Figured in Marble: The Making and Viewing of 18th-Century Sculpture by Malcolm Baker, published by V&A Publications. ISBN 1851772987 £50 hb
OUTLINED here are some new approaches to the remarkable range of sculptures that were “made, collected and viewed” between 1700 and 1820, one of the most fecund periods in art history.
Made up of a series of case studies, this book looks at the way in which the history of sculpture has been written, their designs, materials and their making, their categories and genres. In the making, collecting and viewing section, chapter 13 discusses the affair of Canova’s The Three Graces, about which no sculpture, apart possibly from Rachel Whiteread’s House, has attracted more widespread comment. The group was removed from its setting in Woburn Abbey’s Temple of the Graces, especially designed for the group, where it had been since the 6th Duke of Bedford commissioned it in 1817, and was finally acquired in 1994 by the V&A and the National Gallery of Scotland after what is described here “as a long campaign”.
This was a massive bureaucratic and legal fight to stop Canova’s masterpiece being granted an export licence to the then owners of Woburn Abbey to sell the sculpture to the J. Paul Getty Museum. In the midst of it all was Canova’s reputation – so great in his lifetime that Stendhal ranked him alongside Napoleon and Byron – which became the subject of divergent opinions.
The chapter Categories and Genres includes a feature on family tombs as conversation pieces for refined society, monuments as family groups, including Grinling Gibbons’ monument to Viscount Campden and his family, at Exton, Rutland, c.1686, where Lord Campden and his fourth wife are shown flanking an urn while reliefs represent his three earlier wives and no fewer than 19 children. Michael Rysbrack’s imposing, ambitious and costly monument to Thomas, lst Baron Foley, erected around 1736 in the church adjoining the family home at Great Witley, Worcestershire, includes statues of Lord F and his lady with a child in her lap, of the eldest son, and the eldest daughter on each side, and two other children, all deceased.Much that is valuable on studies of the relationship between the “making” and “viewing” of 18th century sculpture.
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