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© Copyright_DIS MANIBUS

Martin Declève



What are those images you talk of, or whence do they proceed?

Cicero, On the Nature of the Gods I, 107

To see the plaster casts of bodies buried under the ashes of Vesuvius, to see the faces of the frescoes of Pompeii, or rather to be seen by them, as in Federico Fellini’s Roma.

© Copyright_DIS MANIBUS

The pictures presented here are reproductions in large format black and white analog photography of plaster moulds - not of sculptures or plaster casts - made either in the molding workshop of the Royal Museums of Art and History in Brussels (inventory number B.INV_), or at the Gipsformerei in Berlin (G.INV_).


These moulds, called "piece moulds", or "wedge moulds", negative matrices in which plaster is poured in order to obtain a positive copy - a cast - were themselves made of plaster and this in two layers: inside, the impression parts themselves, sometimes very numerous - in order to allow demolding - nested laterally one inside the other; around these, outside therefore, what is called the “mother mould”, made up of larger and fewer pieces of plaster used to hold the whole together. Dating for the most part from the 19th century - at the time every large museum had its "Cast gallery" - these moulds, sometimes neglected or abused afterwards, but still in use today, have become heritage objects in full share by virtue of the high level of know-how to which they bear witness, not to mention that, sometimes, in the case of a lost, damaged or destroyed original, they constitute the only material trace of it. Seen from the outside, these moulds appear mysterious: their matte, rough surface, strewn with castings of plaster, presents cracks at the joints with surprising lines that sometimes suggest the profile of the face they contain. This is how you will see them, tied up, garroted, lying on cyclopean shelves, if you go for a walk in the reserves of one of these last sanctuaries crowded with forgotten idols that is a moulding workshop...

and Casting

These moulds being contemporaneous with the invention and the first steps of photography, I wanted to organize once again a new encounter between the two techniques, photography and moulding, with the idea of digging into the analogy which often gave rise to the metaphor defining photography as an "imprint of light". Taking the metaphor literally, I wanted to see what we would get by pouring into these negative forms much less than plaster, just light. The result can be described as a two-dimensional "spectral moulding", readable sometimes in hollow, sometimes in relief, and where the play of shadow and light mingle with the cutouts and accidents of the material to reveal the lines of a face, moreover often known, but which I hope we will have the impression of seeing it here for the first time, or at least as we have never seen it before.

and Ancient

Finally, if this work retains only busts of ancient characters, it is because it seemed to me that the whole issue of the link between portrait and absence, resemblance and disappearance, mourning and memory, in short everything that, in our tradition, makes the portrait "the threshold of figurative experience", the "absoluteness of the image" as Jean-Christophe Bailly writes so well, that this problematic therefore, which would be the source of so many debates in photography , presided over the birth of the ancient portrait more than two thousand years ago. For a Roman, who was unaware of Lascaux and Chauvet, the first image was that of a face, and that there is, for the Ancients, and more particularly for the Romans, a link between the first figurative representations and death - the portrait as a magical substitute for the disappearance of a loved one - all their legends relating to the origin of figurative representation - painting and sculpture - bear witness to this, as does their daily environment, from the tombs that lined the roads to the portraits of the ancestors, the famosae imagines, which decorated the first room of their home, the atrium.



Je remercie Valérie, uxorem sine qua non.

Je remercie Michel Draguet, qui m'a autorisé à travailler à l'Atelier de moulage des Musées royaux d'Art et d'Histoire de Bruxelles, ainsi que Nele Strobbe, conservatrice, et le personnel de l'atelier.

Vielen Dank an Miguel Helfrich, Leiter der Gipsformerei in Berlin, Thomas Schelper, Projektkoordinator, und an alle Werkstattmitarbeiter.

Je remercie vivement Claudia Moatti pour ses suggestions éclairées lors de la traduction des citations latines. 

Merci à Régis, pour son aide précieuse dans la réalisation de ce site.




If you'd like to translate some of the Latin quotes associated with the images, please do and send them to me. I'll put them on line.



Se desideri tradurre alcune delle citazioni latine che accompagnano le immagini, fallo e inviamele. Le posterò.


Wenn Sie einige der lateinischen Zitate, die die Bilder begleiten, übersetzen möchten, tun Sie dies bitte und senden Sie sie mir. Ich werde sie posten.


Merci pour votre envoi !

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