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Perseus with the Head of Medusa, Trentham Gardens

A Grade II* Listed Building in Swynnerton, Staffordshire

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Coordinates

Latitude: 52.9624 / 52°57'44"N

Longitude: -2.2017 / 2°12'5"W

OS Eastings: 386551

OS Northings: 340583

OS Grid: SJ865405

Mapcode National: GBR 14W.85X

Mapcode Global: WHBD0.4SVS

Entry Name: Perseus with the Head of Medusa, Trentham Gardens

Listing Date: 25 April 1980

Last Amended: 19 March 2019

Grade: II*

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1374226

English Heritage Legacy ID: 272387

Location: Swynnerton, Stafford, Staffordshire, ST4

County: Staffordshire

District: Stafford

Civil Parish: Swynnerton

Built-Up Area: Stoke-on-Trent

Traditional County: Staffordshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Staffordshire

Church of England Parish: Trentham St Mary and All Saints

Church of England Diocese: Lichfield

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Trentham

Summary


Mid-C19 bronze cast of Benvenuto Cellini’s mid-C16 statue, ‘Perseus with the Head of Medusa’.

Description

Mid-C19 bronze cast of Benvenuto Cellini’s mid-C16 statue, ‘Perseus with the Head of Medusa’.

MATERIALS: the statue is of bronze. The pedestal is of sandstone.

DESCRIPTION: the bronze statue depicts Perseus holding up the severed head of the Gorgon, Medusa, whilst he gazes down at her decapitated and contorted body, supported on a cushion. He is shown carrying his sword in his right hand and wearing the winged sandals given to him by Hermes, and the helmet of invisibility from Hades; this is pushed to the back of his head. Whilst both figures are naked, Perseus wears a narrow sash on his right shoulder falling to his left hip.

The figures are on top of a square sandstone pedestal. To the north face of the dado a stone plaque is inscribed:

PERSEUS AND MEDUSA / ORIGINAL STATUE SCULPTED BY / BENVENUTO CELLINI / IN FLORENCE FOR THE GRAND / DUKE OF TUSCANY. MDL. / THIS REPLICA MADE BY ORDER OF / THE 2nd DUKE OF SUTHERLAND / WITH THE PERMISSION OF HIS / FRIEND THE THEN GRAND DUKE / OF TUSCANY WAS ORIGINALLY / ERECTED HERE ON THE / RECONSTRUCTION OF TRENTHAM / HALL. MDCCCXL. / RESTORED AND REPLACED HERE / BY ELIZABETH COUNTESS OF / SUTHERLAND MDCCCCLXVI.

On the east face of the dado, another stone plaque has been added with the inscription:

THIS PLAQUE WAS UNVEILED BY / LADY HILDA CLARKE, / WIFE OF / SIR STANLEY CLARKE, CBE, DL, / LIFE PRESIDENT OF / St. MODWEN PROPERTIES PLC, / 29TH MAY 2004 / IN CELEBRATION OF THE / RESTORATION OF THIS STATUE AS / PART OF THE COMPREHENSIVE / REGENERATION OF THE / TRENTHAM GARDENS AND / ESTATE BY / TRENTHAM LEISURE LIMITED

The three-stepped base of the pedestal is set on circular platform with two steps around its perimeter. The four columns are surmounted by urns.

History

Trentham Hall and gardens were established on the site of a C12 Augustinian priory when, in 1540, after the priory was dissolved, it was purchased by wool merchant James Leveson. Under the ownership of the Leveson-Gower family, the house and grounds were redesigned multiple times. From 1630 to 1639 a new house was built for Sir Richard Leveson, in 1707 it was redesigned by William Smith of Warwick, and it was redesigned again between 1737 and 1738 by Francis Smith of Warwick. In the mid-C18, at the same time as Capability Brown enlarged the lake, the house was enlarged by Henry Holland from nine to fifteen bays, and in the early C19 Charles Heathcote Tatham added the east and west wings to its south elevation.

In 1833, following the death of George Granville Leveson-Gower, the 1st Duke of Sutherland, the estate was inherited by his eldest son the 2nd Duke of Sutherland and his wife, Harriet (née Howard). In the same year they commissioned the architect Sir Charles Barry to redesign Trentham Hall, which included the addition of the grand entrance at the west end, the addition of a belvedere tower over the old kitchen, the building of an orangery, sculpture gallery and clock tower, and the rebuilding of the stables and service quarters. The design of the Italianate formal gardens is also attributed to Barry, formed of two shallow terraces leading down to the lake with parterres and balustrading, statues, urns, pavilions and fountains as features.

Trentham Hall was largely demolished from 1910 to 1912 but remains of its entrance and conservatory, orangery and sculpture gallery, and stable block survive. The entrance lodges to Trentham were relocated from the west entrance to the present position on Stoke Road in the 1920s, when the site became a public pleasure garden. The various structures built for entertainment in the C20, such as the tennis courts, ballroom and open-air swimming pool have since been demolished. The estate is now operated as a commercial leisure attraction.

Benvenuto Cellini’s bronze statue of ‘Perseus with the Head of Medusa’, in the Italian Mannerist style, was sculpted for Cosimo I, Duke of Tuscany from 1545 to 1554, and formed part of a group of sculptures, that included Michelangelo’s ‘David’ and Donatello’s ‘Judith and Holofernes’, in the Loggia dei Lanzi on the Piazza della Signoria in Florence, Italy. These sculptures were intended to symbolise Florentine civic pride through their depiction of heroic acts that resulted in the overcoming of a more powerful enemy.

In the early C19, the then Duke of Tuscany, allowed a cast of Cellini’s statue to be taken for his friend, the 2nd Duke of Sutherland; it is the only bronze cast of the statue. The bronze sculpture was installed at Trentham in 1840 during Charles Barry’s remodelling of the estate and the statue forms a focal point for his Italianate gardens located by the lake at the south end of the central axis of the parterre. Barry designed the circular platform on which the statue is set.

In the early C20, when the family left Trentham, the statue was taken to Sutton Place in Surrey. The statue was restored and returned to its original site by Elizabeth, Countess of Sutherland in 1966. The statue was restored again in 2004

Barry’s platform appears to have been modified in the mid-C20, when the steps around its perimeter were reduced from three to two, and stone setts added to its surface. The four piers incorporated into the platform were originally surmounted with vases; these have since been replaced with urns that match those on the nearby retaining wall and balustrade. The piers have all been renewed in the early C21.

Reasons for Listing

The statue of Perseus with the Head of Medusa is designated at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:

Architectural interest:

* as the only bronze cast of Benvenuto Cellini’s celebrated statue ‘Perseus with the Head of Medusa’;
* for its artistic interest as one of the most important examples of Italian Mannerist sculptor;
* for its use by Charles Barry in his scheme for an Italianate garden at Trentham Gardens, of which the statue forms a focal point on the main axis of the parterre garden.

Historic interest:

* for its association with the 2nd Duke of Sutherland, and its illustration of his social status in England and Europe, as well as his patronage of the arts.

Group value:

* the statue remains a focal point in Trentham Gardens (Grade II*) and has group value with numerous listed garden features, and other listed buildings within the estate.

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