Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Victorian Venus: Hypatia by Richard Belt

We have looked at the story of Hypatia before but here is another interpretation by the sculptor Richard Claude Belt (1854-1920).  We came across and photographed this fine piece at the Draper's Hall in London where Triple P was attending a dinner.  The Draper's Hall, which is one of the most splendid livery halls in the City, also houses Sir Herbert Draper's splendid paintings The Gates of Dawn and, on the ceiling, Prospero summoning Nymphs and Deities.

You can just make out the sculpture in the far corner of the hall.  Agent Triple P is visible in this picture!

Belt was the son of a Westminster blacksmith who became a successful and fashionable (he moved in the Oscar Wilde set), if not universally appreciated, sculptor. Charles Lawes, another sculptor, accused him of being a fraud who got others to do his sculpting.  By this time Belt had produced sculptures of the Royal family, Charles Kingsley, Lord Byron (the profitable commission for which was said to have been down to his influential friends) and other eminent figures.  In 1881 he sued Lawes for libel, in the last case ever heard at the Westminster Hall.  The case dragged on for 43 days and Belt called 82 witnesses to testify that he had, indeed, sculpted his own material.  During the trial he actually sculpted a bust of the judge, Baron Huddlestone, in court to demonstrate his skills.  He was awarded £5,000 in damages against Lawes. Lawes, however went bankrupt as a result and it seems that Belt never received the money, driving him into financial difficulties.

Richard Belt

Things didn't go so well for Belt in 1886 when he was in the dock for the fraudulent sale of jewellery to Sir William Abdy.  By now also practising as a photographer, he had introduced an Austrian lady, several years before, to his friend Sir William Abdy.  Sir William married the lady but only susbsequently discovered, as Belt well knew, that she was addicted to diamonds.  Belt bought diamonds cheaply and then sold them to Sir William to feed his wife's habit at four times their market value. He went to prison for 12 months with hard labour.

Belt's Hypatia was purchased by the Drapers Company in 1890.  There is nothing that particularly marks her out as Hypatia but she is as good a reason as any to turn out a splendid Victorian nude.

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