Left: with the original lost in the nineteenth century, a brand new Pluto and Proserpine is now on display at Castle Howard. Image courtesy of Castle Howard.
With the final piece in Castle Howard's garden statue puzzle now in place, a ten year process of restoration, recreation and detective work has finally come to an end at the stately home.
The installation of a replica Pluto & Proserpine statue this month follows a substantial English Heritage-backed project to return one of the UK's most important lead statue collections to its former glory.
At 2.5m tall and weighing in at 1.5 tonnes, you'd have thought it pretty difficult to mislay a vast lead statue of a couple of Greek gods.
But back in the nineteenth century, when two pieces in Castle Howard's huge statue collection fell from their plinths and broke, that's exactly what happened.
So, over a hundred years later, when the Hon. Simon Howard decided to restore the 16 lead statues he still had in his family's collection, the search began to find out what had once occupied the two empty plinths that stood beside them.
Right: built in 1699, the stunning Castle Howard was designed by John Vanburgh and Nicholas Hawksmoor. Image courtesy of Castle Howard.
A rummage in the house archives followed. The resulting evidence, in the form of a c.1770 view of the stately home and a photograph from 1870, clearly showed two statues, one depicting Pluto & Proserpine, the other Hercules & Antaeus.
Sculptor Michael Major had already been enlisted to carry out restoration work on the other 16, but now he had a re-creation job on his hands.
“I was honoured with the task of restoring the fine statues at Castle Howard,” explained the sculptor, “but completely thrilled with the challenge of recreating both Hercules & Antaeus and Pluto & Proserpine.”
“It was probably one of the most interesting and challenging jobs of my working career.”
Using a mould taken from an identical copy, Michael was able to create a replica of the giant Hercules & Antaeus, which went on display on its original Nicholas Hawksmoor-designed plinth in 2000.
Left: Hercules and Antaeus. Image courtesy of Castle Howard.
He then spent the next three years sculpting Pluto & Proserpine, based on a smaller seventeenth-century version held at Birmingham City Art Gallery.
Commercial production of lead statues during the early eighteenth-century meant they were less expensive and as such, Charles Howard, third Earl of Carlisle, filled his lavish gardens with them.
At one time the Earl had as many as 30 divided between Ray Wood, the Temple Terrace and the South Parterre, where the current collection now stands.
According to a spokesperson at the stately home: “With the return of the final statue, Castle Howard now has the fullest complement of lead sculptures in pristine order since the eighteenth century.”
“This remarkable assembly of classical figures is now one of the most extensive collections in the UK.”