Sculpture Journal

A history of violence: Joseph Nollekens’ first design for the monument to Three Captains, 1782–93

Sculpture Journal (2019), 28, (1), 103–121.


This article explores the intricate design process of Joseph Nollekens’ monument to Three Captains in Westminster Abbey (1782–93) to highlight a sculpture that has long been sidelined as an irritating oddity within Nollekens’ wider practice as a successful sculptor of portrait busts in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It charts the monument’s lengthy commission through several versions on paper to suggest how Nollekens’ own vision for the monument was subject to dramatic change between its commission in 1782 and its final unveiling in 1793. Contemporaneous newspaper reports of the three captains’ grisly deaths at the infamous battle of the Saintes are used to contextualize Nollekens’ preliminary design, which capitalized on revenge narratives by translating the brutal, bodily violence inflicted on the captains into a dramatic sculpted narrative filled with theatrical allegorical figures. The changes Nollekens made to the completed monument evidence a marked shift from this first nightmarish vision to a more sedate composition. This article repositions the monument to Three Captains as a significant memorial, which encapsulates sculpted allegory’s troubled reputation in the eighteenth century, and the general public’s curious fixation with graphic reports of military violence.

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Author details

Senior, Rebecca