Ashmolean Museum Acquires Terracotta Model By Clodion

The Ashmolean announce the acquisition of a terracotta model, designed by the French sculptor, Clodion (Claude Michel, 1738-1814). The Crucifixion With The Virgin Mary And St John was submitted by Clodion to the Chapter of Rouen Cathedral in August 1785, as part of a large-scale commission designed for the choir screen.

On loan to the Ashmolean since 2003, the acquisition has been purchased through Gurr Johns Ltd under the tax-concessionary scheme for private sales to museums, from Museum Trust Funds (Virtue-Tebbs, Madan, Bouch, Russell, and Jones funds), with the aid of The Art Fund, The Henry Moore Foundation, the V&A Purchase Grant Fund, the Friends of the Ashmolean, the Elias Ashmole Group, Alain Moatti in honour of Timothy Wilson, Mrs. Charles Wrightsman through Americans for Oxford, Mr and Mrs J.A. Pye’s Charitable Settlement, Martin Foley, Michael Barclay, donations in memory of the Rev. John Reynolds and of Virginia Pasley, and numerous other private donations.

In 1771 the Chapter of Rouen Cathedral decided to proceed with the replacement of the medieval rood screen with a grandiose Neo-Classical plan, involving several of the leading sculptors and architects of the time. Over the next two decades the project was realized and set on giant iconic columns. In 1785 the Chapter commissioned from Clodion a large gilt-lead Crucifixion group to surmount the screen, which was installed in 1788. With changes in taste the screen came to be seen as inappropriate and was removed in 1884. The sculptural remains, including the figure of Christ, were further damaged by bombing in 1944.

Guilhem Scherf of the Louvre has written: “The choir screen of Rouen Cathedral was the work of some of the most remarkable artists of the age. Looking at the old photographs provokes a definite sense of melancholy at the disappearance of such an ensemble. The demolition of the Rouen screen is one example of the mutilation which the inflexible dictatorship of taste has irreversibly inflicted on our cathedrals”.

The Rouen scheme was Clodion’s greatest religious commission and one of the most ambitious Neo-Classical interventions in any French church. His model of The Crucifixion is effectively the only remaining evidence of it and one of a tiny number of religious works or works that may be described as neo-classical in feeling in his predominantly light-hearted oeuvre.

“It is an extremely special and important object in the history of sculpture in eighteenth-century France and by some margin, the most important sculptural acquisition the Ashmolean has made this century,” said Professor Timothy Wilson, Keeper of Western Art, Ashmolean Museum.
Dr Christopher Brown CBE, Director, Ashmolean Museum, said “We are extremely grateful to the individuals and funding bodies for their generous contributions towards this superbly-modelled terracotta by Clodion. Despite the pre-eminent range and quality of the Ashmolean’s European sculpture collection, this will be the first Clodion sculpture to enter our permanent collections, enabling the Ashmolean to be one of the few museums in Britain to represent his work. The Crucifixion now forms the imposing centrepiece to the case of small sculpture in the Gallery of the Arts of the Eighteenth Century.” – www.ashmolean.org

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