Lorenzo Giuntini and the Great Turtle
In the second half of 1882 Alfred Percival Maudslay (1850-1931), the famous English archaeologist and explorer, was laboriously busy in preparations for his new expedition to South America, Guatemala and Honduras to study the Mayan sculpture. After reporting a series of photographs, reliefs, measurements and ‘Paper Squeezes’ from previous expeditions to Quirinuá, Copan and Yaxchilan, Maudslay realized that the best and most effective way to acquire faithful copies of Mayan monuments was to execute very detailed plaster casts. More would be accurate the copies and more would be accurate the drawings useful to scholars. From the experience obtained with the Paper Molds, Maudslay intuited that it was necessary to make Plaster Molds.
Alfred Percival Maudslay
in his room at Chichen Itza. 1889
Lorenzo Giuntini how he looks some
years before meeting Alfred Maudslay
the Great Turtle or Zoomorph P at Quiringuà
Stele at Quiringuà
The raw materials were limited and had to be used sparingly. The plaster mold that resulted consists of over 600 pieces and side panels should also remain robust to withstand transportation by mule and then by boat and at the same time as light as possible also to save material. On April 26, after nearly two months of work, the mould of the Great Turtle was completed by Giuntini. It was necessary no less than 2 tons of plaster for its execution. Giuntini had also performed the molding of a large part of two big monolithic monuments, while Gorgonio had taken the paper molds of numerous inscriptions.
Imagining the working conditions in an inhospitable place, the limited resources of that era, the effort and fatigue required from a work of this undertaking, the long journey in a far away land is easy to see what would become for Giuntini the enterprise to be told for a lifetime.
The mould maker in subsequent years accomplished other two missions, one in Mesoamerica with Maudslay and later, in 1892, a new one mission to Persepolis in Iran with Herbert Weld-Blundell.
Lorenzo Giuntini moulding the Great Turtle at Quiringuà, 1883
Lorenzo Giuntini (with white hat) is trimming with knife the edges of a piece of the mold, a young roundsman waving a fan for him and other two assistant are preparing materials.
Plaster cast of ‘The Great Turtle,’ or Zoomorph P made by Giuntini
on display at the South Kensington Museum in 1894
The mould had certainly not improved by weight and a reduced size. Executing the same involved a series of major complications that made work much difficult. The animal glue was deteriorating quickly in the heat and humidity of the place. The process of work was very uncomfortable having to create and articulate a bulkhead of plaster to the base to contain the liquid glue during application.
The making of Gelatine Mould on Great Turtle, 1914
a piece of Plaster Cast just take out form the mould, 1914
On plaster were drilled holes for the expulsion of air, as the glue filled the chamber the holes were closed with clay.
Painted plaster portrait bust of Dr Alfred Percival Maudslay
by Lorenzo Giuntini (active c. 1880-c. 1908)