Sculpture Journal

The Smugglerius, re-viewed

Sculpture Journal (2019), 28, (3), 331–344.

Abstract

This article offers a new reading of an object known as the Smugglerius (1776). Produced by the physician William Hunter and sculptor Agostino Carlini for London’s Royal Academy of Arts, the Smugglerius is a plaster cast moulded from the body of an executed man, whose corpse was first posed after a celebrated ancient sculpture, the Dying Gaul (1st–2nd c. CE), and then flayed to reveal the muscles beneath. Past analyses of the cast have focused primarily on its functional role as a tool of anatomical instruction, situating it in relation both to the Royal Academy’s pedagogical agenda and to Hunter’s decades-long practice as a teacher of anatomy to artists in eighteenth-century London. By contrast, I argue that the Smugglerius must also be understood as an aesthetic, material and affective object in its own right. Drawing on a range of contemporaneous visual and textual sources, I demonstrate that the cast elicited a variety of responses from Georgian viewers, from affection and irony to anger and contempt. These, in turn, were bound up with tensions and contradictions inherent in the Smugglerius itself, which draws together two discrete yet linked bodies: on the one hand, that of a modern, hanged criminal; and, on the other, that of an ideal classical figure, which, in the eighteenth century, was believed to represent not a Gaul but an ancient Roman gladiator.

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Author details

Gamer, Meredith