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Tuesday 12 May 2020

Collection Focus – Statue of Diana

In another article looking at our Borough Collection, our volunteer Megan has chosen a unique item to discuss – the statue of Diana located in the grounds, outside the Octagon.

This is a statue of the Greek goddess Artemis, and is a replica of the famous Diana of Gabii statue. Even though the statue is now referred to as the Diana, it was originally made to represent Artemis, in fact when it was made the statue was placed in the Athenian Acropolis, with references to its existence as early as 347 BC. The figure is attributable to Artemis solely through her clothing; she is depicted absent-mindedly fixing her Chiton (ancient Greek style dress, worn by both men and women) with a fibula (buckle), her stare into the middle distance is significant because it is characteristic of art made during the classical period.

The original Diana is attributed to Praxiteles, a 4th century BCE sculpture from Athens by Pausanias, a 2nd century BCE traveller, geographer and scholar. Praxiteles is extremely important in the history of western art, as he is the first (known) artist to display the nude female figure (an event that was explored in Mary Beards’ Shock of the nude documentary, BBC2). Working exclusively in marble, his works have become one of the highlights of Greek art. The Diana is held by the Louvre in Paris and forms a seminal part of the Borghese collection (created by Cardinal Scipione Borghese and his family throughout the seventeenth century).

This specific piece became extremely popular during the nineteenth century, when a plaster cast was taken of the original, with the replica initially being seated in the Athenaeum Club in London, and others were soon made and sold.

From the mid seventeenth to the mid nineteenth century, it was extremely common for wealthy men (and on occasion women, although this was rare) to go on ‘The Grand Tour’, during which they would travel mainly around Italy and Greece taking in the art, culture and history of the areas because the ancient world were seen at the time as the pinnacle of human civilisation. In the same way people bring objects back home when they return from a holiday, the Grand Tourists did the same, often bringing back statues, busts or other similar object to their family estates.

The inclusion of the Diana within the eighteenth century property of Orleans House is completely in line with the dominant art and architectural style of the period (for the elites of England). Her presence at Orleans denotes a deep-seated fascination, which often bordered on obsession, throughout Enlightenment Europe with the Classical world.

Megan Hunt

As a recent graduate with a Masters in history, I am really enthusiastic about contributing to and experiencing the local history, as well as seeing how linked Richmond and Twickenham have been to national and international movements in fashion, architecture and art. It is for these connections and the access to my local history that I love volunteering at Orleans House Gallery, as well as the wonderful staff and volunteers. I am personally a big fan of prints; James Gillray and William Hogarth as well as other artists like Joseph Wright and J. M. W. Turner because of their layered and complex artworks.

Do you want to be featured on our website? Have a look at the collection and if you’re inspired, complete our application form and join our volunteer team.