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Public Art on South Campus: University of Massachusetts Lowell

Caproni Cast Collection, Parthenon Frieze and Cantoria Reliefs

plaster cast of releif sculpture of a group of young boys holding sheet music and singing                                                                
The Assembly Room also contains a notable set of relief sculpture casts. These works were purchased sometime around 1910 from the nationally renowned firm of P.P. Caproni & Brother, located in Boston. The firm specialized in plaster reproductions of famous works of sculpture from antiquity to the present. Our collection includes ten relief panels. The six panels depicting horsemen are copies of the frieze from the Parthenon in Greece, originally done c. 450 BCE, and moved to the British Museum in the early 19th century. The four panels with musicians are copies of Luca Della Robbia’s Cantoria reliefs done in the 1430s for Florence Cathedral, Italy. Pietro Caproni received permission to make his plaster copies directly from the originals (something that would never happen today!) and this accounts for the high quality of his casts. Universities and museums across the country purchased Caproni casts as a means of teaching art and art history; Harvard and Yale both have collections.


detail of marble relief of group of singers
When our casts were purchased, Coburn Hall was known as the Lowell Normal School; it prepared students to become teachers. Reform efforts at the time stressed the need to encourage creativity in childhood education; as a result, art and music gained a significant place in the school curriculum. Subjects like the Cantoria panels combined both art and music. Click images for a larger vew.



relief sculpture of men on horseback wearing drapery and capes

young woman head bent over a table containing a bulky plaster relief statue she is holding a paintbrush and brushing the sculpture

Over time, the casts accumulated a layer of dust and grime; soot from the coal burner used to heat the building stuck to the surface and allowed dust particles to adhere. At some point after 1950, beige paint was applied to touch up worn areas. In the Spring of 2015, students in the American Art course worked with a professional conservator to clean the Parthenon frieze casts. Although meant to look like marble, the plaster casts are in fact very fragile. Using soft brushes, cotton balls and a gentle soap, students removed the soot and dust; additionally, they placed plaster strips on the back of the casts to stabilize any cracks. After the renovation of  Coburn in 2018, the casts were rehung in the order you now see—be sure to go in to the small adjacent room to view those not visible in the Assembly Room.





Installation of the Parthenon and Cantoria casts prior to the renovation of Coburn Hall in 2018.

parthenon frieze installation view