Thomas Banks RA, The Falling Titan, 1786, marble. Photo: RA/Paul Highnam © Royal Academy of Arts, London

Thomas Banks RA, The Falling Titan, c.1790-95, etching. Photo: RA © Royal Academy of Arts, London

Object of the Month


Thomas Banks RA, The Falling Titan, 1786

The Falling Titan depicts the doomed attempt of an earthbound giant to reach Olympus and overthrow Jupiter by piling up great boulders, only to be crushed by these very stones. This dynamic sculpture represents the real anguish and pain of the giant as he is flung down the mountain, and the presence of the huge mass of rocks bearing down on the figure greatly contributes to its drama. The immense size of the titan is made clear by the inclusion of a tiny satyr and two goats on the base of the sculpture fleeing in fear.

The relatively small head of the giant suggests that the sculpture is supposed to be viewed from below. The effect of the falling giant is increased by the dramatic foreshortening of the figure. It is this foreshortening that is likely to have been the inspiration for the piece, rather than the myth itself. Banks' daughter, Lavinia Forster recalled that when they were studying together in Rome, Banks and Henry Fuseli RA would make sketches of figures from five different viewpoints. Forster believed that one of these drawings may have suggested the idea of The Falling Titan.

The sculpture is carved from a single block of marble from Carrara, Tuscany, favoured by sculptors for its pure, white appearance. The chisel marks remain evident in the boulders suggesting naturally formed stones, which contrasts with the smooth, lifelike skin of the giant. In preparation for this piece, Banks made multiple sketches and a clay model, a plaster cast of which exists in the Royal Academy's Collection.

The sculpture was much admired by contemporary critics. In 1812, John Britton wrote 'in form, expression, anatomical accuracy, and adaption, this statue approaches perfection: it is one of those works of art, that in a small compass, and with simplicity of parts, may be called sublime.'

Possibly in recognition of the support Banks received from the Royal Academy, when he was elected, he gave this ambitious piece as his Diploma Work. The work clearly remained significant to the artist as he produced an etching of the subject, which was published around 1795. Banks may have produced the print for self-promotion, but it also allowed him to add a dramatic twist. The satyr and goats are no longer cowering beneath the shadow of the giant, but they are set free from the marble and are running and leaping down the hill.

Thomas Banks RA, The Falling Titan can be seen in Richard Deacon RA Selects on The Dame Jillian Sackler Sculpture Gallery.