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Like the Renaissance sculptor Benvenuto Cellini (1500-1571), with whom his work has sometimes been compared, Henry Hugh Armstead first trained as a silversmith. He later studied at the Government School of Design at Somerset House and became a noted draftsman associated with the Pre-Raphaelites. His refined sense of the animated, decorative body made him a precursor of the ‘New Sculpture’ movement at the end of the century.
Often misidentified as St Michael and the Serpent, Henry Armstead’s sculpture won first prize in the Art Union sculpture competition in 1851, as the best response to a set theme from Milton’s Paradise Lost, when Satan brings news to the Fallen Angels in Hell that he has succeeded in tricking Adam and Eve to consume the apple from the Tree of Knowledge. To Satan’s surprise the angels started turning into snakes. Expecting ‘high applause to fill his ears’ he heard instead ‘A dismal universal hiss, the sound of public scorn’. The Morning Chronicle of 8 August 1853 noted that Armstead had made Satan ‘a creature of angelic beauty … we never saw Milton more marvellously perverted’. The figure of Armstead’s hostile, serpentine ‘public’, has been given the long tresses of a woman, and – according to the one critic, the face of an Aztec.
The Art Union sculpture competition was designed to harness the enthusiasm for sculpture generated by the Great Exhibition of 1851. Run as a lottery, the winning entry was guaranteed five casts at the value of £50 each. Armstead's small statuettes were designed for domestic, intimate settings and were popular with connoisseurs, such as James Tannock Mackelvie, who purchased this example. Satan Dismayed was cast by the Art Union in a small edition in 1852 and again ten years later.
- Satan dismayed
- Production date
- circa 1852
- 950 x 560 x 400 mm
- Credit line
- Mackelvie Trust Collection, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, bequest of James Tannock Mackelvie, 1885
- Accession no
- No known copyright restrictions
- International Art
- Display status
- Not on display
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