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Chiara Marabelli

Cultural and Museum Studies, University of Leicester

Thesis title:

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

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, 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 copies of lost Greek originals.

 So, instead of only defining casts as copies, can we consider them per se, freed from the ‘replica’ label? How would this fact influence visitors’ perceptions? As I explored in my MA dissertation, 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 will open up new possibilities of interpretation of and engagement with museum collections. Readdressing the value of casts will lead to their wider appreciation and utilisation, for both existing and new audiences, in the museum sphere. It will also point to ways in which questions around authenticity, copies and replicas are dealt with more broadly in museums and beyond.

Research Area

  • Cultural and Museum Studies


Exhibition review: 'Raffaello. 1520-1483. An Italian example on revisited ways of engagement in times of crisis.', in Museological Review, 25, pp. 159-162. The whole issue is accessible online

Co-Editor-in-Chief, Museological Review, 23. The whole issue is accessible online.


·       2021: 26/11 - Poster presenter at "Interrupted stories. The recognition and valorisation of forgotten heritage", University of Padua, Italy; 08/10 - Speaker at "Sculpt2021 - Shaping Geneaologies", Portuguese Catholic University, Porto, Portugal

·       2020: 13/07 - M4C Digital Research Festival Research Relay presentation

·       2019: 09/11 - Speaker at the 12th International Conference on the Inclusive Museum, Muntref, Museum of Immigration, Buenos Aires, Argentina; 16/10 - Speaker at the "Cantieri d'Eccellenza: IX Edizione dei Cantieri d'Autunno", University of Pavia, Italy; 28/6 - Ashmolean Museum's Cast Gallery tour leader during Lasting Impressions II. Making and Re-Making the Replica Study Day, Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford; 23/5 M3C Research Festival poster presentation, Birmingham

·       2018: 13-14/09 - Colours of the Ancient World(em)Powering Images picture exhibition, as part of the PhD Conference "Museums (Em)Power", School of Museum Studies, University of Leicester; 06/06 - PhD Research Week presentation, School of Museum Studies, University of Leicester; 24/05 - M3C Research Festival Research Relay presentation, Birmingham; 11/04 - Speaker at the M3C CDF event Echoes: a Symposium on Classic-Modern Relations, University of Birmingham

·       2016:  10/06 - Museum Studies and Art Museums and Galleries Studies Dissertation Conference speaker, University of Leicester; 29/01 - FRAGSUS Project meeting speaker, University of Cambridge

·       2014:  26/11 - FRAGSUS Project and LLP Leonardo da Vinci Lifelong Learning Programme presentation, National Museum of Archaeology, Valletta, Malta

Public Engagement & Impact

·       2020: 07-10/12 - co-curation of #MuseumsUnlocked Twitter page, PhD community at Leicester School of Museum Studies and Prof Dan Hicks (School of Archaeology & Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford); 02/12 - Images of Research exhibition finalist, Doctoral College, University of Leicester

·       2019: 25/08 - Main speaker at the talk "Uno:Uno. A tu per tu con l'opera. La Venere de' Medici: alla ricerca della bellezza ideale tra statuaria classica e disegni anatomici", Musei Civici del Castello Visconteo, Pavia, Italy; 15/03 - Ashmolean Museum's Cast Gallery tour leader during the Oxford-Cambridge Classics open days

·       2018: November to February 2019 - Talking Antinous tour guide, for the duration of the exhibition Antinous: boy made god, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford; 26/09 - Invited speaker, M3C Residential Induction, Stamford Court, Leicester; 26/08 - Main speaker at the talk "Uno:Uno. A tu per tu con l'opera. La fama di Alessandro Magno dalla Danimarca all'Italia. Il caso dei fregi di Bertel Thorvaldsen", Musei Civici del Castello Visconteo, Pavia, Italy;  22/06 - Research Bytes Competition presentation, University of Leicester Doctoral College

·       2017: 17/09 - Main speaker at the talk "Uno:Uno. A tu per tu con l'opera. Il Laocoonte e la fortuna delle copie in gesso", Musei Civici del Castello Visconteo, Pavia, Italy

·       2020 - 2021: PhD students Rep, School of Museum Studies, University of Leicester

·       2019: July-August - Peer-reviewer for STAAR, St Anne's Academic Review, St Anne's College - Middle Common Room, University of Oxfod; January - Peer-reviewer for Revista de Aysenología. Ambiente y Patrimonio Cultural en Patagonia Chilena, year 5, n. 6; January - Research visit and practice exchange with the Red de Museos Aysén team members at Museo Regional de Aysén, Coyhaique, Museo de Puerto Río Tranquilo, Chile, and consultation with curators of the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Santiago, Chile

·       2018 - 2019: Co-editor-in-chief, Museological Review, School of Museum Studies, University of Leicester

·       2018: 07/11 - Organiser of the Research Seminar "Lessons from Casts" with British artist Alexander Massouras, School of Museum Studies, University of Leicester; 13-14/09 - Co-organiser of the PhD Conference "Museums (Em)Power", School of Museum Studies, University of Leicester; 25/06 to 01/07 - Participant in the M3C Workshop "Rome: changing physical and ideological landscapes of the Eternal City", British School at Rome, Italy

Other Research Interests

Politicisation of ancient art, specifically sculpture

Classical reception studies

Iconography and iconology

Material culture and the cultural biography of objects

Authenticity in art and in museums

Archaeological curatorship

Sensory engagement and experience in museums


  • 2017 to date: Member of ICOM UK - International Council of Museums

Career Achievements

·       2021: Research placement at Factum Foundation for Digital Technology in Conservation, Madrid, Spain

·       2019 - 2020: Research placement at the Departments of Greek & Roman Antiquities and 19th century & Contemporary Art, Vatican Museums, Vatican City

·       2016: Collections assistant, The Roman Baths, Bath

·       2015: Researcher and curatorial assistant in the CAST Project ("Collezioni d'Arte Scultorea del Territorio"), Musei Civici del Castello Visconteo, Pavia and Archaeology Museum of the University of Pavia, Italy

·       2014: LLP Leonardo da Vinci Lifelong Learning Programme scholarship recipient; assistant in the FRAGSUS Project ("Fragility and Sustainability in restricted island environments"), National Museum of Archaeology, Valletta, Malta

·       2013: Curatorial assistant, National Museum of Fine Arts, Valletta, Malta

Academic Qualifications

Master of Arts degree in Museum Studies, School of Museum Studies, University of Leicester - Distinction

Specialisation course degree in Conservation and Management of Cultural Heritage, University of Siena - Distinction (first placed student of the class)

 Master of Arts degree in Classical Archaeology, University of Pavia - 110/110 summa cum laude

 Bachelor of Arts degree in Cultural Heritage Studies, University of Pavia - 110/110 summa cum laude