The Statue: A Wilton-Warburg 'Kriophoros'

Written by Ferdinand Saumarez Smith |
statue head in black and white
The Wilton-Warburg 'Kriophoros'

As part of the Warburg Renaissance, we are reviewing some of our most treasured items to determine which pieces urgently require restoration or reproduction.

In this blog, Ferdinand Saumarez Smith shares the fascinating history of the Wilton-Warburg Kriophoros, an emblematic Warburg statue with a story as surprising as that of the Institute itself. Read on to uncover the intriguing history of this archaic Greek-style sculpture, learn more about the detailed reproduction efforts by the Factum Foundation, and find out how you can contribute to the important preservation of the Wilton-Warburg Kriophoros.

For fifty years, visitors to the Warburg Institute on Woburn Square were greeted by a curious sculpture of a bearded man bearing a ram upon his shoulders. Carved in fine-grained Pentelic marble and standing ‘about six palms’ high, this was Hermes Kriophoros: the ram-bearer. Its unusual combination of Greek archaic styles – the abstract wings that sprout from its feet, the stiff zig-zagging drapery of the cloak, and the snail-curls of the hair – suggest that the statue is a later Hellenic or Roman imitation of an earlier work or style, and is likely dated to between the second half of the first century BC and the first half of the first century AD.[1]

The Wilton-Warburg 'Kriophoros' is likely a first-century Roman or Hellenic copy of an archaic Greek ram-bearer statue acquired by Lord Pembroke of Wilton House in the early 18th century. From 1957 to 2007, it graced the entrance hall of the Warburg Institute.

The sculpture is first listed in the collection assembled by Cardinal Mazarin in Paris in the 1640s and 1650s. In 1670, the husband of the Cardinal’s niece who inherited the collection took a hammer to the offending genitalia of the various pagan gods in a fit of religiously-inspired iconoclasm, probably the explanation of the castration of the Hermes Kriophoros. The Duke of Mazarin’s attack caused a scandal that led Louis XIV to place the sculptures under guard to prevent further damage. Fifty years later, the entire collection from the Palais Mazarin was put up for sale, and the majority was acquired by the Earl of Pembroke for display at Wilton House in Wiltshire. Pembroke was partial to somewhat fanciful attributions, which he was (unfortunately) confident enough of to carve directly into the original marble. 

The South Cloister at Wilton House, designed by James Wyatt in c. 1801. Photo: Guido Petruccioli; © Wilton House Trust
The South Cloister at Wilton House, designed by James Wyatt in c. 1801. Photo: Guido Petruccioli; © Wilton House Trust

It was through another fanciful attribution made by Pembroke’s friend, the antiquarian William Stukeley, that I first came across the Hermes Kriophoros statue. Alongside my work with Factum Foundation over the past ten years, I have also carried out research on the thoroughly Warburgian topic of the reception of the Eleusinian mysteries in the Enlightenment – thankfully, the Warburg Library has a dedicated shelf-mark not only to the Eleusinian, but the Bacchic mysteries too. In one of Stukeley’s MSS, titled On the Mysteries of the Ancients, the Hermes Kriophoros statue is used as evidence of his belief that the pagan mysteries of Eleusis contained traces of a prior revelation of Christianity given by God to Adam and the biblical patriarchs. For Stukeley, the Kriophoros depicted Abraham, as indicated by the pastoral theme of the ram.[2] Factum Foundation is beginning a research project generously supported by the Tavolozza Foundation to digitise the manuscripts of Stukeley held in the Bodleian Library, the Society of Antiquaries, and the Wellcome Library among others, which will involve integrating 3D models of antiquities that Stukeley wrote about into the data viewers. As part of this research, I finally realised that the statue also played an important part in the Warburg Institute’s history.     

Letter from Gertrud Bing, Warburg Institute Director, to Lord Herbert of Wilton House thanking him for the loan of the statue and describing its place in the newly-built Institute entrance. Warburg Institute Archive, GC, Gertrud Bing to Lord Herbert 31/07/1958. © Warburg Institute

In 1955, in the course of a photographic survey of the sculpture collection at Wilton House, it was viewed by then director of the Warburg, Gertrud Bing, who subsequently requested its loan for the opening of the Warburg’s new premises on Woburn Square in 1957. In 2007, before my familiarity with the Library, it returned to Wilton House to the newly renovated sculpture gallery. To coincide with the Warburg Renaissance, the £14.5 million renovation of the Woburn Square building, it seemed an appropriate homage to an institution that has inspired my personal research as well as Factum Foundation’s to try and return a facsimile of Hermes Kriophoros to it. With your support, we hope to install the facsimile in the new entrance hall to watch over the next era of the Warburg Institute’s history.   

The Team: Factum Foundation 

Factum Foundation for Digital Technology in Preservation is a not-for-profit organisation founded in 2009 by Adam Lowe, based in Madrid and London. The Foundation works alongside its sister company Factum Arte, a multi-disciplinary workshop in Madrid dedicated to digital mediation in contemporary art and the production of facsimiles. Factum Foundation was established with the aim of using Factum Arte's innovative processes and technologies for preservation, education, and the dissemination of cultural heritage. Factum works around the world to demonstrate the importance of documenting, monitoring, studying, recreating and disseminating the world’s cultural heritage through the rigorous development of high-resolution recording and rematerialisation techniques.

Factum’s goal is to demonstrate what can happen when technology is developed and applied by creative thinkers and where the line between the digital and the physical no longer exists.

The Process 

Celeste Anstruther documenting the 'Kriophoros' at Wilton House to put together a 3D model for the facsimile

For over twenty years, Factum has been refining the process to accurately record and replicate works of art. In the case of the Hermes Kriophoros, the statue was 3D-scanned at Wilton House in November 2023 using photogrammetry, a technique by which three-dimensional data can be extracted through the comparison of photographs using feature-recognition technology. Using millions of trigonometric calculations, the software plots points in space, creating a point cloud. The 3D scan can be viewed here. Then, a mesh surface is created by drawing millions of triangles between these points. The digital surface can subsequently be turned into a physical one through 3D printing – in this case using stereolithography, which involves a laser solidifying a tank of liquid resin.

The 'Kriophoros' facsimile taking shape in Factum’s studios

Digital technologies are often perceived in opposition to more traditional craft skills, but in Factum’s studios in Madrid the two are combined. The 3D-printed sculpture will be silicon moulded and then cast in a resin mixed with marble dust to emulate the surface. Finally, the sculpture will be hand-finished and coloured to give the facsimile the patina of the original. The re-contextualisation of the Hermes Kriophoros ties the project in with Factum’s many other attempts to return works of art to locations that have been important in their history: Veronese’s The Wedding at Cana from the Louvre to San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice, the British Museum’s Assyrian lamassu to Mosul, and ancestral basalt monoliths from the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York to Nigeria. With the advance of digital technologies to record and replicate artworks, they can be shared and experienced in new – and old – ways.

Ferdinand Saumarez Smith, PhD, is the director of Factum Foundation London. His book Eleusis and Enlightenment: The Problem of the Mysteries in Eighteenth-Century Thought is being published in Brill’s Studies in Intellectual History series on May 30th.

About the appeal 

You can support the production of the Wilton-Warburg Kriophoros statue and help the Institute’s age-old sentinel return to its new-and-improved halls.  

> Find out how you can support the reproduction 

Thank you in advance to all those who feel able to make a gift in support of the Wilton-Warburg Kriophoros.

References

[1] Peter Stewart, A Catalogue of the Sculpture Collection at Wilton House (Oxford: Archaeopress, 2020), 48-50. 

[2] William Stukeley, “Palaeographia Sacra or Discourses on Monuments of Antiquity that relate to Sacred History. Number II. A Dissertation on the Mysterys of the Antients, being an explanation of the Table of Isis, or Bembine Table” [1744], MS 4725, fol. 37v, Wellcome Library, London. Ferdinand Saumarez Smith, “Pagans or Patriarchs? William Stukeley’s “on the Mysterys of the Antients”, the Bembine Tablet, and the religious culture of early English freemasonry,” Aegyptiaca. Journal of the History of Reception of Ancient Egypt (6): 3-43.