Picturing Domenico Brucciani: The Man Behind the (Death) Masks
Born near the Tuscan province of Lucca in 1815, Domenico Brucciani became the most important and prolific maker of plaster casts in nineteenth-century Britain. He used public exhibitions, emerging museum culture and the nationalisation of art education to monopolise the market for reproductions of classical and contemporary sculpture. Based in Covent Garden, Brucciani built a network of fellow Italian émigré formatori and collaborated with other makers of facsimiles including Elkington, Copeland and Benjamin Cheverton. Brucciani’s plaster casts from the antique survive in collections from North America to New Zealand, but the breadth of his practice beyond classical statuary was extraordinary—from making death masks of the famous and infamous, producing pioneering casts of anatomical, botanical and fossil specimens to decorating dance halls and theatres across Britain.
With a substantial public profile and crucial position to the development of British art and design, Brucciani remains a surprisingly elusive figure. This talk is structured around representations of Domenico Brucciani in text, print and sculpture, some of which have come to light since the publication of my book, Domenico Brucciani and the Formatori of Nineteenth-Century Britain (Bloomsbury Academic, 2019). From his first major achievements in the early 1850s to his death in 1880, we will trace his life and work through a rich selection of primary sources.