Tuesday, 6 January 2009

The Lisiteners

Diana Resting With Her Nymphs,
Giovanni Battista Franco, engraver Italian, 1498 - 1561
Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts

. . . . . . There was one
Marble contrast smiling lone,
Sweet Pindaric Ode in Stone :
A glistening white Carrrara group,
Where fair Diana deigns to stoop
On a bank of forest flowers
Her languid limbs. With toil opprest,
The virgin Huntress calm doth rest,
While speed the noontide's fervent hours,
And a beauteous Nymph doth share
Her quiet time --- and couchant there
At their feet, a favourite hound ;
His ear attentive, some sweet sound
Hath softly smitten, and the three
List far-wafted harmony
From Apollo's lyre divine,
As seated with the Muses nine,
One some bright peak Thessalaian near,
He doth enchant the atmosphere,
Rolling on Dian's startled ear
Such strains she cannot choose but hear !

Music Room, Monserrate. "The Listeners"

Sculptural group in Carrara marble. Described in Fairy Life in Fairyland and also reported in 1890. The group seems to have been removed by 1929.

" ... a music room of fine acoustic proportions, and beautifully decorated. It is circular in shape ; and around the walls are niches filled with statues, between which are marble pillars supporting a tastefully decorated ceiling tapering up to a dome of white and gold, and having at its base for each arch a head of the muses in marble. A grand piano from the Austrian Exposition, a marble group of " The Listeners," carved Indian furniture, dainty jardinières of teak-wood from Goa, and rare vases complete the outfit of the room."

"The Listeners". The sculpture was deliberately placed in the Music Room. And the poem tells us just to whom Diana and the nymph (and even the dog!) were listening to.

"And the three list far wafted harmony ..."

Strains of music from Apollo's lyre. Apollo, floats above them in the celestial dome, surrounded by his muses, St. Cecelia, and the poet Sappho: the sixteen busts in the spandrels.

Fairies ! now direct your sight
To that high circle glowing bright
With every Muse that haunts the streams
Of Arcady in poet's dreams,
And the bewitching Graces three,
who ever their companions be,
And Dryads coy of dale and grove,
Nymphs who soft seclusion love ! --
Each Gothic archéd Spandril wide,
Hollowed express, is occupied
By a wondrous effigy,
Snowy white reality,
Most speaking work of glowing art,
Stealing softly to the heart :
Medallioned, large, they stately show
And standing out in classic row
Expressive, far they stretch around
All our dome's symmetric bound,
And Cecilia, type of song, well doth close their glittering throng

The poem then goes on to describe the arched niches between the columns and windows. These were as yet empty but:

"... each recess will soon receive

Such gem as sculptor's art can weave."

Take a look at the photograph of "The Listeners" again. The niche behind the Indian carved round table contains a marble figure (perhaps a little short for the niche - suggesting a purchased item rather than a comissioned piece). The use of classical statuary in niches was a favourite device of James Knowles, repeated over and again in his projects.
Silverton Park, Devon (Earl of Egremont)
Long section for hall
J. T. Knowles Sr. c. 1839-40
(From Priscilla Metcalf's biography)

Friday Grove, Clapham Park
Knowles' own house, built 1845
At Clapham Park the sculptures fill the niches suggesting that Knowles had them manufactured for his project. Francis Cook enjoyed hunting down Classical sculpture and probably would have waited until he found something suitable to fit (more or less).
Here in a detail from Knowles original architectural section of the Music Room (1858) the statues of both corridor and salon are clearly visible. Too bad that Knowles' painting exhibited at the 1862 London Exhibition has not yet come to light.

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