An September 2, 1795, the Prussian court sculptor Johann Gottfried Schadow contacted the Berlin police authorities to report a case of plagiarism. It is about the two clay busts of Princess Luise of Prussia, the future queen, and her sister Friederike, which Schadow made at the end of July and in the meantime left to the plaster caster Beyer for casting. According to Schadow, that Beyer must have made a wax copy of the busts with the help of a young employee of the court sculptor’s workshop and sold them, because the looted casts were already being offered for sale by an art dealer at the Brandenburg Gate, while he, Schadow, “with this one of mine work hasn’t earned anything yet”. Obviously, the plaster caster is the main culprit in the matter – “and against him I have to mainly ask for satisfaction”.
The case was closed four months later, but not in the way one would expect today. A memorandum by Schadow from January 1796 states that he reached an out-of-court settlement with those involved and waived fines, “since I can no longer be harmed in this matter”. In particular, the plaster caster Beyer seems to have got off very lightly with the delivery of all the negative molds and copies of the bust. The reason for this generosity lies in the relationship of dependency between the sculptor and the foundryman: Schadow relies on Beyer’s services if he wants to transfer his clay models to marble and other materials with pinpoint accuracy. The plagiarist keeps his duped customer because he has special knowledge that he cannot do without.
Yvette Deseyve, the curator of the Schadow exhibition in the Alte Nationalgalerie, describes this case in the associated catalog as proof of the independent quality of the two busts, which for a long time were only regarded as preliminary studies for Schadow’s famous group of princesses. However, one could just as easily forge an argument against the autonomy status of all three plants from the Schadow vs. Beyer case. From the plaster caster’s point of view, each of them is just an aggregate state of an artistic idea that can be reproduced indefinitely. The group of princesses is usually shown in Berlin in marble in the National Gallery and in plaster in the Friedrichwerder Church. In the exhibition, which brings together both originals, they are placed between two mirrored walls in such a way that their front and back sides are infinitely multiplied depending on the viewer’s point of view. A few meters away are the princesses as miniatures in biscuit porcelain. The Caspar-David-Friedrich-Saal is adorned with an original-size bronze cast of the sculptural group from 1906, and at the exit one encounters Luise and Friederike again in plaster form, brightly colored in a contemporary style by Hans Peter Feldmann.
If you look back at Schadow’s beginnings from this range of products, the revolutionary nature of his artistic work becomes apparent. Trained in the studio of his predecessor Antoine Tassaert, he took advantage of a family dispute with his teacher to elope to Italy to study antiquity and marry his Jewish-Catholic mistress Marianne Devidels. In Rome in 1786 he not only won the sculpture prize of the Accademia di San Luca, but also met Antonio Canova, whose European star was just rising. Canova had already made the turn from rococo to classicism. At the same time, he practiced on a large scale the copying process of dotting that had just been invented, with which sculptures could be reproduced true to scale.