Tag Archives: East Anglia

Joseph Boehm’s Juliana in repose

Sculpture by Sir Joseph Boehm. Sarcophagus of Juliana, Countess of Leicester, 1870. St. Withburga’s Church, Holkham Hall, Norfolk. By mira66 via Wikimedia Commons

While reading Richard Mabey’s eloquent Nature Cure, I became interested in northeastern England, Norfolk and Suffolk, which make up East Anglia. The wetland areas seem mysterious and the ancient history intriguing. Mabey’s narrative style gives you a intimate peek at his relationship with fauna, two-legged, four-legged, aerial or earthbound. Learning about the region’s flora motivated me and seasonal gardening plans now cover my own table. Curious about dwellings he described, I searched online real estate, looking for 16th- and 17th-century homes, half-timbered ones. At some point, I came across the beautiful photograph of the sculpture pictured above. As I studied the delicacy of the face, the intricate pillow and exquisite draping, I came to wonder about the artist who so lovingly sculpted this unknown woman.


Caricature of Thomas Coke, 2nd Earl of Leicester (1822-1909). Caption reads “Agriculture,” 1883, Vanity Fair, 4 August 1883. By portraitist Leslie Ward via Wikimedia Commons

Juliana was born into the Whitbread brewing family in Cardington, Bedfordshire. In 1843, she became the Countess of Leicester, wife of Viscount Thomas Coke, the 2nd Earl of Leicester. He came from an Anglican family, art collectors known for their benevolence and philanthropy. As I began researching Juliana Coke, I kept coming back to the marble sculpture. It has an immediacy that made me want to know what she was like. Click here to see a full shot of the monument by the same photographer. The beauty and tenderness conveyed by the sculpture speaks volumes and, by all accounts, she was a lovely creature, known for her kindness and charity. She became benefactress of a church in which the monument is housed, St. Withburga’s. Her sarcophagus sits in the north chapel of St. Withburga’s, itself located on the ancestral estate, Holkham Hall, which lies on the north coast of Norfolk. During her 27-year marriage, Juliana Coke bore 12 children, three of whom did not survive. A photo of two of her daughters can be seen here. In 1870, the countess died of bronchitis.

I felt lucky when I came across Susanna Wade Martins’ A Great Estate at Work: The Holkham Estate and its inhabitants in the nineteenth century. It is a well-researched history book that covers the earls of Leicester and the villagers for which they were responsible. Her account fleshes out the characters in this story. Martins writes that Juliana Whitbread “was only seventeen at the time of their marriage and we know that the trustees of the Holkham estate (the new earl still being a minor) settled 3000 pounds a year from the earl’s private estate for her use. This marriage seems to have been a very happy one and Juliana was much liked.” In fact, Thomas and Juliana Coke married so young, they were “like boy and girl, as indeed they are,” relates Martins, quoting a Mrs. Pickering. Juliana Coke’s character is further illustrated by Lady Elizabeth Stanhope, the earl’s step-sister. “I shall be very fond of her, nothing can be more amiable or purer in mind and feeling.” Martins also states that Holkham Hall was an efficiently run estate, “maintained in style but the number of servants was still not lavish.”


Juliana Countess of Leicester with eldest child Lady Julia Coke, by Sir Francis Grant

In an effort to find out more, I came across a publication, dated 2012, about the Church of England’s Norwich parishes. Regarding Juliana Coke and St. Withburga’s Church, the piece relates that “by the mid nineteenth century further substantial repair and restoration work was needed and in 1868 this was undertaken by Juliana, the wife of the second Earl of Leicester. Because of her we have our Church as it is today, including a magnificent peal of six bells.” The publication further states, “Her beautiful marble memorial lies in the Church with the inscription ‘Juliana…by whose pious care this church was restored and reopened Dec 14th 1869.’” Juliana had employed architect James Colling, according to Martins, who said “the east end was entirely rebuilt and the pulpit, font, reredos and stone staircase in the tower were all designed by Colling.”

(Note: my next post addresses St. Withburga, so more on her soon.)

Joseph Edgar Boehm, Vanity Fair, 1881-01-22

Caricature of Mr JE Boehm ARA. Caption reads: “The Queen’s Sculptor,” 22 January 1881. By portraitist Leslie Ward via Wikimedia Commons

Joseph Edgar Boehm was an ethnic Hungarian born in Vienna, Austria, in 1834, and his father was director of the Imperial Mint there. The elder Boehm was also an avid art collector and his son grew up around fine art and antiquities. A prodigy, Joseph learned how to sculpt at an early age in Paris and Italy. After his education he returned to Vienna to work as a medalist and, at age 22, he won the Austrian Imperial Prize for Sculpture. Then, in 1862, he moved to England and, three years later, he became a naturalized citizen. It was quite a feather in the cap of the British and the accomplished Boehm was appointed Sculptor-in-Ordinary to Queen Victoria. His clientele included the British royal family and the aristocracy, for whom he sculpted medals, medallions, busts, statuettes and life-size and larger-than life works. To see photos of his former studio, click here.


British sculptor Joseph Edgar Boehm, with Princess Louise, the sixth child of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, in about 1885. Carte de visite scanned by Tim Ross via Wikimedia

The sculptor became friends with other artists of the day, including James McNeill Whistler, whom he called ‘Mac.’ “He became an Associate of the Royal Academy in 1878, was appointed sculptor in ordinary in 1881 and was elected to the Royal Academy in 1882,” states an article focusing on British peerage.” Boehm also lectured on sculpture. Referring to his sculptural style, biographer Bob Speel said he had an “instinctive perception of character.” Speel also relates that Boehm had no interest in mimicking classical sculpture, that he preferred contemporary expressions over classical copies. He quotes Boehm as saying:

It is in vain to complain of the paucity of inspiring subjects in our age, of our ugly costume and the dearth of suitable figures for sculpture. You may regard objects and compose like Homer, but you may not inanely copy from the antique. Do not return from Rome with some more bad nymphs, another Venus or another Cupid. Try to use the much-abused dress. Treat a coat-sleeve, a woman’s gown, con amore, ennoble it by art, and it will be a pleasing object in the sight of those whose praise is worth having.

Joseph Boehm was hired by Thomas Coke to create a memorial to his wife Juliana. The sarcophagus was completed the year of her death, in 1870. Boehm himself become a member of the peerage, when he received the title 1st Baronet Boehm at Wetherby Gardens in Kensington. He  was unable enjoy the title for long, though, as he died in 1890. It was a student, Princess Louise, daughter of Queen Victoria, who found him dead in his studio. He was succeeded by his wife, Frances Louisa Boehm née Boteler, and children.

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