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British bronze sculpture founders and plaster figure makers, 1800-1980 - V

An online resource, launched in 2011, selectively updated twice yearly. Last updated March 2022. Contributions are welcome, to Jacob Simon at [email protected]

Introduction Resources and bibliography

Bronze sculpture founders: a short history Plaster figure makers: a short history


Updated August 2019
Ambrose Lewis Vago, 111 Gray’s Inn Lane, London 1861, 113 Gray’s Inn Lane by 1863, road renamed and renumbered 1863, 17 Gray’s Inn Road 1863-1871, 114 Gray's Inn Road 1871-1881, 191 Gray’s Inn Road 1882-1887, 287 Gray’s Inn Road 1888-1895. Modeller, from 1887 sculptor.

Ambrose Lewis Vago (1839-96) was born in 1839 in the Holborn district and died in 1896 in the Pancras district. He was the son of Ambrogio Vago, an immigrant Italian figure maker, who died in 1860 in the Holborn district.

Ambrose Lewis Vago married Catherine Burgess in 1859 in the Holborn district. They had at least six children, the first of whom was born in 1860 when Vago was living at 20 Gough St, Old Ford. In census records, Vago can be found in 1861 as a phrenological bust maker at 111 Gray’s Inn Lane, in 1871 as a moulder at 114 Gray's Inn Road, in 1881 as a modeller and maker of phrenological heads, living at Cambria House, Page Green Estate, Wakefield Road, Tottenham, with his wife and four children, ages 5 to 12, and in 1891 as a sculptor and art cast maker at 287 Gray's Inn Road, with his wife and three children, ages 7 to 22. Vago died in 1896, leaving effects worth £265. A successor business, Vago & Co, sculptors, traded at the same address from 1896.

Vago used his trade card from 113 Gray’s Inn Lane, perhaps dating to the early 1860s, to advertise as a modeller, moulder and figure maker, offering ‘Casts taken of the living or dead. Medallians [sic] for Electrotyping, &c. Figures Repaired & Painted, Works of Art Moulded & accurately re-produced. Centre flowers for ceilings in great variety. Phrenonological busts Wholesale & Retail.’ (example, National Portrait Gallery, associated with NPG x197391).

In 1866, Vago advertised his work, Orthodox Phrenology (Leeds Mercury 12 May 1866), a book which went into a 2nd edition in 1871. He published other works on phrenology and a handbook, Instructions in the art of modeling in clay, in 1879. Plaster phrenological heads, usually with Vago’s advertising label, appear at auction from time to time in sales of scientific instruments (e.g., Christie’s South Kensington, 18 August 1994 lot 94, 2 March 1995 lot 59). An example from the collection of the Phrenological Society of Edinburgh is an unglazed plaster head, dated 1866 (William Ramsay Henderson Trust coll., repr. M.H. Kaufman and N. Basden, ‘Marked Phrenological Heads…’, Journal of the History of Collections, vol.9, 1997, p.156).

Vago’s death mask, Dr Thomas Chalmers, and life mask, Sir Richard Owen are in the Laurence Hutton collection at Princeton (see John Delaney, Laurence Hutton Collection of Life and Death Masks: A Pictorial Guide, at A terracotta bust by Vago after Nollekens, Dr Samuel Johnson, belongs to the Athenaeum Club in London (John Kenworthy-Browne, A Temple of British Worthies: The Historic Portrait Busts at the Athenaeum, 2011, p.26). Vago’s plaster bust, Michael Faraday is in the Science Museum (, information from Osmund Bullock). A set of five terracotta busts inscribed by Vago, Socrates, Jesus, Voltaire, Thomas Paine and Robert Owen, still ornament the façade of the Leicester Secular Hall, as described in 1881 at the time of the hall’s opening (Leicester Chronicle 5 March 1881, information from Ned Newitt, April 2019).

Sources: Information kindly supplied by Peter Malone was the starting point for this entry.

*Laurens van der Meulen, London 1675-1688. Sculpture, carver and bronze founder.

Outside the time frame of this online resource but see Roscoe 2009 and Sullivan 2005 p.35, on whom this summary depends. Laurens van der Meulen (1645-1719) was born in Malines in 1645 and came to London in 1675. He worked for Grinling Gibbons and, according to George Vertue, together with A. Dievot of Malines he modelled and made Gibbons’ bronze statue of King James II, originally in the Privy Garden at Whitehall and now in Trafalgar Square.

Peter Vanina (or Vannini)(active1753-70), London. Plaster figure maker.

Outside the time frame of this online resource but see Clifford 1992 pp.64-5, Roscoe 2009. For abbreviations, see Resources and bibliography.

Antonio Vichi (1875-1965), see John Galizia

Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

The history of institutional plaster cast collections lies outside the scope of this online resource, but for the Victoria and Albert Museum see Malcolm Baker, 'A Glory to the Museum: The Casting of the Portico de la Gloria', V&A Album, vol.1, 1982, pp.101-8; Marjorie Trusted, The Making of Sculpture: the materials and techniques of European Sculpture, 2007, pp.153-71; Isabelle Flour, ‘“On the Formation of a National Museum of Architecture”: the Architectural Museum versus the South Kensington Museum’, Architectural History, vol.51, 2008, pp.211-38; Diane Bilbey and Marjorie Trusted, ‘“The Question of Casts”: Collecting and Later Reassessment of the Cast Collections at South Kensington’, in Frederiksen 2010 pp.465-83, especially pp.479-80 for the Department for the Sale of Casts.

The following suppliers in this resource worked for the Museum or its predecessor, the South Kensington Museum: Domenico Brucciani & Co/Ltd (c.1854-1921); Elkington & Co (1854-1889); Giovanni Franchi and Franchi & Son (1858-72); Enrico Cantoni (1892-1912); Lorenzo Giuntini (1899-1905). The date ranges indicate the chief period of activity for the Museum. Both Elkington’s and Franchi’s were authorised to sell electrotype reproductions of objects in the South Kensington Museum on the open market (see trade catalogue, Illustrated Catalogue of Electrotype Reproductions of Works of Art from Originals in the South Kensington Museum, HMSO, 1873).

The South Kensington Museum also employed on its own staff ‘Sergeant Bullen’ as foreman of moulders for 12 years around the 1880s; he made moulds in India and around England (Marjorie Trusted, The Making of Sculpture: the materials and techniques of European Sculpture, 2007, pp.161-2).

The Victoria and Albert Museum acquired casts from the Architectural Association in 1916 and from the Trustees of the Crystal Palace in 1938, both of which collections have their origins in the mid-19th century (see Marjorie Trusted, The Making of Sculpture: the materials and techniques of European Sculpture, 2007, p.170).

The Museum took over the Brucciani business as a museum service in 1921, renaming it 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.

For abbreviations, see Resources and bibliography.

Found a mistake? Have some extra information? Who should be added to this directory? Please contact Jacob Simon at [email protected].




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