Sigurd with Ring
Signed Gilbert Bayes 1909
Entitled on the bronze base: 'He Who Would Win To The Heavens & Be As The Gods On High Must Tremble Nought At The Road & The Place Where Men Folk Die.'
Bronze with rich brown and green patina inlaid with enamel on a carved marble base
Height: 35 1/6" (89.3 cm)
Conceived and cast 1909
There are five known examples of this model, two of which are in the Gilbert Bayes Trust and Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, respectively. A further two casts of the model incorporating a sword, rather than a ring, are part of the TATE Britain (London) and Ashmolean Museum (Oxford) collections.
The present work is one of the sculptor’s most dramatic and arresting pieces, both for its subject matter and for Bayes’ virtuoso use of bronze casting, enamel and marble carving. It was first exhibited by the artist at the Royal Academy in 1909, receiving great public appreciation.
The piece is based on William Morris’ epic poem The Story of Sigurd the Volsung, which was published for the first time in 1876. The novel was a great success among the English public and functioned as a fundamental source of inspiration for another great writer of the 20th century – J.R.R. Tolkien.
In the novel, Odin’s servant, the Valkyrie Brunhild, is condemned to sleep for eternity as a punishment for her disobedience to the god, trapped in a ring of flames. Sigurd, returning from slaying the dragon Fafnir, heroically manages to rescue her by riding his horse, Grane, through the fire. The pair fall madly in love and Sigurd gives Brunhild a ring from Fafnir’s booty as a token of devotion, then departing on a journey.
Reaching the kingdom of the Niblungs, Sigurd is given a potion by the witch Grimhild, which makes him fall in love with her daughter, Gudrun, and the couple marries. Distraught by the event, Brunhild reveals Sigurd’s weak point to her suitor, Gudrun’s brother Gunnar, who kills Sigurd. On his dying bed, the potion wears off, and the hero declares his undying love for Brunhild. Stricken by grief, the Valkyrie jumps on Sigurd’s funeral pyre so that she may join him again in the afterlife.
In Bayes’ depiction, the ring Sigurd holds in his hand and the helmet he is wearing are both part of Fafnir’s booty. The tree that appears on one side of the enamelled saddle is the heraldic symbol of Sigurd’s house, while the horse depiction of the horse, Grane, appears on the other side, among trumpets of glory.
The carved marble relief develops Sigurd’s story further. On one side, Brunhild guides her horse as she is followed by the three sons of the Niblung’s house, including Gunnar, who will eventually kill Sigurd. Immediately behind them, the witch Grimhild carries a cup filled with the magic love potion. On the other side, the relief shows the body of Sigurd taken to burial amid the grief of the whole people.
Inscribed around the base in Lombardic characters are two lines from Morris’ book, inviting men not to fear death if they wish to be like the gods.