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A Brief Guide to The History of Lifecasting

Here at Image Casting, we specialise in casting the hands and feet of babies, in a variety of materials, to create a truly special keepsake that can be treasured forever. We maintain traditional practices while adopting more modern techniques where necessary, to ensure our products are of the highest quality and can take pride of place in the family home. Given that not many are aware of the extensive history of lifecasting and how it began, we have created a brief guide to casting through time. From the casting of ancient Egyptian Pharaohs to the tiny, delicate baby feet we cast today!

Early Days

The process of lifecasting was first documented in a manuscript called ‘II Librio del Art’, which was written by Cennino Cennini in 1392. It is within this text that, lifecasting is attributed to the ‘ancients’, but whether that was several hundred or thousand years prior is yet to be determined. It is thought that creating plaster moulds from a human form dated back to the 7th or 8th millennium BC. Casting the remains of Pharaohs played a major role in ancient Egyptian culture, and it was thought that the perfect fit would take them into the afterlife.  In 1912, a lifecasting of Pharaoh Nefertiti was discovered, along with 22 plaster casts of faces, further proving that the Egyptians were pioneers in the art of lifecasting.

an example of one of our baby feet castsThe process of portraiture was first practised in what’s known today as Israel, 10,000 to 8,000 BC. The idea was thought to be ancestor worship and skulls were modelled with plaster before being painted in a red-brown colour. Those found in the city of Jericho had a more artistic interpretation, and included various semiprecious stones within the plaster, perhaps according to status. This was then advanced by the Greeks, who utilised thin sheets of gold, and creators would construct the facial shape adding both eyes and facial hair with specialist tools. Rome furthered the practice once again, using plasters and waxes, which were then displayed proudly in the home.

800 Years Later…

It wasn’t until the 1300s that lifecasting made a reappearance in Europe. Both life and death castings were becoming more commonplace and were primarily used by artists in order to study the physical appearances of humans to improve sculptures and paintings. The art of lifecasting was described by Cennini as an arduous process, which needed a double stemmed tube to allow the subject to breathe, the removal of all facial hair and a sleeve to encompass the face, which took around 45 minutes.

Castings appear sporadically over the next 400 years, but it wasn’t until the 18th century that the art form was considered an acceptable practice. It was during this time that casting was used to capture the likeness of great leaders, entertainers and thinkers including Wagner, Newton and Dante, but the casting of baby’s hands and feet or other sculptures for visual use around the home were yet to be discovered.

In the 20th Century

During the 20th century, castings were primarily created as a means of prosthetics for film and TV. Early film stars including Buster Keaton, Karlof, Lagosi, and Price were all cast during their employment. It was during the 1980s that a revival of casting, in the form of art, was fostered by a new casting medium.

It is only in the last thirty years or so that a focus on using lifecasts for the purpose of a memory or keepsake has become a part of mainstream culture. Advances in the processes required have meant that accurate, detailed, life-like casts can now be created in a variety of different materials, and are bespoke to the subject being cast.

Casting Today

An example of our baby feet castsIn 2017, the casting of baby hands and feet is commonplace across the world, with many cultures embracing the benefits of a physical baby keepsake. Despite the significant improvement in digital technology and photography, the need for a physical keepsake to truly remember how tiny and delicate your little treasure once was, has never been more prevalent. A long-lasting memory that can be cherished forever, regardless of how many megabytes you have left or whether your laptop decides to have a rather inconvenient digital detox, and wipe everything off your hard drive!

If you’d like to invest in a baby keepsake to call your own or purchase one of our unique baby gifts for a friend or family member, do not hesitate to get in touch with a member of the Image Casting team today!