Observant visitors to our Classics Department hallway in the Edith Morley building may have noticed a certain upscaling of our appearance in 2018. Pursuant to our collaboration with University Arts Collections (UAC) on our exhibit, From Italy to Britain: Winckelmann and the spread of neoclassical taste in Autumn 2017, which included four academic drawings of Classical sculptures made by Minnie Jane Hardman during her time as a student at the Royal Academy, Dr Naomi Lebens, UAC Curator enabled us to display facsimiles of six of Hardman’s drawings in the Classics hallway since the beginning of 2018. We have now added to these drawings several sculptures that the celebrated sculptor Eric Stanford carved in 1990, when was working in UoR’s art studios at Bulmershe on a major commission for Reading, namely the Spanish Civil War Memorial, now in Reading’s Forbury Gardens.
A clear connection between the two sculptures from the University Art Collections—Torso of Protesilaos, made of Bath stone, and Helen of Troy, made of Clipsham stone—is that they represent protagonists from Homer’s Iliad, so the Department of Classics was delighted to discover and display them. The Torso of Protesilaos, opposite Edith Morley room G34, depicts the Greek hero amid swirling waves that evoke the Trojan shore from which Protesilaos marched, despite the oracular warning of his impending death. When we suggested to Stanford that the waves might also recall the fire into which his widow Laodameia chased a brazen figure of her deceased husband, he was charmed by the thought that had, however, never occurred to him.
We have placed the head of Helen of Troy in the entrance to the Ure Museum (http://www.reading.ac.uk/Ure/), where she is in conversation with our statue of Aphrodite from Cyrene, on loan from the British Museum since the Ure’s redesign in 2005. The distorted perspective and exaggerated forms of Stanford’s carving overturn traditional archetypes of female beauty associated with Helen of Troy’s ‘face that launch’d a thousand ships’ (according to Christopher Marlowe). Helen’s elopement with Paris of Troy, despite being married to the King of Sparta, gave cause to the Trojan War and thus influenced much European art and literature. Helen’s prominent brow, large nose and wide-set eyes are features more common to non-European artistic traditions, such as African sculpture. Stanford here combines those traditions with Classics, under the clear influence of cubism.
Clio Art Ltd. has lent us a third Clasically-themed Stanford statue, also made in 1990, of Portland stone, namely Memnon. This son of the dawn-goddess, Eos, stands in the rigid posture of some Archaic Greek statues, with one leg slightly advanced. Yet his form recalls ancient sculpture as it so often reaches us: fractured, incomplete, and part buried. Stanford has depicted him with legs firmly engulfed in the plinth below, arms absent, as if broken off, and missing the top half of his head. Enough remains for us to recognise the helmeted warrior, facing sideways, stylised with a prominent lock of hair.
To launch the display of these three sculptures, the Department of Classics hosted a workshop, entitled The Classical in 20th-century British Sculpture in the Ure Museum on 17 Aril 2018, with presentations from artists, art historians and Classicists, old and new friends of Eric Stanford (http://www.reading.ac.uk/Ure/info/Classicsin20thCentury.php). A particular highlight of the day was a conversation with the sculptor himself and his wife, Helen Stanford, via skype, from their home. We look forward to presenting these talks via YouTube in the near future.