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'Salammbo', 1899, by Maurice Ferrary (1852 - 1904)


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About the artwork

Ferrary's 'Salammbo' is a complex multicoloured composition with Salammbo's figure in white marble while the serpent and the Carthaginian deity are bronze. The column on which 'Salammbo' and the deity rest is of red granite.

Ferrary's work was inspired by the French novelist Flaubert's 1862 work of the same name, which describes the wars between the Carthaginians and the barbarians in the 3rd century BC. 'Salammbo' the daughter of the Carthaginian leader is shown entwined by a serpent, which provides her with sacred protection. Thus protected 'Salammbo' went out to the barbarian camp to retrieve the famous veil, the loss of which had caused defeat for the Carthaginians.

This subject was widely condemned as indecent, but was popular with late 19th century French sculptures who were preoccupied with sensual and erotic themes.

From this and other examples, there is no doubt that Ferrary was particularly skilled in sculpting the human body on a life-size scale. Although 'Salammbo' is one of the few heroic women prepared to sacrifice her life for her people, her representation by Ferrary neither escapes over-sensualisation nor voyeuristic overtones. In the sculpture, the feminine body becomes an object of desire rather than an image of heroic sacrifice. A similar attitude to the female body is revealed in another work by Ferrary at the Lady Lever Art Gallery, 'Leda and the Swan' (on display at the main hall).

Lord Lever, who was well travelled, may have first seen 'Salammbo' at the Paris Universal Exhibition. As a successful businessman and a man with a vision of the educational importance of the arts, it is no surprise that he was particularly interested in the Paris Universal Exhibition. He would travel to the exhibition himself as well as organise trips for his employees.

It is most likely that Lord Lever bought Ferrary's works, 'Salammbo' and 'Leda and the Swan', from the Paris Universal Exhibition of 1900 at which Ferrary was awarded a gold medal.

Maurice Ferrary was born in the French Alps. From 1871 he studied at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris under Cavelier (1814-1894), a successful French sculptor involved in the sculptural decoration of many public buildings, such as the Palais Longchamp in Marseille. Ferrary first exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1875 with a sculpture of Narcissus. In 1882 he won the Grand Prix de Rome, a key stage in the career development of almost every successful academic artist, with a statue of Saint Sebastian (Ecole des Beaux Arts). At the Salon des Artistes Français, Ferrary won a third class medal in 1886 and a silver medal in 1889. He was awarded the Légion d'Honneur in 1891. Ferrary's work can be found at the Amiens Museum and in Tours.

Some of his principal works are: 'Charmeuse' (1878), 'Group of 3 Caryatids' (1881, façade of the Crédit Lyonnais building in Paris), 'Mercury and Love' (plaster, 1885, Tours Museum), 'Beheading of St. Jean the Baptist' (1889), 'Phébé (purchased by the French state), 'The River Seine and its tributaries' at the Petit Palais, Statue of the wife of Staël (stone, 1882, Hôtel de Ville), Busts of Léon Cogniet (plaster, Amiens Museum). Apart from his early large-scale public sculptures from 1896 onwards Ferrary produced smaller private polychrome statuettes usually female nudes as well as group compositions. The French firm, Falize, regularly carried out his goldsmith work.

The Sculpture

The polychromic effect of Ferrary's 'Salammbo' enhances the contrast between the beautiful white marble of the figure, the daunting deity and serpent. The combination of different materials was innovative at the time, but despite Ferarry's gold medal at the Paris Universal Exhibition of 1900, a critic condemned Ferrary's it as being decorative. The mixing of different materials was also one of the features of British New Sculpture, which flourished between the 1880s and 1910 and was advocated by sculptors such as Edward Onslow Ford, William Goscombe John. Their work can also be found at the Lady Lever Art Gallery.

In Flaubert's work, Salammbo was the sister or half sister of Hannibal, a virgin and a devotee of the cult of the goddess Tanith (the eternal Venus or the embodiment of the female spirit). As a result Salammbo's life was one of reverie, innocence and mysticism. She adored the voluptuous and fecund goddess only in her most ethereal and pure form, that of the moon. Salammbo will effectively save her country and her people: guided by her beloved goddess Tanith, if she entered the barbarians camp and recovers the sacred veil which protected Carthage and kept her powerful.

Ferrary transcribed into sculpture the moment Salammbo prepares to enter the barbarians' camp in an act of bravery and mystical passion. A tune is played to lead the serpent of Tanith's temple. Ferrary's transcription of the scene is literal, "the python turned downwards and resting the centre of its body upon the nape of her neck, allowed its head and tail to hang like a broken necklace with both ends trailing to the ground. Salammbo rolled it around her sides, under her arms and between her knees; then taking it by the jaw she brought the little triangular mouth to the edge of her teeth and half shutting her eyes threw herself back beneath the rays of the moon". Salammbo's expression is one of ecstasy and mysticism; her beautiful naked body is offered to her beloved deity, to her people, the barbarian Matho, who stole the veil as well as the spectators.

In the fine arts tradition women are often represented as either sensualised, beautiful or evil, because of their gender and as descendants of the sinful Eve who led man astray. 'Salammbo' is however one of the few heroic women prepared to sacrifice her life for her people.