Type Sculpture , Statue
The semi reclining full length figure of Shakespeare is raised up on a pedestal of rocks which sits on top of the inscription plaque. His wears a jacket with lace collar and cuffs with a drape over his left shoulder. Shakespeare supports himself with his right hand and looks to the right. His left hand rests on the shoulder of the Genius of Painting, represented as a full length, semi nude, female figure. Her head is at Shakespeare's waist level and she looks out of the composition, slightly down and slightly to her left. Her right hand is raised towards Shakespeare and her left hand, which is turned into the centre of the composition, holds a painter's pallet and brushes. On Shakespeare's right side and at the same level as Genius, is the Dramatic Muse. Again represented as full length, semi nude, female figure, she is turned towards Shakespeare and looks up at him. She offers Shakespeare a bay wreath with her left, up-raised hand, while her right hand is half-raised towards the central figure. She supports a small harp on her chest,
The alto relievo, or high relief, stands on the base which was set up for it on its arrival in the garden in 1870. Above the figures partially overhanging it is a pediment/ cornice, erected in 1892 to protect it from the elements.
The relief was originally made to adorn the façade of John Boydell's Shakespeare Gallery in Pall Mall, London, designed by George Dance the Younger and opened on 1789. Boydell wanted to set up an English school of historical painting with emphasis on scenes from Shakespeare. The relief was in London until about 1870, the building having been owned by the British Institute since Boydell's death, c.1805. The building was demolished in 1868 and Bank's relief was bought from the disposal agents Trollope & sons for £75 by Charles Holte Bracebridge of Atherstone Hall with a view to presenting it to Stratford-upon-Avon.
Although nearly a century earlier, in 1791, the European Magazine described the sculpture as 'the most perfect piece of sculpture that has yet been produced by a native of Great Britain' (1), it took Bracebridge a while to over come the resistance in the town to such a monument; the general feeling in the town was that any monument should be in the form of a theatre. Mr Halliwell, the trustee of The Great Gardens of New Place (Shakespeare's home before his death) had stated that he would not have 'Boydell's rubbish' in New Place.(2)
The sculpture arrived in Stratford on 14 July 1870, with Charles Flower loaning his brewery's dray horses to transport it from the railway station. On the work's arrival in Stratford in was discovered that two of the five strings of Poetry's lyre were missing and also a segment of the garland she held aloft, but the missing pieces could not be found. A Mr Edward Gibbs supervised the unloading and erection of the relievo. It was cleaned during the autumn of 1870 with a mixture of soap, soda a and lime to remove the accumulated grime.(3) There are no records of any formal unveiling ceremony, although the Stratford Herald of 18 November 1870 records the work as having been completed.(4) The alto-relievio was finally set up on a plinth 183cm high; considerably lower than the site it was made for.
In 1882-93 a Mr Baker of Wellesbourne was employed to overhaul and restore the work and a cornice was added 'for its better protection and preservation' (5)
The quote comes from Shakespeare's play Hamlet, Act One, Scene Two, and is spoken by Hamlet in reference to his late father.
William Shakespeare (1564-1616) playwright and poet. He was born in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, the son of John Shakespeare, a glover, and Mary Arden, of farming stock. He was educated at the local grammar school, and married Anne Hathaway, from a local farming family, in 1582, who bore him a daughter, Susanna, in 1583, and twins Hamnet and Judith in 1585. He moved to London, possibly in 1591, and became an actor. During 1592-94, when the theatres were closed for the plague, he wrote his poems "Venus and Adonis' and "The Rape of Lucrece'. His sonnets, known by 1598, though not published until 1609, fall into two groups: 1 to 126 are addressed to a fair young man, and 127 to 154 to a "dark lady' who holds both the young man and the poet in thrall. The first evidence of his association with the stage is in 1594, when he was acting with the Lord Chamberlain's company of players, later "the King's Men'. When the company built the Globe Theatre south of the Thames in 1597, he became a partner, living modestly at a house in Silver St until c.1606, then moving near the Globe. He returned to Stratford c.1610, living as a country gentleman at his house, New Place. His will was made in March 1616, a few months before he died, and he was buried at Stratford.
(on 1870 plinth, serif, centred): 'THIS ALTO RELIEVO / REPRESENTING SHAKESPEARE SEATED BETWEEN THE DRAMATIC MUSE AND THE GENIUS OF PAINTING / (FORMERLY IN FRONT OF THE SHAKESPEARE GALLERY, PALL MALL, LONDON )/ WAS PRESENTED TO THE TOWN BY / CHARLES HOLTE BRACEBRIDGE ESQ., / ATHERSTONE HALL, / 1871'
On tablet in work: 'HE WAS A MAN. TAKE HIM FOR ALL IN ALL / I SHALL NOT LOOK UPON HIS LIKE AGAIN'
PMSA recording information