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John Flaxman
1755–1826

A design for the pediment of the Temple of Liberty at Woburn Abbey

Full screen

Medium
Pencil
Size
2 ¾ × 7 ¾ inches · 69 × 197 mm
Notes
Drawn 1803
Collections
  • Edward Croft-Murray (1907-1980);
  • By descent to 2016.
Literature
  • Edward Croft-Murray, ‘An Account Book of John Flaxman, R.A.’, The Walpole Society, vol.28 (1939-1940), p.76. 

This small, exquisitely worked drawing is one of two surviving designs Flaxman made in preparation for the sculptural pediment of the Temple of Liberty at Woburn Abbey. The pediment was commissioned by John Russell, 6th Duke of Bedford to commemorate the life of his brother, Francis Russell, 5th Duke of Bedford. The 5th Duke had been a radical reformer, a supporter of Charles James Fox with a passionate interest in agriculture; he was a member of the original Board of Agriculture and the first President of the Smithfield Club. Flaxman’s sculptural pedestal was commissioned in December 1803, according to his account book, Flaxman was paid 80 guineas for a ‘Tympanum of Liberty, Peace Agriculture & Commerce.’ This beautifully executed drawing, in Flaxman’s spare, neo-classical style shows a group of figures in high relief. In the center, Liberty, seated and holding up her cap and a staff, to the left of the pediment is Peace personified by a lamb and lion and to the right putti emptying a cornucopia representing plenty, beyond them, a bale of merchandise and sheaves of corn pointing to his interest in trade. Flaxman’s sculpture joined Canova’s Three Graces, Nollekens’s bust of Fox and one of the finest collections of antique sculpture in a private collection. This rare, autograph design is one of only two Flaxman made for the project.