Another lifecaster* ran across this excerpt in Millar's "Plastering - Plain and Decorative"  published in 1920. 
Ancient History
"With the commencement of the fifteenth century, old learning and old arts began to be studied, literature leading the way, as it always does, and their study was enormously facilitated by the discovery of the art of printing, and the consequent multiplication of the copies of the lore heretofore locked up in the old manuscripts. We can glean somewhat the state of the plaster-worker's art at that time by reading the old recipes which have been handed down to us from the notebooks of the artists of that re-dawning time. 
Among the foremost of them was Cennino-Cennini, a painter born about 1360, a pupil for twelve years of Agnoto Gaddi of Florence (who died in 1378); towards the end of his long life Cennini wrote a book compiled from his notes of all recipes and directions for the artistic processes known to him, and this book he finished on 31st July 1437 - unfortunately writing from "the debtors' prison at Florence." Many books came from debtors' prisons.
This may, I think, be taken as a merely theoretic instruction, showing more desire than facility, but it is sufficient to show that piece moulding was not known to Cennini, if indeed practised by anyone at his time. In another recipe he gravely bids anyone wanting to take a cast of himself to spread a bed of wax about 9 in. deep on the dining-table and then lie upon it, taking care not to disturb the mould when he gets up. From this mould he takes a plaster cast, and then carefully lies on his other side and completes the mould !! Comment is unnecessary, and it is only from their negative value that these casting recipes from Cennini are worth remark, showing that the desire for such a process was greater than its achievement. The real utility of his recipes, in a positive direction, are those in which he treats gesso and other painter's usage of the plasterer's material."


He also gives us directions "How to take casts from the face of man or woman." which is much the same as our modern process, and was doubtless that of Lysippus; but he quaintly remarks that "when you take the cast of a person of high rank such as a lord, a king, a pope, or an emperor, you should stir rose water into the plaster, but for other persons it is sufficient to use cold water from fountains, rivers or wells." In taking the cast from the mould he advises the addition of a little pounded brick. In this there is no reference to piece moulding, and it is very doubtful if these processes were then known.  --This is one of my most treasured books, it was republished in 1998 by Dunhead in the UK. The new work is 750 pages, including extensive photos and drawings, and is considered to be the "bible" of plastering. I am currently reproducing some of the modelled stucco ornaments and sgraffito as examples of an artform which exists in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, but in North America only in some Mexican cathedrals and churches.
The nearest approach to such a suggestion is contained in the instructions "How to take a cast of the whole figure of a man:" 
"In such case you must let the person stand upright in a box, joined together lengthwise, which will reach as high as the chin. Let a thin copperplate be placed against the shoulders, beginning at the ear and reaching to the bottom of the case, and bind it with a cord to the naked person, so as not to injure or press into the flesh. Cut four copperplates like this and join them together like the edges of the case. Then grease the naked person, put him directly in the case, mix a large quantity of plaster with cold water, and take care to have an assistant with you; and while you pour plaster into the case in the front of the man, let the assistant fill the back part at the same time, so that it may be filled to the throat. Let the plaster rest until it is quite set and dry, then open the case, separate the edges of the case from the copper bands with chisels, and open it as you would a nut. Withdraw the naked person very gently, wash him quickly with clean water, for his flesh will be red as a rose. With regard to the face, you may do that another time." I do not expect the chance to cast from a living face would occur after such a process!
*Gary Waller  email
Vancouver. B.C.
Of more value might be my look at Dantan's paintings of lifecasting. return to main page