Walker Art Gallery artwork of the month for May 2007 – ‘Sleeping Shepherd Boy’, by John Gibson
About the artwork
‘The Greeks carried sculpture to the highest possible degree of perfection. Their teacher was Nature alone, under whose guidance they established the standard of beauty.’
Thus spoke John Gibson (1790 – 1866) for whom the masterpieces of antique art were the primary source of inspiration through his long artistic career. Gibson, who was to become the foremost British sculptor of his generation, was first introduced to the history and theory of art under the guidance of William Roscoe, the Liverpool connoisseur and historian who first recognised his talents.
It wasn’t until he moved to Rome in 1817, however, that his academic training truly got underway. There he was instructed by Canova (1757-1822) and Thorvaldsen (1770-1844), the most famous sculptors of the period, and following their lead, drew on ancient historic and mythological figures for his subject matter. Gibson was well versed in the theory underpinning Neo-classical art and was a keen follower of Winckelmann (1717 -1768), ‘patron saint’ of the movement. He shared the German’s delight in the ‘noble simplicity and calm grandeur’ of Greek art and firmly adhered to the conviction that only by imitating the Ancients could ‘the moderns… become great and perhaps unequalled’.
The Sleeping Shepherd Boy was the first life-size figure modelled by Gibson in Rome under the supervision of Canova. The subject, a classical shepherd boy, was prevalent among sculptors in Rome at the time – Canova’s Sleeping Endymion was modelled 1818, and Thorvaldsen’s Shepherd Boy in 1817. The Venetian master had accepted Gibson into his academy upon his arrival in the Eternal City at the relatively advanced age of 27.
Free gallery talk Thursday 17 May 2007, 13.00