Plaster cast of section of parthenon frieze and drawing within an ebonized wood frame by John Henning

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Plaster cast of section of parthenon frieze and drawing within an ebonized wood frame by John Henning

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SIGNED AND DATED HENNING F SIO LONDON 1819

Framed in ebonized wood by John Henning (1771-1851) in 1819 in London with a plaster reproduction of sections of the Parthenon, south frieze, part of slab IX and slabs X-XII, figures 25-34. Pencil and ink on paper of one of the two Dioscuri placed on the Quirinal Hill in Rome.

Inscribed on the reverse of picture: Statue of youth with Phrygian cap and chiton circle “Campidoglio” ie. on the Capitol, Rome. Pen and ink over pencil line on paper.

Condition: Pristine

Provenance: Art market

Drawing: 11.5 x 8.5 in (29 x 22 cm); Frieze: 2 x 8 5/8 in (5 x 22 cm)

Overall size: 17 x 11 1/4 in (43 x 28.5 cm)

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John Henning, who was a carpenter before turning his hand to sculpting, was known for the remarkable models in miniature he created of the Bassae and Parthenon frieze, of which this is an example. In 1811, Henning moved from his native Scotland to London, where he saw the newly arrived Elgin Marbles in Burlington House and persuaded Lord Elgin to allow him to draw and copy them. Henning told Josiah Wedgwood in October 1813 that he had begun to draw from the Parthenon frieze because he felt his‘mind transfixed with admiration’ for the reliefs.

In his advertisement of 1820, He stated that his aim was to reproduce the frieze as faithfully as possible and to restore the fragmentary areas, giving them the same character. He consulted reproductions of old drawings in order to do this accurately. These plaster reproductions included imaginary restorations of the missing sections of the frieze. These models took him twelve years to complete. One miniature version of the Parthenon frieze was just two inches high but over twenty-four feet long. Very few original copies of these miniatures are known to exist as plaster is a fragile medium.

Henning was acting as schoolmaster to his growing family and while attempting to teach them arithmetic, noticed that his son John was not paying attention and was carving a head intaglio in a piece of slate with his father's knife, usually used for carving ivory. From then on Henning started to carve all his moulds from the friezes in slate, which allowed for greater detail. From these exquisite moulds plaster casts were made of the frieze in sections measuring five cm (2 in) by 15 cm (6 in), a total of thirty-four feet which were framed and sold for thirty guineas (£31.50) a set. King George IV was among the first subscribers for these miniature friezes. Later, in 1821, William IV acquired a set for £42.

The original length of the frieze was 524 feet (160 metres) long and 9 feet (3 metres) high, of which 247 feet (77 metres) are preserved in the British Museum. The subject of the frieze is a ceremonial procession, known as the greater Panathenaea, held every fourth year in ancient Athens, in honour of the goddess, Athena.