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John Flaxman

1755 York – 1826 London

John Flaxman, a sculptor and draughtsman, studied under his father of the same name who worked as a plaster cast maker. He had a weak constitution, could not walk properly as a child and depended on crutches. Throughout his life he suffered from an abnormal curvature of the spine. Flaxman was a child prodigy. In 1767, when he was just twelve years of age, he exhibited plaster models at the Free Society of Artists. The famous painter, George Romney, was among his patrons and he was on friendly terms with the leading intellectuals and artists of this time such as William Blake und Thomas Stothard. From 1775 Flaxman designed decorative motifs for the factory of Wedgwood and Bentley, which helped him to further his knowledge of ancient Greek art. Of crucial importance for Flaxman’s artistic development, however, was his stay in Rome, which was made possible by a grant from Wedgwood and lasted from 1787 to 1794. Flaxman’s diary entries, letters and drawings from those years testify to the intensity with which he explored not only the grandeur of antiquity, but also the art of the so-called Italian Primitives and the great masters of the High Renaissance. At the same time he maintained close ties with prominent collectors and antiquarian booksellers such as Sir William Hamilton and Pierre François d’Hancarville and associated with prominent fellow artists like the sculptor, Antonio Canova, the French architect, Charles Percier, and the Irish painter, Gavin Hamilton. Thus, far from being isolated in Rome, Flaxman was very much au fait with the artistic trends of his time and drew inspiration from all the relevant sources. Apart from sculptural projects the artist was also active as a draughtsman in Rome and, relying on his literary education, made illustrations of works by Homer, Aischylos and Dante. Ultimately it was this sideline that paved the way for his international breakthrough. In 1792 he received a commission from his mentor, Georgina Hare-Taylor, to illustrate Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey