National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION
image of The Corinthian Maid Joseph Wright (artist)
British, 1734 - 1797
The Corinthian Maid, 1782-1784
oil on canvas
overall: 106.3 x 130.8 cm (41 7/8 x 51 1/2 in.) framed: 135.9 x 158.8 x 8.2 cm (53 1/2 x 62 1/2 x 3 1/4 in.)
Paul Mellon Collection
On View
From the Tour: British and American History Paintings of the 1700s
Object 7 of 8

Josiah Wedgwood, the pioneer of pottery manufacturing, commissioned this mythological scene that illustrates the invention of the art of modeling bas-relief sculpture. Wedgwood’s own fired-clay vessels, decorated with low reliefs, would have been seen by an eighteenth-century audience as the aesthetic descendants of this ancient Greek maiden’s attempt to preserve her beloved’s profile.

The girl was the daughter of a potter in Corinth. Her boyfriend was about to embark on a perilous journey to foreign lands, taking only his spear and dog. As a memento, she traced her sleeping lover’s silhouette onto the wall. Her father then used the drawing to model a clay relief, which he baked in his kiln to create a ceramic keepsake.

Joseph Wright, a master of artificial illumination, concealed a hanging lamp behind the curtain, suggesting the source of the beams that cast the youth’s shadow. In contrast to the lamp’s gentle glow, intense sparks and embers leap inside the potter’s fiery furnace.

Wright researched his topic for archeological accuracy. Wedgwood loaned antique vases from his own art collection so that Wright could copy their shapes, and the clothing derives from ancient sculpture. Classical symmetry pervades the design; the curtain and archway flank the focal action of the maiden’s stylus tracing the youth’s profile.

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