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Exploring the different worlds of our classical sculpture collections

4 April 2016 by Andrew

The Pantheon at Ince Blundell Hall

The Pantheon at Ince Blundell Hall

Chrissy Partheni, Curator of Classical Antiquities at World Museum talks about her involvement with two upcoming exhibitions taking place in the city this summer.

“Last summer the Atkinson Art Gallery and the Liverpool Biennial approached me to discuss potential loans from the classical sculptural collections to feature in two exhibitions planned for this summer. One exhibition will be about Henry Blundell, the 18th century antiquarian and collector, while the other, taking place at Tate Liverpool, is to be inspired by Ancient Greece.

Both exhibitions are a unique opportunity to showcase the fantastic collections of Henry Blundell, donated to our museum in 1959 by Colonel Sir Joseph Weld (1909-1992), owner of the Lulworth castle and estate, Dorset. The collection comprises more than 400 sculptural pieces, including life-size statues, smaller statuettes, busts, reliefs as well as funerary ash chests.

Henry Blundell (1724-1810) came from a wealthy Lancashire Catholic family. Like many Catholic gentry in the 18th century, he was educated abroad, on the European continent. He was introduced to ancient sculpture by his friend, the famous antiquarian Charles Townley (1737-1805), whose collections are in the British Museum. Although Henry started collecting at a later stage in his life, his collection is important and it is great that it has remained in a public museum in its entirety. The history and provenance of each piece, the restorations by important 18th century artists and restorers, as well as Henry Blundell’s interpretation of each work, tell fascinating stories. Researching the provenance of the works or identifying the different phases and elements of each piece is like peeling off layers of history. Although each work poses different challenges, we are fortunate that the collections have received the attention of renowned researchers such as Jane Fejfer, Elizabeth Bartman and Ruth Guilding, as well of conservation and curatorial staff from National Museums Liverpool.

As part of our collaboration I was thrilled to be invited by Tate Liverpool and the Belgian artist Koenraad Dedobbeleer  to visit the Ince Blundell Hall (now a nursing home).  I had known only of the Pantheon and the Garden Temple in black and white photographs in our archives. In another visit to the University of Liverpool’s library’s specialist collections, myself and Koenraad explored the two volumes of the engravings of the collections that Henry Blundell had commissioned in 1809-10.

Inside the Pantheon

Inside the Pantheon

I look forward to both the exhibitions and I am particularly keen to see the collections displayed and discussed within a contemporary arts context. I’m also excited to see how the exhibitions explore how different realities, perceptions and expectations are constructed, fabricated and reinvented. After all, the Ince Blundell sculpture is about more than one world – from the Greek works that inspired them, to the Roman sculptors who made them, then the 18th century collectors and artists who reinvented them. And finally to us today, and how we view such works and perceive our worlds today.”

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