Or are you looking for Search the Archives?

Please complete the form to email this item.

Statue group - Thetis dipping Achilles in the River Styx
  • Thetis dipping Achilles in the River Styx
    Banks, Thomas RA
  • Enlarge image

Thetis dipping Achilles in the River Styx

  • Object:

    Statue group

  • Place of origin:

    England (made)

  • Date:

    1789 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Banks, Thomas RA (maker)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    White Sicilian marble on wooden plinth

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Sculpture, Room 22, The Dorothy and Michael Hintze Galleries

In Greek mythology Achilles was the son of Thetis, a sea-nymph. Here Thetis is shown dipping the newly-born Achilles into the river Styx, in the hope that the river's magical properties would protect him. Achilles became a legendary hero, but was killed by an arrow to his heel, the one part of his body left vulnerable.

This group was commissioned by Colonel Thomas Johnes and was originally displayed in his magnificent conservatory, at Hafod, Cardiganshire. Marine symbols are depicted around the base. The heads of the figures are portraits of Johnes's second wife Jane, and their infant daughter Mariamne. The plinth on which the sculpture sits is almost certainly original; interestingly it incorporates a cupboard. At a later date the original mahogany surface was given a painted marbled finish; one panel of this has been retained as a record of this later finish.

Thomas Banks (1735-1805) was apprenticed to a London mason, but also spent time working alongside the sculptor Peter Scheemakers (1691-1781). He enrolled in the life classes held at the St Martin's Lane Academy, and later at the Royal Academy Schools. In 1772 he became the first sculptor to win the Royal Academy's three-year travelling stipend, and went with his wife to Rome, where he eventually spent seven years. He specialised in ideal works, most of which were executed in Rome for British patrons, and he continued to produce similar work after his return to London. He was made a Royal Academician in 1786. Banks was one of the most original British neo-classical sculptors, infusing his work with the antique spirit rather than to a superficial classical style. He tried to establish a market for modern gallery sculpture, made specifically for individual patrons, as seen in the present sculpture.

Physical description

Statue group of Thetis kneeling over Achilles whom she holds upside down by one leg. It has natural markings of black spots on the left shoulder and side of Thetis.

Place of Origin

England (made)


1789 (made)


Banks, Thomas RA (maker)

Materials and Techniques

White Sicilian marble on wooden plinth


Weight: 340 kg, Height: 84 cm Excluding base, Width: 100 cm Excluding base, Depth: 56 cm Excluding base, Height: 85 cm Wooden base, Depth: 75 cm Wooden base, Width: 115 cm Wooden base

Object history note

This object was commissioned by Colonel Thomas Johnes of Hafod. The heads on the sculpture are those of his wife and infant daughter. It was bought with Hafod House by the Duke of Westminster in 1833 and then by Mr Charles Bell; descendant of the artist; and presented to the V&A.

The group, which survived a fire that destroyed much of Hafod on 13 March 1807, remained at Hafod and formed part of Johnes's estate, which was acquired by the 4th Duke of Newcastle in 1833. It had been removed to Clumber House, home of the Duke of Newcastle by 1845, and was included in the Clumber House sale, held on 19th October 1937, lot 337, held by Messrs Christie, Manson and Woods, London. Purchased at the sale for £80 by Cecil Keitch and Kerin, 4 Bruton Place, London, who acted as agents for the Museum in bidding for the piece. Charles Bell - a descendent of the sculptor - who originally offered to pay up to £50 to secure the figure for the Museum, in the event paid the full amount of £80 in order to present it to the Museum. The original octagonal wood pedestal was almost certainly acquired with the marble. Mrs Forster had written to Allan Cunningham in 1830 describing it as 'placed over a magnificent vase in the conservatory'; this suggests that the wood pedestal was made slightly later.

Descriptive line

Statue group, marble, of Thetis dipping Achilles in the River Styx, by Thomas Banks, English, 1789

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Whinney, Margaret. Sculpture in Britain 1530 to 1830. Second Edition revised by J. Physick, London, 1988, pp.325-6, fig. 236
Thomas Banks 1735-1805. Britain's first Modern Sculptor
Laing, A. 'Bacchus the Wandered. The Peregrinations of an antique statue between Painshill Park and Anglesey Abbey', Apollo. (National Trust Annual 2008), p.27
Trusted, Marjorie, (ed.) The Making of Sculpture. The Materials and techniques of European Sculpture. London, 2007, p.100, pl. 174.
Trusted, Marjorie. The Return of the Gods: Neoclassical Sculpture in Britain. London, Tate Gallery, 2008
Williamson, Paul. (ed.) European Sculpture at the Victoria and Albert Museum. London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1996, p.162.
Bilbey, Diane with Trusted, Marjorie. British Sculpture 1470 to 2000. A Concise Catalogue of the Collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum. London: V& A Publications, 2002. pp. 49-50. cat. no. 71
Trusted, Marjorie, The Return of the Gods: Neoclassical sculpture in Britain , London, Tate Publication, 2008




Sculpture; Portraits; Myths & Legends


Sculpture Collection

Large image request

Please confirm you are using these images within the following terms and conditions, by acknowledging each of the following key points:

Please let us know how you intend to use the images you will be downloading.