Christina Woody

History of Design

Plaster Cast of Trajans Column, Victoria and Albert Museum


Title of Dissertation: South Kensington and the Commercial Reproduction of Art from 1860–1912 – Education, acclaim and aura

When Henry Cole initiates an International Convention for the exchange and reproduction of artistic objects in 1867, it marks the first time a large-scale collaboration between leading European museums is established. Through this convention, a plethora of reproductions in the form of electrotypes, casts and photographs are accumulated by the South Kensington Museum for the purpose of the dissemination of artistic taste and knowledge. However, in addition to acquiring exemplary copies for their own collections, the museum develops commercial ties with companies that sell these reproductions to the general public.

This dissertation studies the early development of the commercialisation of museum objects in South Kensington from the mid-nineteenth century to the introduction of new copyright laws in 1911. Through an analysis of the social, political and legal factors that enabled this development to take place we see that conflicting ideas about the relationship between technology and artistic reproduction often created polarising tensions as to the appropriateness of their use. Seen as purely educational in purpose, reproductions represented both a continuation of traditional studio practices and a break from the long held ideal that artistic greatness came from the ‘hand of the artist’. Instead of decreasing the value of the original, this dissemination of copies increased the ‘aura’ of a work of art by giving it iconic status.

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© Victoria and Albert Museum



BA, Art History, Fordham University, New York, USA, 2009


Cataloguer, The Birkenhead Collection, London, 2011–12; Gallery assistant, Christie's Auction House, London, 2011–12


'Navigation Tools: Negotiating the 1862 International Exhibition through Guides and Groundplans', Ruth Mason, Helen Cresswell, Internationality on Display: Rethinking the 1862 International Exhibition, Victoria and Albert Museum, 2012