Orpheus and Eurydice
Inscribed No 5
Bronze with brown and dark green patination
Height: 13 1/2'' (34 cm)
Conceived and cast circa 1906
The majority of Ricketts’ sculptural models derive their subject matter from classical mythology, literature or biblical stories. In this particular model, the artist depicts the final moments of the tragic story of Orpheus and Eurydice, which was famously narrated by the Roman poet Ovid in the 1st Century AD.
According to the legend, the musician Orpheus and the nymph Eurydice were a blissful couple who were tragically separated after Eurydice was bitten by a deadly snake. Refusing to accept her death, Orpheus travelled to the Underworld to rescue his wife. A skilled lyre player, Orpheus managed to get past the three headed dog Cerberus and convinced Hades to let her go back to the land of the living with him. There was however one condition, Eurydice was ordered to walk behind Orpheus, who was not allowed to turn and look at his wife, until the couple had left the Underworld.
As they drew near the threshold of the upper world, however, ‘afraid she was no longer there, and eager to see her, Orpheus turned back to look at her. In an instant she dropped back, and he, unhappy man, stretching out his arms to hold her and be held, clutched at nothing but the receding air’ (Ovid, Metamorphoses, Book X).
In this sculpture, Ricketts captures the passionate moment as the couple embrace before Eurydice is forced to return to the world of the dead. The sculpture’s modelling is somewhat reminiscent of Rodin’s work at the turn of the century, especially in the definition of Orpheus’ features and the use of empty space within the composition. As Orpheus arches back to clutch and kiss the departing Eurydice, a gap is created between the two, defining the rhythm of the work and referencing the sense of loss central to Ovid’s narration. In doing so, the artist also forces the viewer to engage with the sculpture in the round, rather than with a frontal view.
The original, patinated plaster for the sculpture was exhibited at least once during Ricketts’ lifetime at the Manchester City Art Gallery, in 1909. A bronze version of the model is currently part of the TATE Britain collection (London).