Sunday, 21 December 2008

Vathek's Antonio

Beckford's adopted patron saint, St Anthony of Padua, stood on a plinth of Siena marble bearing the inscription 'DOMINUS ILLUMINATIO MEA'. (The Lord is my light - Psalm 27)
The authorship of this statue has generally been stated as "Rossi" and has generated some controversy. According to an anonymous article in O Século (9th October, 1898) it was made in Rome by Giacomo Rossi (1748-1817) Director of the Portuguese Academy in Rome. Beckford is supposed by some to have commissioned the sculpture for Monserrate.

It is more likely however that Beckford had the statue made for Fonthill where it occupied the focal position in the oratory.

The statue was later placed by Beckford in the Sanctuary at Lansdown Tower.

On descending the staircase, the door opening showed us at the end of a small vaulted corridor a beautiful statue by Rossi of St. Anthony and the infant Jesus. At the back, fixed in the wall, is a large slab of red porphyry, circular at the top and surrounded by an elegant inlay of Sienna verd, antique border surrounding the whole figure of the Saint, and has a most rich effect; it is difficult to believe that the Sienna is not gold. The light descending from above gives that fine effect which sets off statues so much.

Modern scholarship attributes the statue to J. C. Rossi, R.A.

ROSSI (John Charles Felix) 1762-1839
Born 8 March, 1762, at Nottingham, the son of an Italian from Siena who practicised medicine. As a young man Rossi studied sculpture under Locatelli. In 1785 he won the Academy Travelling Studentship and went to Rome for three years. In 1798 he was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy, becoming a full member in 1802. Sculptor to the Prince of Wales 1797.

John Charles Felix Rossi by William Daniell, after George Dance, pencil, circa 1802-1814 (1798) National Portrait Gallery

In 1845, after Beckford's death, the statue was sold for thirty-two-and-a-half guineas at the Lansdown sale in Bath.

According to Ida Kingsbury, Sir Francis Cook, at Monserrate read about the forthcoming sale of a "cardinal with a babe in arms". Recognising this as Beckford's Anthony he sailed from Portugal to London to make the purchase. He then sent it to Monserrate and converted one of the ground-floor bedrooms into a chapel, or "Saint Anthony's room" (before 1869). In 1952 it was sold at auction to Sr. Emauz e Silva for the sum of 30,000 escudos. He donated it to the Jesuit fathers at the Colégio de São João de Brito, where it remains today.

Recollections of the late William Beckford of Fonthill, Wilts and Lansdown, Bath, Henry Venn Lansdown; M. L. Bettencourt Pires, William Beckford e Portugal, 1987; Ida Kingsbury, Sir Francis Cook and Monserrate, BHS, 1976; Rocha Martins O Palacio de Monserrate - Habitações Artisticas. Notas Rapidas, A Illustração Portuguesa, 26 de Septembro de 1904, p.742.; O Século, 9.10.1898

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