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  • image M217
Flaxman relief SM M217. ©Sir John Soane's Museum, London. Photo: Ole Woldbye

John Flaxman RA (1755 - 1826), sculptor

Model for a monument to Mrs Helen Knight



Height: 50.8cm
Width: 87.6cm

Museum number: M217

On display: Basement South Passage
All spaces are in No. 13 Lincoln's Inn Fields unless identified as in No. 12, Soane's first house. For tours https://www.soane.org/your-visit

Curatorial note

This relief of a reclining female figure is a model for a monument to Mrs Helen Knight who died in 1801 on the Island of Madeira. Her husband, John Knight of Lea Castle, Worcestershire, commissioned the relief, for which a preliminary payment of £35 was made in 1801 (see Hendriks, 1984 ). Further payments were made in 1803 for the fixng of the marble memorial tablet to the north wall of the chancel in the Church of St John the Baptist at Wolverley in Worcestershire.

The monument was described by the Rev. Edward Bradley, writing under the pseudonym Cuthbert Bede in the 1880s, as a portrait of Mrs Knight, with whom the sculptor had an acquaintance through her brother-in-law, Edward Knight, one of Flaxman's earliest patrons. He wrote: 'the semi-reclining figure of Resignation has her gaze fixed on the biblical text: “The righteous shall be had in everlasting remembrance”.

This relief is a fine example of a genre in which Flaxman excelled. Although the effigy is in contemporary dress, the pose derives from the figures seen on Etruscan sarcophagus lids and perhaps also from late Gothic sculptures such as Arnoldo di Cambio’s 'Madonna della Nativitá' in Florence. which Flaxman would have seen while he was living in Italy between 1787 and 1794..

Soane carefully displayed this model within a cast of an Elizabethan fireplace and alongside fragments of antique sculpture and a large sculpted sea shell to highlight Flaxman’s mastery of draperies by this comparison with antique and natural forms.

This model is erroneously described in the 1837 museum inventories as a model for a monument to Mrs Samuel Knight at Milton Church in Cambridgeshire.


Helen Dorey ‘Soane and Flaxman’ in Flaxman: Master of the Purest Line, Exhibition Catalogue, Sir John Soane’s Museum 2003
Ella Hendriks, 'The First Patron of John Flaxman', The Burlington Magazine, Vol. 126, No. 979 (October 1984), pp.622-623

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