Lowell Libson & Jonny Yarker Ltd

  • Pen and ink and watercolour over black chalk
  • 12 × 7 3/16 inches · 304 × 183 mm
  • Inscribed, ‘Piety’
    Signed and inscribed, ‘No 8 J. Nollekens’
    and annotated with scale
    Drawn c.1771
  • £7,500


  • J.S. Maas & Co. Ltd.;
  • W A Brandt (1902-1978) acquired from the above on 23rd May 1963 [£26]; 
  • By descent to 2024


  • Ickworth, British Neo-Classical Art, 18th May to 20th July 1969, cat. no. 104.

This drawing is a rare preparatory design by Joseph Nollekens for a surviving monument. Executed shortly after his return from Rome in 1770, the beautifully worked drawings shows the seated figure of piety seated next to an urn, the relief to be set against a darker marble background and framed within a classical architectural surround. The completed monument was faithful to this design, commemorating the death of Elizabeth Elwes, the first wife of Cary Elwes, it was erected in Holy Trinity, Throcking in Hertfordshire.

Joseph Nollekens had been born into the heart of artistic London, his father was a Flemish painter and the family lived on Dean Street, Soho. Young Nollekens trained with the Antwerp-born sculptor Peter Scheemakers who worked in Vine Street, Piccadilly. Nollekens won several Premiums from the Society of Arts, enabling him to travel to Italy. In Rome Nollekens worked with the great sculptor-restorer Bartolomeo Cavaceppi producing copies of antiquities for the Grand Tour market. Nollekens made contact with an important group of artists and architects including James ‘Athenian’ Stuart, whose Antiquities of Athens introduced a new language of archeologically accurate ornament to European neo-classicism.

Nollekens’s success in Italy – he was there at a propitious moment, following the conclusion of the Seven Years’ War, when a flood of wealthy British patrons journeyed to Rome – meant he arrived in London with a considerable reputation. He took a large house in Mortimer Street, Marylebone and began to fulfil a stream of commissions for both portrait busts and funerary monuments. This design for the wall tablet to Elizabeth Elwes was amongst the first. The quiet severity of the framing architecture points to the influence of Stuart, the fluted ionic columns, frieze containing Vitruvian scroll decoration, surmounted by two Acroteria are all features of his architecture. The figure itself is adapted from the so-called Weeping Dacia relief in the Capitoline Museum, showing a beautiful maiden, sometimes identified as Germania, contemplating an urn. The carefully delineated and measured design, drawn on fine laid paper, has been folded and may have been designed to be sent to the patron Cary Elwes for approval. It is notable that the drawing omits any lettering in the tablet beneath the relief and leaves the escutcheon clear for the painted arms. In common with other designs for funerary sculpture at this date, the drawing gives two options to the patron for the supporting brackets of the tablet; on the left a classical fluted support with dentils and on the right a more Baroque scroll, it was the latter that was eventually chosen in the completed monument.

Joseph Nollekens
Monument to Hester Elwes
Holy Trinity, Throcking in Hertfordshire