Ian Weightman

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It’s exactly 165 years since he first arrived at The Trentham Estate in Stoke-on-Trent. 

And he’s now being seen by around half a million people who flock to the Italian Gardens at The Trentham Estate every year,

But demi-god, and “local hero”, Perseus is set to take flight once more - this time, to London, to be part of the Royal Academy of Art’s major Autumn exhibition, “Bronze”.

The exhibition is set to run from September 15th to December 9th in the Main Galleries of the Royal Academy.

‘Perseus With The Head Of Medusa’ is a true copy of the original statue by the Italian master Benvenuto Cellini, cast in Florence between 1548 and 1550, and was made on the order of the 2nd Duke of Sutherland around 1840.

The Trentham bronze is the only copy of Cellini's masterpiece and, apparently, demonstrates - like no other work in this country - the 19th century’s fascination with the Florentine High Renaissance.

Bronze itself is set to bring together for the first time outstanding pieces from the earliest times, to the present.

But what’s so significant about Perseus is not simply the association with the Italian sculptor Benvenuto Cellini, AND its sheer size, but also its positioning at Trentham.  Sitting on a pedestal, surrounded by stone columns designed by Sir Charles Barry (who also designed our Houses of Parliament, no less), Perseus stands prominently between Capability Brown’s mile-long lake, some glorious English countryside, and Barry’s vast Italian Garden.

The Trentham Estate’s original owners, the Duke & Duchess of Sutherland were extraordinarily wealthy and engaged Sir Charles Barry (who went to create the House of Commons) to transform Capability Brown’s natural landscape into what was later described as “The Versailles of the Midlands”.

The 2nd Duke had a strong friendship with the Duke of Tuscany; and the casting of Perseus coincided with the improvements being made to the hall and gardens.  The terrace at the top of the lake was specially planned and prepared by Charles Barry to receive the statue, which was erected in its current position in the Italian Garden in 1847.

The Sutherlands stopped using Trentham as one of their homes at the turn of the century, and Trentham Hall was demolished in 1911 after which the family opened the Estate as Trentham Gardens Pleasure Park in the 1920s.  Perseus, it appears, had already been removed to Sutton Place following the purchase of that property by the Duke in 1918.  But he was (rightfully) returned to Trentham by the Countess of Sutherland in 1966.

The statue was in a very poor condition when St. Modwen took over ownership of the Estate around a decade ago, and on the advice of English Heritage Rupert Harris Conservation was employed to undertake a full report on the condition and recommend the conservation works required.   The statue was taken to his studios in London prior to the formal reopening of the Gardens in May 2004.

Mike Herbert, Regional Director for St. Modwen, recalls visiting the studios at the early stages of restoration: “I got into a London cab as I left the building and telephoned the office, saying ‘There’s a massive hole in his leg and his right arm has been taken off, but he should be alright’.  You should have seen the taxi driver’s face!”

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