Saint Michael and the Devil, Maquette, 1956
Jacob Epstein, KBE (1880-1959)
Jacob Epstein was one of the foremost sculptors of the 20th century, inspired by the non-western art of the British museum and an inspiration to younger sculptors Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth.
This maquette was sculpted in terracotta and cast in bronze for the approval of the Coventry Cathedral Reconstruction Committee before Epstein began work on the major work for the south wall of the St Michael’s Cathedral in 1958. This was his last religious work before his death in 1959.
Both the maquette and the final sculpture depict the scene from Revelation in which St Michael triumphs over the devil. After the founding of Mont St Michel following an apparition of St Michael in the 8th century, depictions of St Michael as victor over the devil and as the angel who weighs souls in the balance at the final judgement became a theme of early medieval piety; many Romanesque churches dedicated to St Michael that are located in high places still survive.
In Epstein’s work the devil is unusual, almost reclining with his elbows supporting his back as he looks up. This position is taken from the well-known Romanesque depiction of Eve at Autun in Burgundy. The head of the devil is coarse and has the features of a medieval demon. By contrast St Michael’s features are smooth, modelled on his son-in-law and Cambridge economist, Wynne Godley.
The maquette and the final work differ in a number of respects. The key difference concerns the amount of contact between the devil and St Michael. Whilst in the final work St Michael’s foot hovers above the devil’s head, in the maquette the connection between the two is more visceral and entangled.