The Angel's Whisper, by Benjamin Spence (c.1822-1866), 1863. Marble. The Palm House, Sefton Park, Liverpool. [another view] Photograph and text by Jacqueline Banerjee, 2009. You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the photographer and (2) link your document to this URL.
According to Benedict Read, Spence's subject here is taken from Thomas Moore's long and hugely popular oriental epic, Lalla Rookh (1817). If this is so, it probably illustrates the lines in which Moore talks of "the angel shapes that bless / An infant's dream." However, Timothy Stevens and Terry Cavanagh both relate the sculpture to a short lyric of the 1830s actually entitled "The Angel's Whisper" by another Irish writer and song-writer (also an artist) Samuel Lover, and that seems more plausible. Either way, it relates to the Irish superstition that when sleeping infants smile, the angels are whispering to them. Read's comment that sculptures inspired by more recent literature were "less ideal" than those inspired by classical literature (206) rings true here: the piece is sentimental, and close in spirit to Victorian child death-bed scenes. Still, like Spence's Highland Mary, it was very popular at the time. A version in the Musée d'Orsay has the angel in the same pose but with large wings, and is in much better condition.
Read, Benedict. Victorian Sculpture. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1982.
Stevens, Timothy. "Spence, Benjamin Evans (bap. 1803, d. 1866)." The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Online ed. Viewed 22 March 2009.
Last modified 22 March 2009