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1841 A Tale of Two Bishops

Ever since the first Academy exhibition opened in 1769, critics had complained about its illiberal entrance charge as something unbecoming of the king’s artists. Now, seventy years later, that same complaint was still being made. The Age considered that it appeared “to our humble judgment, a libel upon the liberality of the English, or, rather, a self-styled Liberal Government.”1 The same critic also bemoaned the absence of the late John Constable, noted that Augustus Wall Callcott did not exhibit at all, and observed that J.M.W. Turner “most assiduously shuns the characteristics which gained for him the reputation of our best landscape painter.”2

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That year Sir Francis Chantrey, Britain’s most successful sculptor and a devoted Academician, showed two episcopal statues: Bishop Bathurst of Norwich for Norwich Cathedral (Fig. 1); and Bishop Ryder of Lichfield and Coventry for Lichfield Cathedral (Fig. 2). This would be the last exhibition to which Chantrey contributed; he suffered a fatal heart attack on 24 November 1841, having returned to London after installing his effigy of Bishop Bathurst in Norwich Cathedral.

As Nicholas Penny has noted, the presence of two boldly contrasting statues of bishops in the sculpture room of the 1841 exhibition could not fail to invite comparison.3 And this comparison was based not just on Chantrey’s sculpture, but also on the contrasting ecclesiologies of the two bishops themselves. Chantrey’s challenge, and opportunity, in the 1841 exhibition was to take the episcopal effigy as a category, and make it work for two such different men, who had ministered within the same Church of England. For Bathurst had been the epitome of the Whiggish Latitudinarian bishop of the eighteenth century; Ryder was the first evangelical to receive episcopal consecration within the Church of England.

The critic for The Morning Post gave the entire room short shrift: “We glanced round the sculpture-room, in which there is nothing very remarkable.”4 The Times was more discriminating and lamented the sequestering of sculpture into the dark and incommodious sculpture room:

The exhibition has many fine specimens of sculpture. On this the public are to be congratulated. A better taste has of late years arisen in this branch of art. A coldness of several sculptors of high reputation, the effeminacy of others, the exuberance and boldness of their predecessors, whose names we purposely omit, have been avoided by the exhibitors of this year. The sculpture-room now possesses some works of the highest talent and genius,—some works that deserve a much better locality than the dreary dungeon-like apartment in which they are for the present buried.5

The two statues by Chantrey certainly attracted the critic’s attention, the effigy of Bathurst more so than that of Ryder. Reporting on the Bathurst statue, he wrote:

This is a noble statue. If Sir F. Chantrey had been till his moment in obscurity this statue would have brought him to light. It describes the bishop in a sitting posture. The countenance is strongly expressive of the character of the original; it is mild yet dignified. The character pervades the whole figure, from the crown of the head to the sole of the foot, there is no incongruity, all is calm, tempered, and quiet.6

The Morning Chronicle also praised the statue’s “simple dignity” as well as its “dignified repose” and the “chiselling of the costume”, which the critic felt recalled the finest sculpture from the Parthenon.7

Chantrey showed Bathurst bewigged and in choir dress, his hands clasped in his lap as he gazes into the distance, not prayerfully perhaps but certainly pensively. The bishop’s seated posture gently evoked his teaching authority within his diocese, and the high pedestal on which it was displayed meant that viewers approached the likeness at the bishop’s feet. “Calm, tempered, and quiet” succinctly captures the entire spirit of the monument, as well as Bathurst’s long episcopal reign in Norwich; under his jurisdiction, the Diocese of Norwich was so somnolent that it was mocked as “the Dead See”. And that Chantrey memorialised Bathurst in his wig at a time when they were being abandoned by almost all his contemporaries, save for Archbishop Howley, perhaps reflects his continued affinity to the bishops of the previous century.8

The Times critic devoted much less space to the Ryder statue but found it “A very noble figure, kneeling, full of character.”9 Ryder had died on 31 March 1836 and is commemorated by Chantrey in choir dress and kneeling on a prie-dieu with an embroidered cushion. He wears his own hair, unlike Bathurst, and his hands are clasped in an attitude that is urgent and prayerful, as if interceding eternally for his flock. In further contrast to Chantrey’s Bathurst, the statue of Ryder was made to be seen close to ground level, so that the viewer is more intimately involved in the monument by intruding on the bishop’s prayer, and rather then being a passive observer is almost invited to join with him in his devotions. The Morning Chronicle’s critic also gave Ryder’s statue less space than Bathurst’s but thought it in no respect inferior in the “elevation in the design, and carefulness in this finishing.”10 Ryder was the antithesis of Bathurst in temperament—a fact that could be gleaned from simply contrasting their two monuments. A high churchman in his early days, he had undergone a profound conversion to Anglican Evangelicalism by the early nineteenth century and was identified publicly with the new evangelical wing in the Church of England by 1811. It was Lord Liverpool who appointed him Bishop of Gloucester in 1815, before his translation to Lichfield and Coventry in 1824. An energetic pastoral bishop, he was a noted preacher and proved a diligent administrator, a man solicitous of the well-being of both his clergy and his flock.

Chantrey did more than simply shift from a classical to a more naturalistic mode in approaching these episcopal statues. Bathurst’s sedentary and dignified representation evoked the Whiggish ideal of the clergyman as reasonable and circumspect. Ryder’s intensity, by contrast, and his proximity to the ground captured the enthusiasm of the new evangelical movement and the zeal of the reforming Bishop. These, Chantrey’s final contributions to the Academy’s exhibitions, caught in marble the last gasp of eighteenth-century Anglicanism and the advent of the new, contentious spirit of the nineteenth-century religious revival.

  1. The Age, 2 May 1841.↩︎

  2. The Age, 2 May 1841.↩︎

  3. Nicholas Penny, Church Monuments in Romantic England (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1977), 213, n. 23.↩︎

  4. The Morning Post, 4 May 1841.↩︎

  5. The Times, 5 May 1841.↩︎

  6. The Times, 5 May 1841.↩︎

  7. The Morning Chronicle, 15 May 1841.↩︎

  8. Penny, Church Monuments in Romantic England, 76↩︎

  9. The Times, 5 May 1841.↩︎

  10. The Morning Chronicle, 15 May 1841.↩︎

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