National Recording Project

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Detail from: Memorial to 158 Squadron by Peter W. Naylor, 2009

St Michael and the Devil

Summary

Type Statue

     The Archangel Michael stands with his wings and arms spread wide in triumph, holding an upright spear, he is clothed in a draped piece of cloth that leaves his chest bare. The Devil, cast as a separate statue, lies underneath Michael's feet, he is depicted with horns, but is otherwise human in appearance. The position of the Devil is unusual, he almost appears to be reclining, elbows supporting his back as he looks up the angel. This position is taken from the well known Romanesque reclining Eve/Angel at Auton, southern France. St. Michael is shown in lightly drawn classical armour. The head of the Devil, in contrast to the smooth figure of St Michael is coarse and has the exaggerated facial features of a medieval demon. Epstein has resolved the uneasy contrast between the conventionalised wings and fierce treatment of the head and torso of the devil by treating the whole figure in a schematic way and using a formalised muscle structure. The wilful arrangement of the drapery on the devil is controlled by sweeping it across the body instead of leaving it static.
     The idea for a figure of St Michael came originally from Basil Spence, the architect of the new cathedral. His early elevations for the building show a roughly sketched figure sitting beside the steps. Spence first approached Epstien in 1955. The Cathedral Reconstruction Committee approved the maquette in 1956, by which time Epstein had already started the sculpture. Epstein changed the sculpture from the maquette almost as soon as he started working on it - removing the piece of ground he had placed both the figures on and changing the angle of St Michael's arms to create a more strongly controlled composition based on a three dimensional triangular structure. Epstein used Wynne Godley as the model for the head of St Michael, and for the torso of the Devil he worked from a muscular athlete. The sculpture is one of Epstein's last major works in bronze, it was cast in 1958 and unveiled in 1960 after the artist's death. It is arguably one of Epstein's finest bronze sculptures, as he had argued it would be when he started working on it in 1955. It was cleaned in mid 1990 by volunteers. It was reported as being badly weathered.(1) In 1996 a series of letters were published in the local press arguing against a previously published one complaining that the depiction of the devil was 'monstrous'.(2/3) This was Epstein's last religious sculpture. (4)
     The sculpture depicts the triumph of the Archangel Michael over the Devil, a common subject of Medieval paintings. The Archangel Michael lead the war against the rebel angels. Book of Revelations

Contributor details

Contributor Role
Epstein, Jacob Sculptor
Singer Morris Foundry, None Foundry

Element details

Part of work Material Dimensions
Michael bronze None
The Devil bronze None

PMSA recording information

Reference Region
WMcvCVxx042 BM
General condition Good
Surface condition
  • Biological growth
  • Bird guano
Structural condition
  • None
Vandalism
  • None
Road Priory Street
Precise location East wall of Coventry Cathedral
A-Z ref 116 B4
OS ref SP336790
Date of design 1958
Year of unveiling 1960
Unveiling details 1960
Commissioned by Coventry Cathedral Reconstruction Committee
Duty of care Coventry Cathedral
Listing status Don't know
At risk? No known risk

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