Sunday 27 December 2020


The Whitby Gladiator (photo by John Sewell)

The Borghese Gladiator is a Hellenistic sculpture which is currently on display in the Louvre, Paris. It was created in Ephesus about 100BC and is signed on the pedestal by Agasias, son of Dositheus. It was found in the ruins of Nero’s seaside palace in the area now known as Anzio, south of Rome, sometime before 1611 during excavations instigated by Cardinal Scipione Borghese .

Misnamed a gladiator (it is considered to actually be a swordsman engaging with a mounted opponent) it was widely copied by sculptors in the eighteenth century. It also appears in many works of pictorial art, such as Joseph Wright of Derby’s Three Persons Viewing the Gladiator by Candlelight (1765).

Three Persons Viewing the Gladiator by Candlelight (1765)

Evidence from maps and documents suggests that a sculpture of the Borghese Gladiator stood on a stone plinth in the centre of the cobbled courtyard at the front of the north range of Whitby Abbey House. The house is currently a visitor centre for the abbey.

Whitby Abbey was the property of the Cholmley family from 1539 to 1857 and they resided in the abbot’s lodgings, south west of the abbey church. The north range of the house was built between 1671 and 1674 by the fourth baronet Sir Hugh Cholmley (1632 – 89).

When Leeds antiquarian Ralph Thoresby visited in 1682 he described the hall as being built ‘of freestone, with large courts and walks with iron grates, and a curious statue in solid brass as large as life in the midst of the square.’

In His 1779 History of Whitby Lionel Charlton says of Sir Hugh ‘He built up all the N. side of the Mansion-house at Whitby, in the complete manner wherein it still remains with the statue of a gladiator on the N. side thereof.’

 Hubert Le Sueur's Gladiator, Windsor 

When the area was excavated between 1998 and 2002 the remains of an almost complete cobbled yard were uncovered in front of the north range. At the centre of the yard was a masonry feature suggesting a plinth. Also set in the east wall midway along its length is a pedestal of local stone, the setting of which, in relation to the surrounding stonework of the wall itself, suggests that this was not its intended location.

The statue that now stands at the centre of the courtyard was made by Rupert Harris Conservation Ltd. and commissioned by English Heritage. It was cast from the 17th century copy by Hubert Le Sueur (1580 – 1658), which is on display at Windsor. A stone pedestal was also created by York masons based on the one set in the east wall of the courtyard. The Whitby Gladiator was unveiled in 2009.

Recreation - Rupert Harris Conservation Ltd.

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