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Roubiliac's Sculpture of Shakespeare

A romantic rendering of Shakespeare at the moment of inspiration, this 1757 terracotta sculpture by Louis François Roubiliac shows how ideas about artists, and Shakespeare in particular, had changed since the more straightforward Shakespearean images of the past. Although Roubiliac worked from one of those—the Chandos portrait—his sculpture is as much an effort to capture the playwright's creative process as his physical appearance.


Standing about twenty-two inches high on a sixteen-inch-wide base, the sculpture was one of several studies Roubiliac made for a marble statue commissioned by the actor David Garrick for the Shakespeare Temple on the grounds of Garrick's Hampton villa. The features are meant to be Shakespeare's, but Garrick himself may have served as a model and struck the dramatic pose shown here.


In this early version, the playwright, leaning on a lectern with pen in hand, pushes an upthrust finger into his face as his eyes turn skyward for inspiration. Perhaps at Garrick's request, Roubiliac made the finished sculpture a more tranquil work in which the eyes are less animated and the left hand has moved so that it supports the Bard's chin rather than distorting his face.


Louis Fran├žois Roubiliac. Shakespeare. Terracotta, 1757.

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