The Mower (1881)

What’s so shocking about this sculpture? Its plaster version certainly caused some surprise back in 1884 at the Royal Academy. Statues of Greek gods and classical, nymphic nudes were common enough, but here we have a model of a working man. Sir Hamo Thornycroft depicted a mower in his work clothes, a first for British sculpture. Its handsome subject was Italian farm worker named Orazio Cervi, who was said to have emigrated to Britain by walking from his Italian fields. The boots he wears were borrowed from a British workman. David Getsy comments:

‘The Mower was one of the first heroic statues of a labourer in modern Western sculpture that clearly indicated its contemporaneity’. (Body Doubles: Sculpture in Britain1877-1905)

The sculpture is rather pleasant. Several were made; our nearest is exhibited at Preston’s Harris Gallery. Yet its initial ‘shock’ factor is revealing about the human mind. The artistic, bohemian types who produce good art were as inclined to socialism then as now; there was no snobbery which disdained working people per se. The question is: why would someone wish to cast in bronze a very, very common occurrence- a man mowing a field? Unlike the athletic classical gods and attractive nude women, such a vision could be seen freely throughout the countryside. Today, I would be disinclined to admire a sculpture of a woman stirring a saucepan, a child on its phone or a man watching TV. In Ephesians 2:10, the apostle writes

‘For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.’

The work God calls us to do may be no more glamorous as mowing a field or stirring a pan. Like the sculpture, we are often found resting from weary work in our common and uninspiring settings. Yet to the God of heaven, our Christ-glorifying labours and words are more beautiful than statues of bronze, apples of gold and settings of silver.


The trivial round, the common task,

Will furnish all we ought to ask;

Room to deny ourselves, a road

To bring us daily nearer God.