The Great Altar at Pergamon
The Great Altar in Pergamon, an ancient Greek city in what is now Turkey, was rediscovered in 1871. It was excavated and taken back to Berlin by 1886. What is left of the Great Altar is now exhibited in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin, where thousands of people visit each year.
Originally, the Great Altar or Frieze was constructed in the 2nd century BC and depicts the Gigantomachy, or battle of the gods and Giants. This was a recurring theme in earlier Greek art used to explain the order of things and to show the defence of civilisation. The Altar was largely torn down and many of the Great Frieze elements were built into retaining walls elsewhere.
Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel, (1586-1646)
Thomas Howard was touring classical sites as early as 1615 on his ‘grand tour’ and collected many sculptures which came to be known as the Arundel Marbles. It is believed that he discovered, what is known to some as the ‘Worksop Torso’ in 1625, although it is not known where; at Pergamon or elsewhere after being separated from the Frieze. He kept his collection at Arundel House in the Strand which was catalogued in 1625 and comprised of 37 statues, 128 busts, 250 inscribed marbles and various other pieces. It is assumed that his collection at this point included the Worksop Torso.
The Arundel Marble comes to Worksop
After his death, Arundel House and its contents became the property of the Norfolk family and it would go on to survive the Great Fire of London in 1666. The house was eventually demolished in 1678. The bulk of Thomas Howard's collection was donated to the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford in 1667, but pieces of statue and marble fragments were left in the garden. It is not known what happened to it all, but some ended up dumped on wasteland beside the Thames in Kennington and subsequently buried. The buried pieces were rediscovered during building works in 1712. Six statues, some colossal, without heads or arms were found lying close to each other. They were sent to Worksop, the seat of the Duke of Norfolk, residing at Worksop Manor.
You can view some of Thomas Howard's important collection of Greek and Roman sculpture on display at the Ashmolean Museum here.
The torso survives again
Worksop Manor was gutted by fire in 1761 The torso survived but ended up neglected in the field nearby and was eventually acquired by local printer, Robert White. He cemented it into a wall at his house at 1 Park Place, Worksop. In 1960 it was removed by a new owner who tried to sell the torso to monumental masons to use for chippings. Instead, townspeople (led by William Straw whose house is now preserved by the National Trust) rallied to save the torso for the town of Worksop where it was presented to the museum for display.
The Arundel Marble is more than two thousand years old and depicts the muscular torso of a god kneeling with his back to the viewer. It has had quite a journey to reach Worksop and the journey is not finished yet. Thanks to National Lottery players the project will ensure the Worksop Torso is conserved, its story retold and put back on display in the new heritage hub once again.
Thank you to Bassetlaw Museum for the use of the photgraphs.
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