I visited a friend who lives in Sherborne, Gloucestershire, last week and came across this fine sculpture in the parish church, The Guardian Angel Tramples Death Underfoot, a monument to the local squire and his wife.
It’s carved with a beautiful lightness of touch from a marble with a remarkably pure and milky quality. But what’s most striking about it is, of course, the skeleton representing death. He seems to be experiencing quite a lot of unreasonable enjoyment from his trampling. But then ‘trampling’ may be over-doing it; rather, the angel’s shapely leg is being placed gingerly on his crotch. What might hurt him more is the look on the angel’s face: it’s as if he’s something the cat’s dragged in. But it doesn’t seem to disconcert him.
It was created in 1791 by Richard Westmacott the Elder who founded a dynasty of sculptors: three of his sons followed him, including his namesake Sir Richard Westmacott, a popular and prolific creator of monumental statuary whose work is scattered across the capital. The next generation also produced sculptors including, to increase the confusion, a third Richard Westmacott, grandson of the first.
The Elder produced other notable works, including a bust of Samuel Johnson. Whilst it admirably captures a certain sensitivity it also transforms the jibbing, shambolic sage into a poised, toga-clad patrician.