- The story so far
- I'm an arts journalist & PR consultant living and working in Scotland. I've been a journalist for more than 25 years. I write a regular column for Scottish quality newspaper, The Herald. I deliver a PR service with an arty bent and work on a consultancy basis with arts organisations, including Scotland's leading creative industries festival, XpoNorth & broadcast support body, ScreenHI. I am currently co-writing a book about the celebrated Scots artist, George Wyllie, with his daughter Louise. Instrumental in making a celebration of his life's work happen in 2012. For more information, see www.georgewyllie.com When I'm not being a mum/working, I talk to my dog. He laps it up. Contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org (All work © Jan Patience)
Monday, 1 February 2010
A Life As Art
I always love a good yarn and the tale behind the unveiling of 'Smugglerius' a plaster cast model drawn by generations of students at Edinburgh College of Art is a cracker.
Thanks to a superb piece of research by two academic sleuths, Joan Smith and Dr Jeanne Cannizzothe, the grisly real life story behind the man with the mock Latin moniker of Smugglerius, is revealed as of this week at the Talbot Rice gallery in Edinburgh.
I wrote about it The Herald's Arts, Books and Cinema section on Saturday past.
Here is the unedited version (a bit longer as I got carried away as usual...)
PROFILE: SMUGGLERIUS UNVEILED
Georgian Gallery, Talbot Rice Gallery
The University of Edinburgh, Old College, South Bridge, Edinburgh
0131 221 6000
Tuesday to Saturday, 10am-5pm
From Feb 2 - March 6
Unlike Sean Connery, Edinburgh College of Art’s most famous life drawing subjects, who modelled for students in the early 1950s, the name Smugglerius in not quite so well known.
Yet, for generations of art students studying anatomy, dating back to the days when the college was known as The Drawing Academy of Edinburgh, the plaster cast model of Smugglerius has been a familiar figure.
The story behind the man whose flayed body has been arranged in a famous classical pose known called The Dying Gaul is told in an exhibition which begins this week at The Talbot Rice Gallery in Edinburgh.
Edinburgh’s Smugglerius, which dates back to 1854, is a copy of an original écorché made in 1776 at the Royal Academy of Art in London. Ecorchés - plaster casts of a cadaver which had had fat and skin removed to reveal muscles and bones - were once routinely produced for the use of both trainee artists and medical students.
Smugglerius was a robber by the name of James Langar who preyed on Georgian gentlemen while they walked through Hyde Park.
Langar, who was convicted of the capital offence of being a ‘footpad’ (a highwayman without a horse), was hanged at Tyburn in London. Records show that when he was arrested in a dawn raid by the Bow Street Runners, items belonging to the men he had robbed were found in the house.
Among the fledgling artists who drew the original Smugglerius in London, was William Blake, a student at the Royal Academy for six years from 1779-1785
This exhibition has come about following a two-year project to conserve and restore Edinburgh College of Art’s 200-year-old cast collection. As part of this project, which received a £498,500 Heritage Lottery Fund grant, artist and lecturer Joan Smith joined forces with anthropologist Dr Jeanne Cannizzo.
After months of painstaking research, pouring over old trial records in Edinburgh and London, the pair came up with the real identity of the person behind the mock Latin moniker.
Langar, they discovered, owes his immortality of sorts to William Hunter, the pioneering Lanarkshire-born anatomist and founder of Glasgow’s Hunterian Museum, who saw his corpse just after it had been cut down from the gibbet.
In these days, any criminal hanged for a capital offence would go to the gallows knowing their remains would be handed over to medical science for dissection.
When Dr Hunter saw Langar, he was struck by his muscular physique, the result of an eight-year stretch in the army. Keen to preserve this prime specimen of manhood, he made plans to work with the sculptor Agostino Carlini to produce a cast of his body.
This original 1776 cast is now lost, although the Royal Academy has the partner of Edinburgh’s Smugglerius, made in 1834 by one William Pink.
According to Ms Smith, “He [Hunter] took the skin and the fat off so all the musculature was visible and then had a plaster cast made. It is a fantastic specimen. You can see all the muscle strands and the fibres and you can see the muscles working. It is a bit macabre, but it is fascinating.”
Seeking to expose and reverse the process by which a living man with a name became an anonymous specimen and eventually a replica cast, Smugglerius Unveiled explores timeless questions of identity, and immortality in art.
Ms Smith, who teaches anatomy drawing at ECA, says: “We hope visitors to the exhibition will be able to contemplate the complexities of the relationship between identity and anonymity, the changing nature of criminal punishment and the importance of anatomy in both science and art.”
Smugglerius Unveiled is showing alongside Drawing For Instruction: The Art of Explanation, Edinburgh’s Talbot Rice Gallery’s opening exhibition for 2010.
The Drawing for Instruction exhibition includes a significant archive of life drawing from ECA, the earliest example going back to 1880.