A database for public sculptures in bronze and cast

7/1/11 – Internet – Now three years old, the e-monumen database has just posted its second version. Originally, it was meant to list all 19th century cast sculptures, that is the copies sold through catalogues for display in a public place (a little known subject). Then the theme was expanded to include bronze sculptures which were generally commissioned individually, and also any decorative elements in metal. Only those works which are easily accessible to the public are listed, thus excluding pieces in private collections.
This project was developed by the ASPM (Association pour la Sauvegarde du Patrimoine Métallurgique Haut-Marnais), and then joined by the Réseau International de la Fonte d’Art, the Musée d’Orsay and the Laboratoire de Recherche des Monuments Historiques. It is also supported by the Ministry of Culture as part of its program of « Projets innovants 2010 ».

This is a double database : Monumen lists the sculptures whereas Volumen displays the catalogue plates used to sell them, with the first providing references to the second. The search may be geographical (using a Google map), by sculptor, by type of monument or subject. Only native French founders are offered, regardless of the location of the statues. A smart-phone application allows users to find the works in the vicinity at any location.
For now, about 1100 entries have been posted including several thousand photographs (some of which come from the Debuisson holdings – see article in French). Almost another thousand exist but have not yet been added to the database. The idea is to have users also participate by providing information once they have created an account.

It would be unfair to criticize this new tool for including only metal public sculptures as the project was created by associations tied to foundries. Still, we would hope that the participation of the Musée d’Orsay will enable it to one day extend it to stone and marble monuments. Another welcome addition would be French sculptors even if founded abroad (for instance, Marochetti in England). _ However, we would like to point out that despite being a valuable contribution, the database suffers from a number of flaws. The first is the slow access which should not discourage visitors. The second, a bit more problematic, is the fact that many entries are not signed and/or do not provide their sources. Not knowing who wrote the information or where it comes from, users cannot check for accuracy. In some cases, the entries are taken from Wikipedia, not always a sign of quality in research. Of course, all of the entries are validated by the person in charge of the database before posting them but it is impossible for him to verify the exact content of the information and only checks their coherency. Finally, no information is given on whether the monument still exists or has been destroyed.

This is therefore, a work in progress, far from being complete but which will certainly improve with time and eventually become a useful tool for visitors (especially with the smart-phone application) as well a valuable instrument for sculpture historians.

Didier Rykner, vendredi 7 janvier 2011

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