Saxon deities on sale
Charles Boot writes:
On 8 July there was a sale of ‘Old Master Sculpture’ at Sotheby’s where the last two Saxon deities from Stowe were catalogued at £200–300,000. They didn’t sell (or aren’t recorded as being sold on the Sotheby’s website) and their fate remains unknown. Originally part of Sir Richard Temple, 1st Viscount Cobham’s famous 18th century gardens at Stowe, Buckinghamshire, Woden and Seatern are the last two of Rysbrack’s great Saxon deities remaining in private hands.
Commissioned in the late 1720s the gods represent the days of the week, Wednesday and Saturday, and epitomised the height of 18th century antiquarianism in the gardens at Stowe. Rysbrack used the finest Portland stone, which has retained much intricate detail, and the heroic figures have developed a timeless mystery, enhanced by the picturesque weathering of nearly 300 years.
The detail of carving on these original sculptures is noticeably finer than that of the replicas now in place at Stowe, though they do give the effect. Surely the point of returning sculpture to any garden, where they have been lost as a result of theft or sale is to make the experience of visiting them more fulfilling. Many garden statues were themselves replicas of earlier exemplars (though the Deities appear to be one-offs), often made in different materials so it’s not unreasonable that replicas are used, as long as they look right.
The sculptures are being sold by the Aspinall Foundation. Of the others, two (Mona & Friga) are now in the Buckinghamshire County Museum, Aylesbury, and two in the V&A (Thuner and Sunna), the seated statue of Thuner remains to be replicated. Tew has finished up at Anglesey Abbey, another National Trust property.