John Lucas Tupper, a minor Pre-Raphaelite sculptor, poet, theorist of art education, and Rugby drawing master, wrote this contemporary appreciation of Armstead's career, which contains a detailed discussion of the Albert Memorial sculptures. The essay first appeared in The Portfolio and was scanned from the reprinted book version: English Artists of the Present Day. Essays by J. Beavington Atkinson, Sidney Colvin, F. G. Stephens, Tom Taylor, and John L. Tupper. London: Seeley, Jackson, and Halliday, 1872, 61-66. Following the house style of the Victorian Web, titles of works appear in italics rather than between the single quotes of the original. I have also added more paragraphing to Tupper's text. [GPL
Photographs, formatting and perspective correction by George P. Landow. You may use theses 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 in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.]
[Armstead's Silver Work and Early Career]
As sculptor, metalworker, and draughtsman, Mr. Armstead has an imposing claim upon criticism; the transcendent importance, however, of his labours in marble, for thc Albert AIemorial, will demand more than such a cursory notice as we must perforce take of less important, though characteristic works. Amongst the carliest of these were Boadicea, in alto-rilievo, and the so-called Satan dismayed, both executed in bronze by the Art Union of London. Meanwhile, and following these, there appeared a multitude of works in silver, all more or less characterised by a vigour and chastity of design, together with a sense of light and shade, hitherto unknown in this province of English Art. The St. George's Vase, exhibited at the Royal Academy, and the Pakington and Outram Shields, the latter shown at the International Exhibition, are perhaps the most important works of this order.
With the completion of the Outram Shield virtually tenninated Mr. Armstead's labours as a silver-worker; and now it was, while he was meditating and advancing the project of opening a regular sculptor's studio, that his attention was turned to designing and drawing upon wood. Illustrations to a poem by Dora Greenwell, in Good Words, -- to Tennyson's "Lazarus," in an illustrated Annual, and some blocks for Dalziel's Bible (not yet published), are part of the fruits of this diversion of artistic force.
About this time (1862) Mr. Armstead produced the Eatington Designs, made for Mr. Philip Evelyn Shirley, of Eatington Park, Warwickshire, and executed as an exterior mural decoration. The illustration to this paper is a reproduction of one of these.
Mr. Armstead's large studio was now opened, from which issued, in succession, reliefs for St. Mary's, Cambridge, of a Crucifixion, Samuel and the Prophets, and St. Paul at Athens; the figures in the reredos of Westminster Abbey, of Moses, St. Peter, St. Paul, and King David (in marble); and the subjects on the cornice above. A series of eighteen rilievi, illustrating the history of King Arthur and Sir Galahad, come next. It is enough to say that these designs suffer nothing by contrast with Dyce's frescoes, under which they stand, carved in oak, and make rich the walls of Her Majesty's Robing-Room. We dare not trust ourselves to describe them in detail. They are murally decorative, it is true; but they are much more than this: they are poems. Arthur carried in the barge to Avilion is a marvellous fleeting vision that glides past in an audibly sorrowing wind, and the last baleful battle is havoc and unutterable dislocation. In treating of the works in the podium, we shall find high imaginative qualities, but here we have a weird working of fancy hitherto the sole heritage of Blake.
Left to right: (a) Astronomy. (b) Chemistry. (c) Rhetoric. [Click on these images for larger pictures.]
Other important works, of which a bare mention must suffice, are the four large bronze figures of Astronomy, Chemistry, Rhetoric, and Medicine, wrought for the Albert Memorial's eastern side, standing two against the granite columns and two in the niches above; the designs illustrative of Applied Mechanics (executed in mosaic, and forming part of the frieze of the Albert Hall), representing the Lever, the Wedge, and the Screw, with figures of Archimedes ancl Watt and, lastly, a life-size rilievo, far advanced in clay, of Hero mourning over Leander, a singularly original composition, in which the awkward horizontal lines of the dead lover's body are reconciled by the extended plumes of a staring stony-eyed eagle, a regardful but inexorable Jove!
[Two Approaches to the art of Sculpture]
Before we enter upon the analysis of Mr. Armstead's great work, we must remember that there are two most distinct aspects under which Sculpture presents itself, we will not say, to the artist, for to the true artist all tme art has primarily one most simple aspect, ddm but, let us say, to the mixed multitude of observers, aesthetic and non-aesthetic. To the latter, Sculpture is the art of translating objects out of the material natural or proper to them into another material (bronze, marble, &c.) not proper to them, the form of their external surface being the one thing that is preserved intact. So to this class of observers a fossil-fish or fern, whereof each scale or vein is minutely registered in stone, presents a proverbial triumph of "sculpture by the hand of nature;" an example that they defiantly fling in the artist's teeth with the observation, "This beats all your Art!" And, again, to a class less literal than these, a group in rilievo is simply an assemblage of figures more or less literally imitative, and more or less gracefully and naturally grouped, but still a mere assemblage of such objects; so that, supposing these objects are individually wrought to the satisfaction of the observer, and collectively associated or grouped in conformity with what he esteems a graceful and probable arrangement of the things as they might be in nature, there is nothing more asleed for nor thought of. Let us suppose, then, all these conditions fulfilled; and in order to exemplify our position, we may go on to suppose this work so efficient in the primary requisites of sculpture that the artist will refuse to accord to it the name of art. To discover what is wanting here, let us retire to such a distance from the work that it no longer appears in relief, but merely as a variously shaded surface. Now, in the case supposed, the differently shaped patches and spots of dark, with their various depths or intensities, will have no harmonious plan or arrangement; no order, contrast, or gradation: there will be no culminating point of intensity, and no graceful disposition of these various shades, however gracefully posed may be the figures which produce them. If we say, in one word that this is the reverse in all true works of sculpture; that these lines, spots, and patches of dark, have a rhythmical relation to one another, and to the spaces not clear; that they are a visual melody and harmony, through the objects which produce them be not recognised; and, moreover, the best works there is a fitting and discreet accordance between this musical accompaniment and the theme or subject; that (broadly speaking) tenderness of subject demands tenderness of gradation in these shades, and startling and energetic subject-matter, startling and effective contrast of them; and that the course or line of their succession will, also, be angular or sinuous as motion is obstructed or easy; — we shall characterise some of the intrinsic art elements that distinguish Mr. Armstead's works.
This attribute, rare in modern sculpture, is never absent from any work of Mr. Armstead; it was present in his earliest metal-work, it is the base and treble of his drawings, and it informs every group and figure, nay, every head, hand, and finger of the great composition we are about to examine.
The podium of the Albert Memorial may be described as a cube with the angles cut off, and solid oblongs affixed to the cut surfaces. Here are, therefore, sixteen upright surfaces. Eight of these, entrusted to the chisel of Mr. Armstead, are dedicated to Poetry, Music, and Painting; without reference to the wings, which necessarily stand obliqluely; these are the south and east surfaces, containing eighty life-size figures. Let us begin with the southern aspect, illustrating Poetry and Music.
In the centre is Homer enthroned, with the Phormynx resting on his left knee and grasped by the left hand: the shoulder of the harp is against his breast, and he touches the strings with a precision contrasting sharply with the vague "striking of the Iyre" by "the bard" of ordinary sculpture. He has waited for the divine voice's utterance, and the plectrum goes instinctively to the right string. His listening, which simulates the listening of the blind, is not a hearkening to any sound, and the blind look is the blind look of inward thought. Dante, reclined on Homer's right, has turned, and is gazing up at him; he has suddenly upreared himself on rigid arms and flat-pressed hands, his left shoulder partly enfolded in Homer's mantle. There is the stress of mental absorption by which the limbs, traversed by one nerve-force, are constrained to a rigid parallelism: the arms are two stark pillars, and the hands under them two plinths.
Contrast this rigid posture of mind and limb with the versatile flexibility of Shakespeare, who, seated, reclines on Homer's left. He is "hollowing one hand against his ear," like Tennyson's Numa. He is not looking at Homer, though, like Dante, he leans upon the throne of the divine Greek. His left hand keeps the place in his book, and, though the attitude is recumbent, you see those bent limbs are but momentarily bent, and that he will presently take some new vital posture; so instinct with free life is the whole frame, and so strikingly in contrast with the rigid austerity of Dante.
Immediately over Dante stands Virgil, leaning on one arm of the Homeric throne. He, as well as Dante, regards Homer, but the majestical composure of the regard is in signal contrast with the prostrate rapture of Dante. Why the sculptor has made Dante looking to Homer rather than to Virgil will, no doubt, be questioned; but when we remember that however Dante, in common with the poets of the revival, parades Virgil as his patron and guide, he really adopts very little of the suavity and repose of Virgil, there appears ample justification for representing both him and his avowed patron as looking, in a sort of theoretical fellowship, towards the common source of their inspiration. A little behind Virgil, and also leaning on the throne, is Pythagoras, a prophet, or poet in the old sense.
On the left hand, Chaucer rests on the throne, beard in palm, gazing Homerward with expatiating gaze. There is nothing of Homer-worship in his look: he worshipped the daisy quite as much. In front of him, and resting on the throne-arm, leans forward Milton, with a blind and pre-occupied down-drooping of the head, and unconsciously hanging arm and hand. He is the Milton of our spiritual, sedate, and even firm, but not austere, imaginings.
This group of the poets is completed by Corneille, Moliere, and Cervantes, supporting Virgil on our left, and Schiller and Goethe supporting Milton on our right. Corneille leans away from the Homeric group somewhat abstractedly, while Moliere hugs to his heart the humour and pathos of actual life; and Cervantes askew looks over Virgil's shoulder, with a curious and somewhat infidel speculation about the solemn pomps of ancient poetry. On the opposite side, next to Milton, stands the tower-like Goethe — Schiller next him in a muse.
The standing figures leaning on the throne are so arranged that their heads (without any apparent improbability) conspire, with the heads of Dante and Shakespeare, to form a ring as it were encircling Homer, while the erect; supporting figures add strength and solidity to the group. Moreover, a very forcible effect is obtained by this subtle arrangement. In the first place, the eye is impressed by, as it were, a sort of homage circling about the central point; and, secondly, we are sympathetically led to feel this by observing how the more remote supporting groups are from each side regardful of this circle.
The musicians are now ranged right and left. Next to Schiller (on our right) stands Bach, debating with Handel some point which seems to interest Gluck, who leans over to listen. Mozart, who follows, has submitted his score to Haydn, seated and intently perusing it. Mendelssohn, inclining forwards in abstraction, seems in the group, but not of it. Weber, in a weird reverie, stands next him; while, with one unconscious hand grasping Haydn's chair-back, the other slung listlessly in his breast, the wholly solitary Beethoven lets his profound head hang over in forlorn absorption.
Then follows a spirited group of three English composers, with Gibbons in the centre, Lawes on our right, and Tallis on our left. What is in the scroil we do not know, for the sculptor will not condescend to the trick of writing on it; but it is grasped by Gibbons and held open by Lawes, while Tallis places an admonishing finger on it, and at the same time lays a gentle expostulating pressure on the hand of Gibbons that holds it. There is a living look in this action -- which is wholly inexpressible. Purcell stands at the angle in isolated thought, listening to "ditties of no tone." He does not, however, quite end the group of English composers, since Arne, Boyce, and Bishop (the last two in low relief), extend half way upon the salient face of this wing, shared by them with some English painters.
The opposite wing has Auber at its inner salient angle. His right hand in a fold of his French cloak, and his head a little stooping and leant sideways, he stands wholly free from that taint of self-consciousness which poisons so much modern work.Then we meet a discoursing group of four, of which Méhul standing, and Grétry sitting with a scroll on his knee, are the front figures; and Rameau (talking to Méhul) and Grétry (leaning on Lulli's chair) the back ones. Méhul is alluding to thc scroli. Josquin Deprez flanks the French group. He is in ecclesiastical garb, which, together with his look of sly humour, forcibly reminds us of his motet, -- Portio mea non est in terra viventium -- to quicken Louis' memory of the promised benefice. These points of costume, which Mr. Armstead has scrupulously observed throughout the world are of incalculable interest and value in point of art.
Next to Josquin Deprez, Rossini stands, his hand playing at the skin of his throat; and, next to him, Monteverde, with his finger at Palestrina's shoulder, starts fairly into the group he forms part of, his heel and shoulder to the spectator. Palestrina, reared back, with his hands placed deliberately over each other and rested on the knob of Guido d'Arezzo's chair, has a steadfast, calm dignity. Carissimi shows his face, and little more, very effectively between Monteverde and Palestrina. But perhaps the rnost absolutely living figure is Guido d'Arezzo, the inventor of musical notation, as he sits poring over his page, his knee rocking sidewise, and whispering, you will swear, the notes' names for his soul's satisfaction. St. Ambrose, with a volume in his hand, fills the gap above.
The painters occupy the east front. Raffaelle, seated in the centre upon a circular-backed throne, is looking at a volume of designs, half approving, half fastidiously. His fingers let in the cool air amongst his curls. Michael Angelo leans slantwise on his left, almost encircling the back of the throne with his right arm, his legs crossed, and his head drooping over in thought. Da Vinci, who stands on Raffaelle's right hand, leaning on the throne and almost turning his back to it, is very discerningly conceived, especially when certain critics are appraising him as a merely scholastic painter, and would no doubt have him holding a pair of compasses. But he holds his book of great thoughts near his heart. Propped on one leg, the hip thrown out, he leans further and further back, while his head drops further and further forward. And he must have stood thus who was not prone to give up restlessly any attitude of thought or feeling, but to carry it further and still further to some sublime consummation.
On the right of him stands Masaccio, a most vigorous conception, with hands at his hips and head turned over his shoulder. The saintly Angelico is on his knees beside him, while in the space above appears the passionate face of Ghirlandajo. Giotto stands near, conversing with Cimabue seated, Orcagna behind and between them.Then comes an upright figure, John Van Eyck, who, with left hand on hip, lays his right on Albrecht Durer's left breast, as taking counsel on some deep point of art-science. Durer looks grand and gracious with his inclined, attentive head. Van Eyck's brother interposes from behind, and Stephen of Cologne completes the group. The fur-trimmed mantle of Durer masses richly with his long pendent locks, contrasts effectively with the simple surfaces of Van Eyck's drapery, and melodises with the rich slashed costume of Rubens, who sits next, a picturesque figure full of spirit. In the space above this sitting figure of Rubens, and a little recessed, appear Rembrandt and Holbein, the rich dresses of whom complete the mass of decorative surface demanded for the contrast just mentioned. Next to Rubens stands the observant Hogarth, looking innocently abstracted, but sleetching some face upon his nail; his dog is between his legs.
By his side is Gainsborough; and Reynolds, a graceful, thoughtful figure, occupies the salient angle of this wing, the face of which presents Turner seated and looking up at Wilkie.
The princely Titian rears his mantled figure on the left of Angelo, with Bellini between them, his hand on Titian's arm. Veronese is next to Titian, his right hand half buried in his rich mantle and his left on a greyhound's head. Mantegna is seen between him and Titian. Coreggio, voluminously draped, and massed, by means of the dog and a rich-plumed hat upon the ground, with the figure of Veronese, is sitting examining designs; while between these figures, a little recessed, and offering a highly decorative surface, we have Tintoretto flinging himself round, his cloak floating back with the motion, and carrying out and clearing up most important lines in the composition, the consummate harmony of which is beyond praise. Next to Coreggio, Velasquez stands erect and stately. A little behind, on his left, is Murillo; and on his right, and above Coreggio, are the two Caracci.
Here commences the French School, with a fine seated figure of Poussin in a suggestively antique chair, and turning away from his countrymen towards Raffaelle. Claude has a hand on Poussin's arm, and looks also to Italy. Neither of these can be said to group with the French School, which virtually begins with the bold self-possessed figure of David, whose deformity of mouth has not been shirked: he seems to be discussing with Gericault, who looks nothing lacking in self-assertion. Gerard, more calm, shows between them. Delacroix is the angle-figure of this wing. He is much wrapt up, suggestive of his consumptive habit.
On the salient face of this wing stands Vernet, with folded arms, and looking very military. Delaroche sits in the centre perusing a design, while Decamps leans on the bacle of his chair and looks over him. The fine head of Ingres fills the space above.
Here must end our inadequate notice; but still it will appear, from the few points we have cited of historic accuracy, propriety, and suggestiveness, that those essential art qualities on whichn we descanted at the commencement of this paper are not only reconcilable but congenial with truth.
J. L. T.
First version Summer 1999; last modified 12 November 2011