pórtico de la Gloria, the 12th-century façade of the cathedral at Santiago de Compostela, which he did in 1866.  Brucciani died at the age of 65 in 1880, ten years after this bust was crafted, leaving a personal estate of under £4000.

By the time of the First World War, as the demand for plaster casts declined, the company found itself in difficulties, as was reported in 1916 (The Times 26 December 1916). In response to the threat that their unique collection of plaster moulds and casts might be dispersed, a petition led by Sir Edward Poynter PRA, that the Government should purchase the collection, was addressed to the Prime Minister but without success. The ship owner, Sir William Petersen, then supplied the means for the company to carry on during the war. The business went into liquidation in 1921 (London Gazette 15 July 1921). The company was taken over by the Board of Education and run by Paul Ryan for the Victoria and Albert Museum as a service, renamed the Department for the Sale of Casts, until financial losses forced its closure in 1951. The moulds were transferred to the British Museum in 1955 (Clifford 1992 p.49). The Department for the Sale of Casts, ‘in succession to D. Brucciani & Co’, produced illustrated trade catalogues of reproductions, the earliest apparently dating to October 1922, with 29 pages and 27 plates of illustrations.

A scarce and very desirable work by an instantly recognisable artist of an instantly recognisable ruler and under the guises of one of the world’s greatest museums.