One of the most popular and affecting works of art in the Scottish National Gallery is Lorenzo Bartolini’s life-size sculpture in beautiful white marble, The Campbell Sisters Dancing a Waltz (1821-22).
This stunning sculpture is a rarity in several ways. It’s one of a few full-length pieces the Italian sculptor made, and it’s the only example of a major commission for a figure group that Bartolini received from a British patron.
Depicted are Emma and Julia Campbell, the daughters of novelist Lady Charlotte Campbell and granddaughters of the 5th Duke of Argyll. The finished marble was transported from Livorno — on the north-west coast of Italy, near Florence — to Scotland, and was installed in the dining room of the 6th Duke’s home, Inveraray Castle.
But this artwork is also rare in another way… The tree-trunk shaped base of the sculpture includes the following inscription:
‘Bartolini / Fece / E Dedicò / Flaxman’
Which, translated, is:
‘Bartolini / made [it] / And Dedicated [it to] / Flaxman’
This is Bartolini’s dedication to the British sculptor John Flaxman (1755-1826). Flaxman's drawings and engravings, and most notably his illustrations to The Iliad and The Odyssey by Homer, were greatly admired by Bartolini.
Now widely recognised as one of Italy’s greatest ever sculptors, you may be more familiar with Lorenzo Bartolini than with John Flaxman.
However, it's only a short walk from the Scottish National Gallery to the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, where one of John Flaxman's best-known works, the iconic sculpture of Robert Burns is installed in the Great Hall.
Flaxman’s sculpture of Burns was commissioned in 1824. Sadly, he died before being able to complete it, so it was finished by his brother-in-law Thomas Denman. Just like Bartolini’s sculpture, it features a tree-trunk base. Perhaps this is no coincidence?