Attributed to Caius Gabriel Cibber, English (1630-1700)  An important late 17th century carved stone figural Group of 'Dementia'

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Lot 20
Attributed to Caius Gabriel Cibber, English (1630-1700)
An important late 17th century carved stone figural Group of 'Dementia'

Sold for £ 14,400 (US$ 17,325) inc. premium


15 Apr 2008, 14:00 BST

London, New Bond Street

Attributed to Caius Gabriel Cibber, English (1630-1700)
An important late 17th century carved stone figural Group of 'Dementia'
circa 1680, modelled as a distraught naked mother, her crouching body twisted in anguish and despair, holding a footed gadrooned cup in her right hand, her baby tumbling off on the folded drapery about her left thigh, 104cm high (40.5" high)


  • Provenance: Private collection, acquired during the 1960s.

    Henry Moore and John Hedgecoe, Henry Moore, My Ideas, Inspiration, and Life As An Artist, Chronicle Books, Ebury Press, page 68.

    Born in Flensburg in Denmark, Caius Gabriel Cibber was the son of the king’s cabinetmaker and as such he was sent to Rome at the royal charge while still a youth. He was however in England by the opening years of the Restoration where he set up as a sculptor in London. Perhaps his most famous works are the male figures of ‘Melancholy’ and ‘Raving Madness’ originally at the Bethlehem Hospital, which have since been on loan to the Victoria and Albert Museum. The female figure of ‘Dementia’ thus displays the same thematic and stylistic characteristics as the Bethlehem figures strongly suggesting an attribution to the
    same hand.

    The vast hospital site at Bethlehem, more commonly known as Bedlam, where the male figures were sited, was one of the sights of late 17th and 18th century London and was situated at Moorfields near the site that is now known as Finsbury Circus. On the gateposts of this impressive building designed by Sir Christopher Wren’s friend Robert Hooke were placed the pair of large sculpted Portland stone figures, which had gained their unofficial titles of ‘Melancholy’ and ‘Raving Madness’ by the early 19th century. In the late 17th and 18th century, the inmates of the hospital were viewed with a mixture of amusement, derision and horror which led to paid visits by the general public as a particularly cruel form of fashionable entertainment. However Cibber’s sculpted stone figures of ‘Melancholy’ and ‘Raving Madness’ dating from circa 1676 were also seen as a spectacle in their own right. Indeed their presence may have also acted as both an attraction to some members of the public and a certainly a warning to those of weaker disposition and character suggesting the grim reality that lay within. Amongst the literary references to the statues, Alexander Pope refers to them in the The Dunciad and Wordsworth wrote of them in Book VII of The Prelude - ‘Bedlam, and those carved maniacs at the gates, Perpetually recumbent’. It is likely that Cibber based the figures on real patients at the hospital and it is reputed that the figure of ‘Melancholy’ was based on Oliver Cromwell’s porter Daniel who suffered from religious mania. Certainly the figures are naked rather than nude in the classical tradition suggesting that their images were taken from life as they writhed uncontrollably (particularly as ‘Raving Madness’ is also pictured trying to break his chains).

    Carved with depth showing the actual chisel lines of the sculptor, the female figure of ‘Dementia’ is portrayed as a strongly built mother with distraught expression holding up what is presumably a cup containing wine with her right hand, suggesting drunkenness and despair, whilst her left hand possibly forces down her child onto the drapery covered base. The piece, executed in the Baroque manner is both expressive and paradoxically crudely refined and like the Cibber figures the features were presumably carved to be seen from below.

    ‘Dementia’ is also perhaps suggestive of three known carved stone asylum figures from the Netherlands which include a female figure known as ‘Frenzy’ attributed to Artus Quellinus, the elder dating from 1650 which is in the permanent collection of the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. However, these figures are perhaps more brutal in their handling than ‘Dementia’.

    An interesting parallel can also be drawn with the figure of ‘Dementia’, in that like the figures of ‘Melancholy’ and Raving ‘Madness’ in which the artist William Hogarth makes an obvious illusion to the gatepost figures which he would have seen in London in scene VIII of his ‘A Rakes Progress’ dating from1735 where the rake is portrayed at Bedlam in a similar recumbent pose, Hogarth also makes an illusion to the theme of a neglectful drunken mother with child in his painting of ‘Gin Lane’ dating from 1751.

    ‘Dementia’ also has also influenced the work of more contemporary sculptors and is mentioned in the celebrated 20th century British sculptors autobiography, Henry Moore, My Ideas, Inspiration, and Life As An Artist:

    ‘I think this is a very good Cibber. He’s used the material well. It has strength and monumentality about it. It’s one of the figures of the Raving and Melancholy Madness for the gate of the Old Bedlam, Hospital’,

    whilst the more contemporary British artist Richard Deacon was also profoundly influenced by the Cibber’s gatepost figures, siting their influence in his work in a Telegraph newspaper interview with Martin Gayford :

    ‘I think that they are great works, …these sculptures of Cibber’s - despite the disquieting subject of naked and suffering lunatics - look forward and back in art history. They contain memories of Cibber’s Italian journey. There is some reference to Michelangelo’s Medici chapel figures.’

    Cibber’s other works in England include the celebrated bas-reliefs around the monument to the Great Fire of London on Fish Street Hill, London. He also produced models of several kings of England and a figure of Sir Thomas Gresham for the Royal Exchange together with several church monuments including those to the 7th and 8th Earls of Rutland at Bottesford (Leicestershire) and the Sackville monument at Withyam, East Sussex. Other major commissions include a period as long-term sculptor to the fourth Earl of Devonshire and specimens of his work can be seen at Chatsworth. Under the Earl, Cibber took up arms in 1688 for William of Orange and as a reward was appointed the title of return carver to the Kings Closet.
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