Gibson’s reputation was founded on neoclassical sculptures like Narcissus, but he was also popular among his British clientele for his sensitively composed memorial monuments, including this imposing example. Produced in memory of the 1st Countess of Leicester who died in childbirth, this relief was described by the critic Anna Jameson as being ‘of consummate beauty’.
Plasters like this one played an important role in Gibson’s development of compositions from first idea to finished three-dimensional sculpture. After drawings and three-dimensional sketches known as bozzetti had been made in wax and clay, small-scale models were produced and cast in plaster. Gibson’s assistants then made large-scale versions in clay, over a skeleton base of wood and wire, which were then cast in plaster before the artist set to work on a marble. Plaster casts also served as a three-dimensional record of the artist’s designs to be displayed in the studio. Many workers and assistants were needed for this process and the studio of Thorvaldsen counted more than two hundred.