Contributed by Dr. Paddy O’Toole
When visitors enter the Willunga Slate Museum, they are often bemused by the slate relief entitled Ino and Bacchus. The common reaction is “Surely that isn’t slate”. But Ino and Bacchus is indeed carved from slate, and as we trace the delicate lines of the work, we have to wonder at the skill and inspiration that enabled the creation of this beautiful piece from such a demanding material.
In Roman mythology, Bacchus was the child of the god Jupiter and the mortal Semele. Semele was tricked by Juno, Jupiter’s jealous wife, into demanding to see Jupiter in his real form. No mortal could withstand the sight of Jupiter in his godly splendour and Semele perished, as mortals who had congress with the gods tended to do. Ino, Semele’s sister, raised Bacchus as her own after Semele’s untimely death.
This slate relief, Ino and Bacchus, was carved by John Richards Junior, a bootmaker from Willunga, probably around 1874-6. Richards, known to friends and family as “Johnnie”, died in 1886 at the age of 32. During his life he carved a number of gravestones, mantel pieces and decorative art works from Willunga slate.
Richards exhibited Ino and Bacchus as well as other carvings in the 1876 Willunga Show. The correspondent from the SA Chronicle and Weekly Mail noted “… that he possesses genius for the art of sculpture, no one who saw the work exhibited at this show would for a moment doubt. “
For Richards the subject matter, in one way, is not surprising. Richards has demonstrated a love of classical and romantic themes in his surviving work. But there are questions that this particular work raises. Where did Richards learn about Roman mythology? What inspired him to undertake such a subject? What would the piece look like if the arm had not broken off?
This image below of a sculpture created in London in the 1840s answers some of those questions.
From the Rijksmuseum :http://hdl.handle.net/10934/RM0001.COLLECT.276584
Ino and Bacchus (above) was sculpted by John Henry Foley, one of the most recognised Irish sculptors of the nineteenth century, who trained and exhibited in the Royal Academy. J.H. Foley, in contrast to many of his contemporaries, came to admire the antique without subjugating the nature and character of the figure to neoclassical conventions. Ino and Bacchus, one of his earlier works, was a classical figure that celebrated the “beauty of the female and infant form” (Teniswood, 1875, p. 25), while other, later works, such as his Lord Clyde were created with more attention to the individual character of the subject.
A vexed question is, of course, where and how would John Richards Junior, a young man from a rural town in colonial South Australia, have seen Ino and Bacchus? It is possible that he had made the long voyage back to Britain, but not likely. John Richards Junior came from a well respected family in Willunga, and his departure would have been reported in the newspapers of the time. No such report has been discovered.
It is probable that John Richards Junior saw an image of the statue either in a book or as a decorative print. A stereoscopic photograph has been available from approximately 1860, and survives in the Victoria and Albert Museum photographic collection. Also, a photograph of the statue taken by Claude-Marie Ferrier was exhibited in the 1852 Society of Arts Photographic Exhibition in London. Foley’s statue, Ino and Bacchus, has been a popular subject for photographers since its creation, and you may purchase a print of the statue online today.
• Come to the Willunga Slate Museum and see John Richard Junior’s interpretation of Ino and Bacchus. Open in winter on Saturday and Sunday from 1 – 4pm, (11am to 4pm on 2nd Saturday of the month).
• Find out more about John Richards Junior at Willunga Now and Then.
Anon. “The Willunga Agricultural Show.” South Australian Chronicle and Weekly Mail 18 March 1876 1876, 17.
Rijks Museum. “Ino and Bacchus. (Plaster) Foley., Toegeschreven Aan C.M. Ferrier & F. Von Martens, 1851.” Rijks Museum, http://hdl.handle.net/10934/RM0001.COLLECT.276584.
Taylor, Roger. “Photographic Exhibitions in London 1835 – 1869: Records from Victorian Exhibition Catalogues.” National Gallery of Canada, http://peib.dmu.ac.uk/detailexhibition.php?exbtnid=1009&inum=46&listLength=784&orderBy=exhibid.
Teniswood, G.F. . “Memorial Sketch of the Late J.H. Foley, R.A.”. The Art Journal 1 (1875): 25-26.
Turpin, John T. “The Career and Achievement of John Henry Foley, Sculptor, (1818 – 1874).” Dublin Historical Record 32, no. 2 (1979): 42-53.
Victoria and Albert Museum. “Ino and Bacchus.” Victoria and Albert Museum, http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O201496/ino-and-bacchus-photograph-foley/.