John Flaxman  
John Flaxman

John Flaxman, (born July 6, 1755, York, Yorkshire, Eng.—died Dec. 7, 1826, London), sculptor, illustrator, and designer, a leading artist of the Neoclassical style in England.

As a youth, Flaxman worked in his father’s plaster-casting studio in London while studying Classical literature, which was to be a continual source of inspiration. In 1770 he entered the Royal Academy schools. After 1775 he began to work for the potter Josiah Wedgwood. The discipline of producing designs, usually based on antique models and executed in wax, which could be translated into the silhouette technique of Wedgwood’s jasperware, strengthened Flaxman’s innate feeling for line. His design of the Apotheosis of Homer (1778) relief was adapted from an ancient Greek vase for use on pots, chimneypieces, and plaques. It has rarely been out of production since it was executed. Flaxman also designed profile portraits in antique style for execution as jasperware medallions. While at the academy he formed a lifelong friendship with William Blake, who stimulated his interest in medieval art.

In 1787 he went to Rome to continue his study of the antique. Intending to stay only two years, he obtained enough commissions to remain until 1794. His artistic creed was formed in these years. He drew assiduously, not only from the antique but also from Italian medieval and Renaissance art, and was determined to give his work a moral purpose. Between 1790 and 1794 he produced ambitious academic groups such as The Fury of Athamas (1790–92) and Cephalus and Aurora, but his book illustrations had far greater importance. His Iliad and Odyssey (1793), Aeschylus (1795), and Dante’s Divine Comedy (1802) soon became widely known and, with their clean linear rhythms, contributed much to the spread of Neoclassicism in England. Later in life he designed a Hesiod, engraved by William Blake in 1817.

On his return to London his designs for a large monument to the earl of Mansfield (Westminster Abbey, 1793–1801) established his reputation as a sculptor on a grand scale. He became a member of the Royal Academy in 1800 and its first professor of sculpture in 1810. He produced a wide range of works after 1800, from small monuments in relief to very large commissions in the round (the Nelson monument in St. Paul’s Cathedral; 1808–18). He also made some designs for silversmiths, the most famous being The Shield of Achilles (1818).

Flaxman’s chief strength lies in the sincerity, humanity, and remarkable fecundity of his designs, which include figures in the Classical manner and in contemporary dress as well as religious subjects. In his own day his reputation as a sculptor rivalled those of his great contemporaries Antonio Canova and Bertel Thorvaldsen.

Encyclopædia Britannica


The Doncaster Cup


The Fury of Athamas
Ickworth, Suffolk

Bust of Henry Philip Hope


Monument to Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson
St. Paul's Cathedral, London

Monument to Admiral Earl Howe

Bust of John Hunter

Bust of Alexander Monro

Monument to Abraham Balme

The Apotheosis of Homer


Monument to Agnes Cromwell
Cathedral, Chichester

Portrait of William Blake

Engraving, 160 x 270 mm
Bibliothиque Nationale, Paris

The Fight for the Body of Patroclus
Engraving, 152 x 266 mm
Royal Academy of Arts, London
The Odyssey of Homer


Title Page


The Descent of Minerva to Ithaca


Phemius Singing to the Suitors


Penelope Surprised by the Suitors


Telemachus in Seach of his Father


Council of Jupiter, Minerva, and Mercury


Nestor's Sacrifice


Penelope's Dream


Mercury's Message to Calypso


Leucothea Preserving Ulysses


Nausicaa Throwing the Ball


Ulysses Following the Car of Nausicaa


Ulysses on the Hearth Presenting Himself to Alcinous and Arete


Ulysses Weeps at the Song of Demodocus


Ulysses Giving Wine to Polyphemus


The King of the Lestrigens Seizing One of the Companions of Ulysses


Ulysses at the Table of Circe


Ulysses Terrified by the Ghosts




The Sirens




Lampetia Complaining to Apollo


Ulysses Asleep Laid on his Own Coast by the Phaeacian Sailors


Ulysses Conversing with Eumaeus


Apollo and Diana Discharging their Arrows


Minerva Restoring Ulysses to his Own Shape


Ulysses and his Dog


Ulysses Preparing to Fight with Irus


Euryclea Discovers Ulysses


The Harpies Going to Seize the Daughters of Pandarus


Penelope Carrying the Bow of Ulysses to the Suitors


Ulysses Killing the Suitors


The Meeting of Ulysses and Penelope


Mercury Conducting the Souls of the Suitors to the Infernal Regions


Ulysses Departing from Lacedaemon for Ithaca, with his Bride Penelope


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