Satan in the Ashmolean Museum

Wed. 06 June 2018

Satan. That’s quite an evocative word, isn’t it. And the sculpture of the Evil One himself, featured here, is in the collection of the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. As announced in my previous News item, this is the second of two items from my recent visit to the Ashmolean.

Satan is a bronze sculpture from the late 1830s, by the French sculptor Jean-Jacques Feuchère (1807–1852), and it is a very prominent piece in the Ashmolean’s galleries of Western art. In fact, I’d say it’s unmissable, from the moment one walks into that particular gallery. Eerily, it possesses a strange drawing power. Another visitor admiring the piece also commented to me how wonderful she thought it was, and considering the influence this sculpture has had, we weren’t the only ones.

The plaque is informative, and here is its text:

Jean-Jacques Feuchère (1807–1852)
Bronze, about 1835–40
Donated by Lord Archer through the Cultural Gift Scheme on behalf of himself and Dame Mary Archer

This expressive figure deep in brooding melancholy epitomises the interests of the Romantic sculptors. When first exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1834 it was described as ‘a personification, with plenty of verve and ardour, of the evil genius at odds with being powerless.’ The bronze inspired numerous other sculptors throughout the nineteenth century, culminating with Rodin’s Thinker in 1902.

Please do not touch

“Brooding melancholy” indeed; he looks so forlorn that you’d want to invite him in for a cup of tea and a chat about his problems.

And of course Rodin’s Thinker is an extremely famous sculpture, so Feuchère would surely have been very proud if he’d still been alive at the end of 1902. An aside at this point: at around eight years of age, Feuchère would have been just old enough to remember Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo in 1815.

Now, I simply must point out that the Ashmolean curators have made a mistake in their information plaque: Satan is listed as having been made by Feuchère “about 1835–40”, yet in the narrative they say it was “first exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1834”. How could the sculpture be exhibited before it was made? Tut, tut.

For a virtual glimpse at what the Ashmolean has to offer in its galleries for Western art, visit Ashmolean Museum (Department Western Art). And to read my first item on my visit to the Ashmolean, featuring a rather risqué ancient Athenian drinking kylix, see In praise of an Athenian kylix at the Ashmolean Museum.

Mistress Geo