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silla was born out of a passion for beautiful objects: special pieces with aesthetic and historical significance. In 2009, after years of collecting, Andrew Silla and his wife Grace began to work privately with clients from their residence in Southern Maryland. Quickly outgrowing the space, the business was moved from Maryland to Pennsylvania in 2012 and after several warehouse location changes it was firmly settled in the present brick-and-mortar location in downtown Shippensburg.

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"Mercy on the Battlefield" (1848) | Edward Bowring Stephens, A.R.A.

Stephens, Edward Bowring


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catalog text

England, 1815-1882

"Mercy on the Battlefield" (1848)

Patinated bronze on Carrara marble | signed in cast "E.B. Stephans Sc 18(?)6" and marking for "ART UNION OF LONDON 1857" cast through to the bronze

Item # 306JUI21Q 

An exceedingly rare cast by an important and yet little-studied English sculptor Edward Bowring Stephens A.R.A. The model is titled Mercy on the Battlefield and in 1857 the rights to produce small examples of the sculpture were given to the Art Union of London, a proud association that is largely marked on the sculpture surrounding the base. The group was conceived and exhibited as early as 1848, as the group is briefly mentioned as having exhibited that date by The Illustrated London News when contemporarily writing about Stephens on August 13th of 1864.

It depicts a nurse on the war-torn battlefield giving aid to a wounded soldier who is largely defeated, a broken sword loosely grasped in his hand as his form is crumbled in exhaustion. His neck lolls backwards against the strength of her leg, his veins throbbing and swollen in his neck as a bandage has been tied around his brow to stem his wounds. A battle-axe is tossed aside on the ground.

While the inspiration for this image is unknown, as there has been little study of Stephens' work and life, the timing for reissuing small versions of the model in bronze through the Art Union of London for collectors certainly coincides remarkably with the image of Florence Nightingale and her heroic efforts during the Crimean War ending the prior year. Her compassion and extraordinary efforts for the sanitary care of British soldiers during the war were well-known and her image would have been a compelling inspiration as much at that time as it remains today. Nightingale was as powerful of a caregiver as she was a manager and leader. She is credited with giving birth to the Nursing occupation for her compassionate and merciful actions in Scutari and was the leading figure in the battle between medical dogma and the Sanitarian movement of the day. Only a few years later in 1860 she established her nursing school at St Thomas Hospital in London.

A powerful image, exquisitely cast and finished.

Edward Bowring Stephens was an important sculptor for England and the most important sculptor to come from Exeter where he was born on December 10, 1815. He was the son of James Stephens, a statuary mason, who exposed him at an early age to the art and craft of working stone​​. His formal study began under the tutelage of John Gendall, an Exeter-based draughtsman and landscape painter, and later continued in London as a pupil of sculptor Edward Hodges Baily. Stephens' talent was recognized early; he was admitted to the Royal Academy as a student in December of 1836 and was awarded a silver medal by the Society of Arts in 1837 for a figurative model he submitted​ of Ajax Defying the Gods.

After leaving for two years to study and work in Italy, Stephens returned to London around 1842, where he won the Royal Academy's gold medal for his relief work of The Battle of the Centaurs and Lapithæ and re-entered the schools of the Royal Academy the same year. This period marked the beginning of notable commissions, including a life-size marble statue of John Rolle, 1st Baron Rolle​. He began to win increasing public admiration in 1844 and 1845 with the three works he sent to the Westminster Hall exhibitions and his biblical group of Hagar and Ishmael in the Wilderness was received with glowing review from art critics, one of whom wrote "[Stephens is] one of the most rising sculptors of the day, one whom we confidently expect to see placed in the highest seat the profession supplies."

His statues of Satan Tempting Eve and Satan Vainquished were made for Buckinghim Palace for an important chimney piece and were his most important contribution to the Great Exhibition of 1851. At the Academy, he showed A Young Shepherdess (1852), Eve Contemplating Death (1853) and sent Preparing for the Chase to the Manchester Art Treasures Exhibition of 1857 the same year his group Mercy on the Battlefield was issued as a small bronze by the Art Union of London. He was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy (ARA) in 1864.

Throughout his career, Stephens was an advocate for the arts in his native Exeter, significantly contributing to the establishment of the School of Art, which later became part of the Royal Albert Memorial Museum. He generously offered to execute a memorial statue of Prince Albert for the museum free of labor charge, only requiring payment for materials​. This was completed in 1868 for their permanent collection.

Stephens married Jane Harris Emes in 1845 and they lived at various addresses in London until his death on November 10, 1882 at the age of 66 while living at their home at 110 Buckingham Palace Rd. His final exhibit at the Royal Academy was displayed posthumously in 1883​. He is listed as having exhibited 100 sculptures at the Royal Academy between 1838 and 1883, while also showing 7 sculptures at the British Institute and 1 at Suffolk Street Galleries.

His repertoire was diverse, with works ranging from busts of prominent figures like Hugh, Earl Fortescue, to monumental statues that adorned both Devon and places further afield, including London and Scotland. His statues, which included depictions of Sir Joshua Reynolds, Leonardo da Vinci, and Sir Christopher Wren, still grace the façade of Burlington House, London​.

Stephens' exhibited works also featured a range of subjects, from biblical scenes to statuettes of Ophelia and Lady Godiva. Perhaps his most celebrated work is "The Deer Stalker," a life-size bronze group that stands at the entrance of Northernhay Gardens in Exeter, unveiled in 1878 and still admired as his most powerful group​.

Artist Listings & Bibliography:

  • A Dictionary of Artists Who Have Exhibited Works in the Principal London Exhibitions from 1760 to 1893, Algernon Graves, 1973, p. 265
  • E. Benezit Dictionary of Artists, Vol. XIII, Gründ, 2006, p. 324
  • A Biographical Dictionary of Sculptors in Britain, 1660-1851, Gunnis
  • Edward Bowring Stephens, A.R.A. [Obituary], Trans. Devon. Assoc. 1883, Vol XV, pp.58-65, W. Harpley (Link)

Measurements: 22 1/4" H (including marble); 21 1/8" H (bronze only); approximately 11 3/4" diameter

Condition Report: Patina on the cape of the nun was removed in our conservation studio and a light toning was applied using chemical patination to create the current contrast between the cape and the rest of her garment; entire sculpture carefully cleaned and sealed in conservator's wax; there is some thinness to the patina in some curves of the nun's garment at the back (left side when facing the back); rubbing wear to her right sleeve (when facing); other hints of wear and rubbing; overall the surface remains in otherwise excellent original condition and presents beautifully; raised on what is apparently the original Carrara marble base.