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Summers Place Auctions are the world's leading auctioneers of Sculpture and Design for the House and Garden.

Archive Catalogue:

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Archived Catalogue from:

19th and 22nd October 2010

This is Lot Number 7

An important carved Portland stone bust, probably of Aristotle, second quarter 18th century

Estimated Price:
£5,000 - £8,000

Hammer Price:
£14,500


This larger than life-size bust is presented in a Phrygian cap, which in the understanding of the classical world was interpreted as being worn by a foreigner, from Phrygia in Asia Minor or central Anatolia in modern-day Turkey. It had become associated in the ancient world with manumitted slaves, and thus in the modern world with liberty, hence the name ~Cap of Liberty~. The sitter wears a mid-length but groomed beard and hair, attributes of a scholar, and leans on a book. He held most probably, a quill pen (now absent) over a sheaf of manuscripts, all attributes of a writer. The subject wears a cowl hood and collar, with evident stitching and binding to the ~academic~ short-sleeved gown with turned back cuffs, and stitching at the seam of the left sleeve of the undergarment. The gown is held together by a well- described leather and metal clasp. The eye balls are blank and the eyebrows precisely described. Cut in Portland stone, it is likely that the bust was intended for an outdoor niche (out of which the right arm and manuscript would have overhung, as they are proud of the main block), as a garden ornament, probably for an aedicule, or possibly a building like William Kent~s exedra at Stowe or his praeneste at Rousham.

Today, the accepted image of Aristotle is of a bearded figure in a toga, based on a Roman prototype bust. These were themselves based on the Alexandrian type. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries however, despite Raphael~s image in the Vatican Stanze of a young virile man, bearded, and with a good head of hair, this image had not been established. Images created in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries died hard. The image closest to this bust is a wood engraving illustrating a chapter entitled ~Aristote Stagirien Philosphe~, in a book by De A. Theuet of 1584. Here a sharp-nosed fierce-eyed man in demi-bust profile raises an admonishingly sharp finger. His hair is long, he is bearded and moustachioed, and he wears a cowl and collared cloak. Most distinctive of all, he wears a Phrygian cap with his name inscribed on it. Almost fifty years later he appears on the title page of Galileo~s Dialogus de Systemate Mundi (Leiden, 1635), in conversation with Ptolemy and Copernicus. Aristotle in a short sleeved gown and collar like that in the bust, the same hair and beard, but without the cap, makes the same disputatious gesture, with the same sharp index finger.

Although not signed, the undoubted quality of carving would suggest that this bust was carved by one of the leading sculptors of the day, which included;

The Carters, brothers and son
A highly successful practice of architectural sculptors specialising in chimney-pieces and monuments from 1734 to the late 1780s. Thomas Carter I (1702-1756) worked for John Cheere, and contributed two figures for Blair Castle (untraced). They were capable of virtuoso work, but are not known to have developed the archetypes of the mid-eighteenth century.

John Cheere (1709-87)
~The Man at Hyde Park Corner~ was the most successful entrepreneur in the business of commercial reproduction. He cast, largely in lead and plaster, works after the Antique, and included almost all the icons under discussion in his repertoire. He both chose the popular images and popularised them. John Cheere had made a bust of Aristotle, among a group of library busts of Classical and modern savants, for the Duke of Atholl at Blair Castle, as early as 1742. Cheere also made busts of Aristotle, Shakespeare, Plato, and Homer for Wedgwood in 1774.

John Nost III is recorded as making library busts including an Aristotle for the library at Curraghmore, Co. Waterford, for Dr Patrick Delaney, Dean of Down in 1752 (untraced). Given the date, it is likely that this version would have conformed to the iconic type presented in the Roubiliac example in Trinity College Library, Dublin.

Louis-François Roubiliac (1702-1762)
Roubiliac worked with Peter Scheemakers on a commission for the Library of Trinity College, Dublin (c.1743-9) for which he carved busts of Aristotle, Bacon, Boyle, Newton, Plato, Socrates, and Dean Swift in marble. His presentation of Aristotle conformed to a patrician senatorial iconography of the Augustan classical type. Indeed the bust in Dublin looks remarkably like Roubiliac~s own variants on Sir Isaac Newton, and were it not inscribed ~Aristotle~ on the socle, could be taken as such. Roubiliac does not seem to have made garden ornament, anymore than he made chimney pieces (the stock in trade of many of his co-evals), nor worked in stone.

This is Lot Number 7

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