Restoring Apollo and the Nine Muses to Stowe

Project

Phase one: Recreating the Nine Muses

Currently underway is a project to restore Apollo and the Nine Muses which were at Stowe for around 100 years. This statue group was associated throughout the most significant design phases of the gardens and they have been focal points within three areas where they formed an integral part of the iconographical incidents within the designed landscape. From the early-eighteenth-century they were placed on the Parterre; by the 1750s they were moved to the lower part of the Elysian Fields where they were associated with the Spring of Helicon and in the 1760s these statues were relocated around the Doric Arch at the entrance to the Elysian Fields. It’s this third and final position that we’re recreating as the last and most significant of the design phases. The first part of this project will see the reinstatement of the Muses, with Apollo following in phase two.

A view through the Doric Arch, entrance to the Elysian Fields at Stowe in the Nattes sketch of 1809.
A black and grey image showing an arch and in the distance is a bridge and castle.
A view through the Doric Arch, entrance to the Elysian Fields at Stowe in the Nattes sketch of 1809.
Stowe Gardens' crumbling ruins

Restoring Stowe

2015 saw the start of a new phase of restoration for the gardens at Stowe. The Landscape Programme is comprised of 54 tasks to reinstate many of the lost temples and monuments that once ‘dressed’ the gardens like pieces of a theatre set whilst undertaking maintenance on structures and lakes. The project has achieved many significant milestones and has been extended to complete some of the more complex tasks. Read more and keep up to date here.

Who are Apollo and the Nine Muses?

In Ancient Greece, Apollo and the Muses were symbols of inspiration and artistic creation. As one of the twelve gods of Olympus, Apollo was the God and patron of poetry, music and the arts. He lived on Mount Parnassus, accompanied by the Nine Muses, goddesses of poetic inspiration and the creative arts. In sculpture he is generally depicted as the ideal form of male beauty, a counterpoint to Venus. At Stowe, the sculpture was a Lyric Apollo with the God holding a Lyre (stringed instrument).

The Greeks believed the Muses inspired songs that honoured famous events and noble deeds, which perfectly suits the iconography of the Elysian Fields. Designed by William Kent, the Elysian Fields at Stowe is a lesson in morality taken straight from the pages of the Tatler in 1709, which published a modern translation of the ‘Choice of Hercules’, written by Greek philosopher Prodicus. To Lord Cobham, the description of temples to Honour, Virtue and Vanity in Elysium, the heaven of the ancients, fitted perfectly with the iconography of his garden.

Traditionally Apollo and the Nine Muses were usually associated with the Spring of Helicon which was the source of inspiration and learning and this had been recreated at their second location at Stowe by the 1750s. We believe that their third location around the Doric Arch was intended to be a recreation of Mount Parnassus with the Arch at the apex and the statues arranged on either side. There are no sketches or engravings that show this third design phase, however there are several contemporary sources that elegantly describe the scene that we’re recreating:

" I found Lord Temple employed in making a new Helicon and a new hill for the muses on the verge of the old Elysian Fields…The Muses and Apollo are arranged on either side of the Arch upon the brow of the hill…"
- Lord Lyttleton writing to Mrs Montagu in 1768
The Doric Arch surrounded by nine statue plinths for the Nine Muses at Stowe.
A golden arch flanked either side by nine statue bases
The Doric Arch surrounded by nine statue plinths for the Nine Muses at Stowe.

Meet the Nine Muses

Evidence

There is a wealth of contemporary information that has allowed us to chart the movement of this statue group around the gardens from the Parterre, to the lower Elysian Fields and the final design phase with these statues arranged around the Doric Arch. The final location is the source of discussion in the Seeley Guidebook to Stowe, as well as being described in contemporary accounts, including the location and setting of the statues. An extract from the Seeley Guide to Stowe for 1769 states ‘A Doric Arch, standing on an Eminence, and accompanied with the Statues of Apollo and the nine Muses, forms an entrance into a very pleasing Scene.’

As well as considering the documentary evidence that points to the existence, form and location of Apollo and the Nine Muses; we’ve undertaken archaeological investigations in the Elysian Fields to investigate whether any physical evidence survives. Archaeological excavations in 2002 discovered fragments of plinth foundations that correspond to the location of Apollo and the Nine Muses as per the historic plans and contemporary accounts. Additional excavations in 2017 allowed the recovery of a third plinth foundation. Further investigations in 2019 discovered evidence of the gravel path associated with these statues.

Recreating the location, setting and planting

The location of this statue group is shown on ‘A Plan of The Gardens of the Most Noble the Marquis of Buckingham at Stowe’ from 1797 where the statues are clearly shown as dots on either side of the Doric Arch. This extract from the 1797 plan shows that the positioning of the statues is planned to be part of this design around the Doric Arch at the edge of the glade. When realising that this glade still survived on the ground we decided to measure this and discovered that it has a radius of one chain.*​ This was an exciting moment as we realised that more of the original setting and design intent had survived later alterations than previously understood.

The extract from the 1797 shows that the positioning of the statues is planned to be part of this design around the Doric Arch at the edge of the glade. When realising that this glade still survived on the ground we decided to measure this and discovered that it has a radius of one chain.*​ This was an exciting moment as we realised that more of the original setting and design intent had survived later alterations than previously understood.

* The Gunters Chain is a distinctive measuring device used in land surveying or for land measurement.

Archaeological investigations have shown evidence for the location of the plinth foundations; however, this area has been reshaped and altered over time, both by a later path and by what are now mature trees. We've therefore installed the statues slightly forward of the surviving archaeological evidence – but in the same segment alignment with the Doric Arch at the centre – which also allows the archaeological remains for the plinth foundations to be retained and protected. This approach will be in the spirit of the original setting and in accordance with the 1797 plan that shows the layout and alignment of the statues.

Evidence for the historic gravel path discovered through archaeological investigations confirms that the original gravel path was located in front of the statues and the Doric Arch as part of an earlier Georgian path network in this area. Information from trenches 1374 and 1375 on the plan show that the distance from the back of the statue (as shown from the remaining foundations) to the front of the gravel path is approximately 5 metres or ¼ a chain or a rod in length. (5.0292m).

Image taken from Archaeological Report: Bases and Paths at the Doric Arch. 2019
A drawing of an archaeology report
Image taken from Archaeological Report: Bases and Paths at the Doric Arch. 2019

This along with the evidence that the statues have been positioned on the higher ground at the edge of the glade, which has a radius of one chain, suggests that there was a clear design intent to the placement of these statues.  

This scale plan showing the proposed location of the statues was informed by a survey commissioned of the area, reference to contemporary accounts and plans, archaeological evidence as well as taking into consideration the historic tree fabric.

Image taken from Cliveden Conservation Workshop's site plan and a contemporary map of the area showing similar layout of the Nine Muses.
A drawing of a layout of statues in a semicircular fashion either side of an arch
Image taken from Cliveden Conservation Workshop's site plan and a contemporary map of the area showing similar layout of the Nine Muses.

Setting

The setting for the Doric Arch is essentially the southern half of the ‘Witch Wood’ and lies within the eastern edge of the Elysian Fields. The Witch Wood was remodelled by Earl Temple in the 1760s and linked three areas - the Gothic Cross, the Doric Arch and the Witch Wood south of the Doric Arch - with a central path from the Church to the Octagon Lake.

The central open grove contrasted with the more enclosed areas to the north and south and became the setting for the Doric Arch which was flanked by Apollo and the Nine Muses with their evergreen backdrop. A letter written in 1770, held in the Huntington Library, is the most useful contemporary source for the setting of these statues:

" You come to it [Doric Arch] on a sudden, and are startled with delight on looking through it: you at once see, through a glade, the river winding at the bottom: from which a thicket arises, arched over with trees, but opened, and discovering a hillock full of hay-cocks, beyond which in front is the Palladian bridge, and again over that a larger hill crowned with the castle. It is a tall landscape framed by the arch and the overbowering trees, and comprehending more beauties of light, shade, and buildings, than any picture of Albano I ever saw... The statues of Apollo and the Muses stand on each side of the arch."
- Extract from a letter written by Walpole to George Montague Esq. from Strawberry Hill, Saturday night, July 7, 1770 whereby he discussed the visit of Princess Amelia to Stowe.

Planting

In order to recreate the setting and backdrop for Apollo and the Nine Muses that's appropriate to the current landscape and references the historic planting including a number of mature trees within this area; we’ve proposed to install additional layers of relevant planting around the replica statues. The remains of historic planting, including box, laurel and yew will be used as part of this recreated setting. 

Order of the Muses

In terms of the order of the Muses, as there is no contemporary evidence to confirm the original order of these statues around the Doric Arch, we’ve consulted a number of sources from the Classical through to the eighteenth century along with other artistic forms that depict these deities including other groups and well - known contemporary paintings. We’ve also considered the group stylistically and aesthetically to ensure that the order of the Muses works cohesively as a set with the location and setting. 

These investigations have confirmed that there is no one definitive order of the Muses or indeed an example layout of these deities that would work with the information we have for the setting at Stowe with the Doric Arch at the centre. In Tindal’s ‘A guide to Classical Learning or Polymetis Abridged’ published in 1756 he states that ‘the order of them [the Muses] seems quite arbitrary as appears by the different ranging of them…’

After considering several sources, stylistic, aesthetic and iconographical information we’ve agreed to place the statue of Apollo on the right hand side when entering the Elysian Fields through the Doric Arch; The first-century BC Greek poet Hesiod was the first to name the Muses and he states that Calliope is the most senior of them. By placing Calliope directly opposite Apollo - at the other edge of the path leading towards the centre of the Elysian Fields - her seniority is maintained and her iconography works with the setting. By utilising Hesiod and alternating his hierarchy of Muses across the arc of statues, it allows Clio to be on Apollo’s left hand and confirms her place in the hierarchy as later sources name her as the most senior of the Muses. This also places Ourania the Muse of Astronomy on the slightly higher ground and thus nearer the Heavens. 

Research and Investigation

We’ve researched relevant statues and other artistic versions of Apollo and the Nine Muses – from the classical period through to the eighteenth century – as well as interrogated the surviving evidence: archival, archaeological and surviving statues.

Surviving statues

Many of the original statues at Stowe were sold after debt crippled the Temple-Grenville family, resulting in a number of auctions in 1848, 1921 and 1922. After much investigation, we now understand that the majority of the Muse statues were decayed and according to the 1848 auction catalogue ‘The statues of Apollo and the Muses formerly stood near this spot, but they were of lead, and have long since been melted.’

However, from the wider group of statues, the original lead statue of Calliope the Muse of Heroic poetry has survived at Stowe and is now on the top of the Grenville column. The statues of ‘Painting’ and ‘Sculpture’ – part of the original and larger group of statues located on the Parterre - were relocated to the roof of the Temple of Concord and Victory in the middle of the eighteenth century. These were then sold in the 1922 auction and are now in the collection at Anglesey Abbey. 

From left: Calliope, Stowe collection atop the Grenville Column; Painting, Anglesey Abbey collection; Sculpture Anglesey Abbey collection originally from Stowe.
Three statues side by side
From left: Calliope, Stowe collection atop the Grenville Column; Painting, Anglesey Abbey collection; Sculpture Anglesey Abbey collection originally from Stowe.

Contemporary engraving

Further evidence of the form, scale and design of the Stowe Muses can be seen in a 1730’s engraving by Rigaud ‘View of the House from the Parterre’ where the Muses are depicted in classical form standing on square plinths. This information taken from this source correlates to the surviving Stowe Muse statues.

'View of the House from the Partarre' - engraving by Rigaud. This shows the garden at Stowe as it was in its formal design.
Engraved black and grey images of the garden at Stowe with statues in the niches and house in the distance
'View of the House from the Partarre' - engraving by Rigaud. This shows the garden at Stowe as it was in its formal design.

Primary accounts and surviving fragments

Evidence from the Stowe Estate Papers – now held in the Huntington Library - provides further information on the design of Apollo and the Nine Muses; including that the plinths were re-carved in the 1760s. We also discovered fragments from several of the surbases (the stone atop the plinth but underneath the statue) for these statues that were later reused within the Grotto. From this information we know that these statues had their names carved on the (new) plinths in 1768. This also provides us with information in terms of approximate dimensions for the surbases as well as information on the lettering. This information was used by the Cliveden Conservation Workshop when designing the plinths and the lettering was copied in terms of scale and style on the surbases of the new Muses. 

  • 29th Aug 1768  ‘carving the pedestals of the Muses ..”
  • 17th Sept. 1768  ‘To mending and writing on the plinth of Apollo,..’
Fragments of broken stone show engraved letters from the statue bases of Apollo and the Nine Muses at Stowe
Fragments of broken stone show engraved letters from the statue bases of Apollo and the Nine Muses at Stowe
Fragments of broken stone show engraved letters from the statue bases of Apollo and the Nine Muses at Stowe

Commissioning in the spirit of the original: Muses 

As there was no suitable set of eighteenth-century Muses to copy that relates to the surviving evidence of the Stowe set, to ensure that the recreated statues are of appropriate quality, form, style and size we have commissioned Cliveden Conservation Workshop to create a harmonious set of nine Muses based upon the surviving statues and the body of research undertaken. This body of evidence has been used to guide and inform the design and production of a set of nine statues that are in keeping with the original as well as the Stowe landscape and setting. 

Designing the Muses

The surviving three Stowe: Calliope, Painting and Sculpture are part of the original group of statues as depicted on the Parterre and we can document these as early as 1724. These have a clear provenance to Stowe, are of appropriate form, detail and quality and the proportions are in keeping with the final location around the Doric Arch and we commissioned Cliveden Conservation Workshop to undertake moulds from these original three lead statues. 

The methodology was that the plaster copies that were made from these moulds would be used, along with stylistic details taken from other relevant eighteenth century and Classical statues and sources to inform the creation – by hand - of a set that respects the form, scale, style and details from the original statues and will be in-keeping with the Stowe landscape, setting and aesthetic.  

Designs

At the same time we worked with Cliveden Conservation Workshop to translate the body of research into artistic representations of the Muses to both inform the design and the final sculpting process. This process saw various iterations of drawings where clothing, movement, hair style and expression were developed as these are key in ensuring each Muse is correctly represented in terms of her iconography. For example, Polyhymnia the Muse of sublime hymn, is usually depicted modestly dressed whereas Erato the Muse of love and erotic poetry and mime is usually more scantily dressed. Facial expression is also important with, for example, Melpomene the Muse of tragedy being depicted with a tragic expression.

Attributes

The iconography of each Muse is also shown through the items that they are holding or their attributes. The attributes of the Muses were liable to change at different periods, making identification difficult. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Muses were sometimes shown without attributes, however, we know that the Stowe Muses did have attributes as a letter from the Estate Papers survives in the Huntington Library.

" The whole of a hand from the statue of Neptune and the fingers from the left hand also a part of the mantle. The trumpet from the hand of one of the muses at the Amelion Arch."
- In 1809 Joseph Parrot writes to the First Marquis of Buckingham to appraise him of lead being stolen from the Estate including references to lead statues.

Developing the attributes was a labour-intensive part of the project: Research was undertaken on these attributes with information gathered from Art (sculpture, painting, drawing etc) along with physical survivals in museum collections and this was used to underpin and inform the design of the attributes. We worked closely with the sculptors at Cliveden Conservation Workshop to ensure that the attributes were as realistic as possible. Many of these attributes are musical instruments whose designs have changed over the centuries and it was important for these to be in-keeping but also believable as instruments. As such, the placement of the hands has been essential to this realism. 

Part of Euterpe's double Aulos being cast.
A cast of a wind instrument sits secure inside a box
Part of Euterpe's double Aulos being cast.

The double-Aulos that Euterpe, the Muse of Lyric Poetry holds, raised further design discussions: To ensure a lightness of touch and retain elegance it was decided that Euterpe would be designed to be about to play the wind-instrument with it resting near to her lips. If she were playing the instrument the sculptor would have needed to re-design her face to show puffed-out cheeks and this would have lost the elegance and poise of the Muse.

Developing Ourania

" Stowe is a garden full of classical iconography and meaning, here the temples and statues reference classical myths, legends, historical characters and events. At its peak, there were over 100 sculptural elements within the garden that were a key part of these multi-layered stories. The garden can be considered as a three-dimensional work of art, however the historic sale of statues has eroded the richness of the garden. By restoring or recreating these elements, such as Apollo and the Nine Muses, we continue to revive these lost narratives. This significant statue group will not be complete until we locate a suitable lyric Apollo and restore the full group around the Doric Arch to the entrance of Elysian Fields. "
- Gillian Mason, Curator

What's next?

We've completed phase one with the installation of the Nine Muses to the gardens in February. We're now investigating options and searching for a suitable lyric Apollo to complete the final statue to this set by the Doric Arch. Meanwhile, the gardens and parks team are going to start updating the path network and shaping new and existing planting to create a green backdrop that'll provide glimpses of the statues from different angles without the viewer seeing all of the set at one time. 

For ever, for everyone 

As a charity, we rely on your generous support by visiting, donating, volunteering or enjoying a cream tea in café in order to help us carry out significant restoration and conservation work. If you’d like to support this project further or donate, speak to the welcome team at the New Inn. Thank you.
 

Latest updates

10 Feb 20

The Muses arrive

Seven of the Nine Muses arrived and were lifted into position on their statue bases using a telehandler by the team from Cliveden Conservation Workshop.

Statues stand surrounded by cages

20 Dec 19

Clio's hand

Completion of Clio’s finger positions to ensure a realistic and accurate hold of the book the Muse will be holding.

A plaster model of an arm and fingers in grey holding a book

20 Dec 19

Heads and attributes

This image shows the completed plaster heads for Clio with a ‘garland of bay’ and Calliope with a ‘coronet of gold’. The right hand is also for Clio who holds a trumpet. These plaster models are being transported to the workshop to be joined to the rest of the Muse in preparation for final casting.

Two heads and one arm are secured to a pallet in a vehicle