Academic journal article The Sculpture Journal

Busts and Friendship: The Identity and Context of William Murray's Version of Roubiliac's Bust of Alexander Pope

Academic journal article The Sculpture Journal

Busts and Friendship: The Identity and Context of William Murray's Version of Roubiliac's Bust of Alexander Pope

Article excerpt

Long before the eighteenth century, the bust, like other forms of portraiture, had been associated with friendship.1 By representing someone who was deceased or absent, the portrait bust could be given, or set up, as a sign of friendship; when two or more busts were juxtaposed, they could collectively articulate a bond between friends.2 With the increased prominence of the bust in eighteenth-century Britain, the genre was used for this purpose almost as frequently as it was employed to commemorate a deceased forebear, or to make visible the connections between different members of a family. However, as recent work by a growing number of historians has shown, the notion of 'friendship' as it was understood in the eighteenth century encompasses a rich diversity of relationships. The use of the term 'friend' might denote an immediate family member, including a spouse, a member of a wider family kinship group, a political ally, a patron to whom one owed preferment, someone with whom you carried on business or, as in the more familiar modern usage, a person who was more than an acquaintance and with whom you had an emotional or affectionate relationship. The word might indeed be employed to describe someone who fell into several of these categories, and its use was neither fixed nor consistent. But what is not in doubt is the ubiquity of the term and its importance, if not its precise meaning, for eighteenth-century people of different ranks.3 The interrelationship between these plural notions of friendship and the genre of the portrait bust is explored here through a particular case involving a number of busts and other images which together articulated one particular friendship - that between William Murray, later 1st Earl of Mansfield, and the poet Alexander Pope.4

By the late 1730s Pope had achieved such fame as an author that his works were seen to rival those of the classical authors whose poetry he translated, emulated, imitated and reworked. Above his bust on the Temple of British Worthies at Stowe, for instance, was an inscription asserting that Pope 'being without a Rival in his own Age, imitated and translated, with a Spirit equal to the Originals, the best Poets of Antiquity'.5 At the same time, no English writer was more frequently portrayed, prompting Voltaire to comment that while the 'picture of the prime minister hangs above the Chimney of his own Closet ... I have seen that of Mr. Pope in twenty Noblemens Houses'.6 Pope took a keen, even controlling, interest in how he was represented in the numerous portraits by artists such as Kneller, Jervas, Richardson and Van Loo.7 But no image was more compelling, or indeed more widely replicated, than the portrait bust by Louis-François Roubiliac to whom he sat in 1738, the likely date of the terracotta at the Barber Institute. Between 1738 and 1744 Roubiliac executed four signed and dated marbles. In addition, there is another marble produced around 1760, a plaster bought by Dr Matthew Maty for the British Museum at the sculptor's posthumous sale (in which two other marbles are listed) and a bronze version likely to have been cast within the sculptor's lifetime. The terracotta, the plaster and the four early signed and dated marbles were brought together for the National Portrait Gallery's exhibition on the portraits of Pope in 1961 (fig. 1) . This - the largest assemblage of images of a British poet - was followed by the magisterial and exhaustive study by the Yale literary scholar W. K. Wimsatt, the outcome of around twenty-five years' work.8 Despite Wimsatt's remarkable and meticulous research, however, many questions remain about Roubiliac's various busts of Pope and the relationship between them.

None of these busts was owned by Pope himself, but it is assumed that the four marbles executed between 1738 and 1744 were commissioned by those within the poet's circle, including William Murray, later 1st Earl of Mansfield. We know that a plaster of Pope was ordered by the Earl of Marchmont from Roubiliac in January 1739, and, much later in 1790, a bust of Pope was recorded at Mansfield's house, Kenwood. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.