Chiara Marabelli

CMarabelli IMG_4325



In this project I am combining my greatest passions: archaeology and museums.

I belong to the AHRC Midlands3Cities Doctoral Training Partnership cohort.




Prof Sandra Dudley

Prof Ross Parry

Dr Milena Melfi


Thesis title

Original copies? Readdressing the value of archaeological cast collections in contemporary museum practices


Thesis description

My doctoral research investigates the role of plaster casts of Classical derivation and their value in museums, building and drawing upon the fields of history of ancient art, archaeology, art criticism, cultural anthropology, visitors and museum studies.

Plaster casts of archaeological subject have a dichotomous nature. In fact, they are not only copies of some of the most esteemed masterpieces of antiquity, but also have their own material realities and histories. However, this second aspect of casts as objects in their own right, is somehow neglected. In the history of art, for instance, they have been seen mainly as means of diffusing the Graeco-Roman aesthetic canon around Europe from the Renaissance onwards. In museum displays today, too, the emphasis on casts as copies/representations appear to be the prevailing, sometimes the only, criterion in their classification. Concepts of original/copy are especially problematic in the field of Classical art: several ancient statues praised as “authentic” traces of the past and now exhibited as main attractions in important museums, are actually Roman marble copies of lost Greek bronze originals.

Aiming to explore the possibilities in considering casts as what they are, freed from their ‘copy’ label, rather than what they stand for, my main question is:

- Do cast collections have their own value and possibilities in museums, or must they inevitably occupy an ancillary position, dependent on their originals?

Following this:

-What are visitors’ perspectives on position of casts on display in museums, and to what extent do these perspectives affect visitors’ experience?

-What are museum professionals’ perspectives on position of casts on display in museums, and - where appropriate - to what extent these perspectives influence the display and interpretation of casts?

- And more generally, what can this research say about ideas of authenticity in contemporary museums and about the ways in which these ideas may affect the museum experience?

As I explored in my MA dissertation in Museum Studies from the University of Leicester, both theories of materiality and empirical research show that casts, like other objects, have the power to elicit insightful responses, through their visual and physical qualities (three-dimensionality, texture, colour, etc.), before any information about them is given.

The study fits into the debate regarding the value and use of  surrogates in museums, aiming to open up new possibilities of interpretation and engagement with museum collections. Readdressing the value of casts will lead to their wider appreciation and utilisation, for both existing and new audiences. It will also point to ways in which questions around authenticity, copies and replicas are dealt with more broadly in museums and beyond.



Master of Arts Degree in Museum Studies, University of Leicester - Distinction

Specialisation Course in Conservation and Management of Cultural Heritage, University of Siena (Italy) - Distinction

Master of Arts Degree in Classical Archaeology, University of Pavia (Italy) - 110/110 summa cum laude

Bachelor of Arts Degree in Cultural Heritage Studies, University of Pavia (Italy) - 110/110 summa cum laude

Relevant Work Experience

2016 - Collections assistant at the Roman Baths, Bath

2015 - Curatorial assistant in the CAST (“Collezioni d’Arte Scultorea del Territorio”) Project, Musei Civici di Pavia and University of Pavia Museums (archaeology section), Pavia (Italy) -

2014 - Assistant in the FRAGSUS (“Fragility and Sustainability in restricted island environments”) Project, National Museum of Archaeology, Valletta (Malta) -;

2013 - Curatorial assistant at the National Museum of Fine Arts, Valletta (Malta)


Research Interests

Politicisation of ancient art, specifically sculpture

Classical Reception Studies

Material culture studies and cultural biography of objects

Archaeological curatorship

Authenticity in art and in museums

Sensory engagement and experience

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