Several stories to tell about the Portland Art Museum’s casts of Roman statues, which are replicas of early and lost Greek works, including this Doryphorus by Polykleitos (click the picture to enlarge).

Importantly and foremost, these casts were and are teaching tools; replicas yes, but fair representations from a time when travel was difficult and Naples was a far distant civilization. I don’t know why the museum bought a version without arms. Casts or replicas of important artworks was often the only way a provincial community could acquire a grand artwork, and an essential step in developing a curious arts community.

More about the 1890s cast collection at the Portland Art Museum web site.

This plaster cast of something like the Doryphorus of Polykleitos is still breathtaking in it’s simplicity and perfect 6-1 form. The Doryphorus is also called The Spear Carrier (see below, a excellent cast at the Pushkin Museum in Moscow). The original this cast was taken from is at the Naples National Archaeological Museum.

According to a card describing the remaining collection in the ground floor hallways of the Mark Building (free and open daily, excellent for evading Springtime cloudbursts), “A group of 100 casts were acquired in 1893-94 by Winslow B Ayer, with funds donated by Henry W Corbett, both museum founders. As the museum acquired more original artworks, the importance of the casts to the museum’s program dwindled. The majority were eventually loaned to to local universities as educational resources for art students.”

Ayers was a lumber and railroad man. Mrs. Ayers went with him to Europe to buy the casts. The funds were $10,000, or $100 apiece. Corbett was in hardware and wholesale merchandising and later became a federal senator. Their actions, leveraging culture at an early moment in Portland’s development, now result in this city not being Spokane or Toledo or Buffalo – their small investment paid high dividends for their ancestors, those who appreciate Portland’s public art.

In 1893-94 Portland still hung a scraping tool for dung at all doorways. These were forward thinking men who carefully planned a cultural attraction for their adopted city.

Cool – this could be a statewide treasure hunt! There are only a handful left on display with the PAM so the remainder, which haven’t been swiped, should still be on display. If you find one of these spooking your college library, post a note below.

An important, growing, and spectacularly weird art-business story is an estimated 60% of all art sold now comes from Chinese city of Dafen, as described recently by James Fallows. Examples such as this excellent marble replica of Doryphorus at Museum Replicas – just $5,400 – show why first the Romans and now the Chinese rule the world (see image at right).

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