Period Band C

Victorian Sculpture

Tutor: Jason Edwards


The aim of this module is to introduce students to the major trends in sculpture in Britain between the arrival of the Elgin Marbles in London and the death of Queen Victoria.

Sculpture could be found everywhere in Victorian Britain: in galleries, museums, and great exhibitions; in homes, parks, gardens and city squares; incorporated into a wide range of buildings, furnishings and other decorative objects; and depicted in a diverse array of other media. In spite of this, and while Victorian Studies has undergone a remarkable growth in the past two decades, with exhaustive research into many aspects of nineteenth-century British culture, scholars have almost entirely overlooked Victorian sculpture, perhaps the single most significant art form in Britain in this period. This module seeks to return Victorian sculpture to centre stage in discussions of nineteenth-century Britain, and to illuminate the complex ways in which it functioned, and continues to function, aesthetically, politically, socially and historiographically.



By the end of the module, students should have acquired:

  • familiarity with a wide range of sculpture produced and exhibited in the period
  • an ability to relate works of sculpture to a broad range of cultural historical issues, and political agendas, such as race, gender, and sexuality; and to other visual, literary and scientific texts
  • an understanding of the main historiographical and theoretical approaches to the sculpture in this period, particularly its difficult position between eighteenth-century sculptural aesthetics and Modernism

Preliminary Reading

As you prepare for the course, think about some of the following issues:

  1. the relationship between form and materiality, meaning and matter; opticality, mass and tactility; plane, contour, multi-faciality, detail, relief and three-dimensionality;
  2. the question of ‘aura’ in relation to sculpture’s inherent reproducibility, workshop production, and status as a modern industrial medium;
  3. the particular problems of sculptural production, patronage and exhibition in the nineteenth century;
  4. the relationship of sculpture to literary narrative and the particular problems of sculptural ekphrasis;
  5. the diverse and changing languages of classicism informing the sculptural encounter deriving from the mid- to late-eighteenth century, and their ongoing mediation of baroque aesthetics;
  6. sculpture’s relation to other media and objects, especially industrial, decorative and applied arts objects;
  7. sculpture’s position in domestic, local, regional, national, cosmopolitan and imperial cultures;
  8. how we understand the ‘Victorian’ in Victorian sculpture, especially the questions of sentimentality, monumentality, sexual repression, and Victorian sculpture’s problematic status as ‘kitsch’;
  9. the question of sculptural modernity and Victorian sculpture’s position, as a foil, within the genealogy of modernism;
  10. the limitations and possibilities attendant upon the fact that most of our sculptural encounters this term will take place with monochrome photographs and engravings rather than with objects


Preliminary reading

  • Barringer, Tim. ‘A White Atlantic: The Idea of American Art in the Nineteenth Century’, 19: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Long Nineteenth Century 9 (2009),
  • ---. ‘Colonial Gothic’, Men at Work: Art and Labour in Victorian Britain (2005), 243-313.
  • Baudelaire, Charles. ‘Why Sculpture is a Bore’ (1846), in P.E. Charvet (ed.), Charles Baudelaire: Selected Writings on Art and Literature (1972), 97-100.
  • Baxandall, Michael. ‘Arc of Address’, The Limewood Sculptures of Renaissance Germany (1980), 165-68.
  • Bratlinger, Patrick. ‘A Postindustrial Prelude to Post-Colonialism: John Ruskin, William Morris, and Gandhism’, Critical Inquiry 223 (Spring 1996), 466-485.
  • Breedon, Kirsty. ‘Herbert Ward: Sculpture in the Circum-Atlantic World’, Visual Culture in Britain 11.2 (2010).
  •  ---. ‘“A Voice from the Congo”: Herbert Ward’s Sculptures in Europe and America’, in Julie Codell, ed. Transculturation in British Art 1770-1930 (2011), 177-199.
  • Flint, Kate. ‘Response to Tim Barringer: A White Atlantic?’, 19: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Long Nineteenth Century 9 (2009),
  • Freud, Sigmund. ‘The Uncanny’ (1919), in Art and Literature, (1990), 335-77.
  • Hildebrand, Adolf von. ‘Remarks on the Problem of Form’ (1893), College Art Journal 11.5 (Summer 1952), 251-258.
  • McGowan, Abigail. ‘All that is Rare, Characteristic or Beautiful: Design and the Defence of Tradition in Colonial India, 1851-1903’, Journal of Material Culture 10.3, 263-287.
  • Morris, Robert. ‘Notes on Sculpture’ (1967), in Harrison and Wood (eds), Art in Theory 1900-1990 (1988), 813-22, 863-73.
  • Nelson, Charmaine. The Colour of Stone: Sculpting the Black Female Subject in Nineteenth-Century America (2007).
  • Pater, Walter. ‘Luca Della Robbia’ and ‘Winckelmann’ (1873), The Renaissance.
  • Pietz, W. ‘Fetish’, in Nelson and Schiff (eds)., Critical Terms for Art History (1996), 197-208.
  • Reynolds, Joshua ‘Discourse X’, Discourses,ed. Pat Rogers, (1769-1790; 1992), 232-246.
  • Ruskin, John. ‘On the Nature of Gothic’ (1853), The Stones of Venice and various editions of selected writings.
  • Stewart, Susan. ‘The Miniature’, ‘The Gigantic’, On Longing (Durham, 1993), 37-104.
  • Summers, David. ‘Form and Gender’, in Bryson et al (eds), Visual Culture: Images and Interpretations, (1994), 384-413.
  • Wagner, Anne. ‘Rodin's Reputation’, in L. Hunt, ed., Eroticism and the Body Politic (1993), 191-242.

 If you’re thinking of investing in a single text, Martina Droth et al, eds, Sculpture Victorious: Art in an Age of Invention, 1837-1901 (2014).

Eve at the Fountain, Edward Hodges Baily RA FRS (10 March 1788 - 22 May 1867)

Module Code HOA00016H