Ashmolean acquires key work by Clodion

  • 1 November 2011

The Art Fund has helped Ashmolean Museum purchase a terracotta model for a destroyed religion commission by French sculptor Clodion…

Clodion, Crucifixion, with the Virgin and Saint John, 1785 © Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford

Clodion, Crucifixion, with the Virgin and Saint John, 1785

The Art Fund has helped the Ashmolean Museum acquire a terracotta model by Clodion, one of the greatest sculptors of 18th-century France. The Crucifixion is the best surviving evidence of the destroyed choir screen of Rouen Cathedral, a grandiose commission employing several of the leading artists of the time.

The work

In 1771 the Chapter of Rouen Cathedral commissioned some of France's greatest artists to create a replacement for its medieval rood screen. The grand Neoclassical project was constructed over two decades and featured giant iconic columns. Clodion was commisioned to create a large Crucifixion group to surmount the screen, which was installed in 1788. The sculpture was removed in 1884, and further damaged by bombing in 1944.

Clodion's model is the only remaining evidence of the commission. The Louvre's Guilhem Scherf writes: 'The choir screen of Rouen Cathedral was the work of some of the most remarkable artists of the age. Looking at the old photographs provokes a definite sense of melancholy at the disappearance of such an ensemble.”'

The artist

Claude Michel (1738–1814), known as Clodion, was a French sculptor who worked primarily in the Rococo style. He learned his trade in the workshop of his uncle, Lambert Sigisbert Adam, and by 1759 had been awarded the grand prize for sculpture at the Académie Royale. The Crucifixion is unusual among his sculptures for its Neoclassical feeling, a stark contrast to his usually light-hearted style.

Dr Christopher Brown CBE, Director at the Ashmolean Museum, said 'We are extremely grateful to the individuals and funding bodies for their generous contributions towards this superbly-modelled terracotta by Clodion. Despite the pre-eminent range and quality of the Ashmolean’s European sculpture collection, this will be the first Clodion sculpture to enter our permanent collections, enabling the Ashmolean to be one of the few museums in Britain to represent his work.'