18-5-2013 Francis Horner, MP, and Francis Chantrey, sculptor, both British, and both born in the late 18th century: what could they possibly have in common with the Tuscan port town of Livorno? The connection was revealed this morning during a press conference held in Livorno by the Livorno delle Nazioni cultural association. The conference was called to reveal the identity of the author of a marble relief portrait discovered by the association in the Old English Cemetery which lies in the heart of the Tuscan port city. Although Livorno is the youngest of the region's cities, its protestant burial ground is the oldest of its kind in Italy.
Francis Chantrey, the most important portrait sculptor in Regency Britain, was commissioned to carry out the work in question - a round medallion - for the tomb of Francis Horner who died in Pisa from a rare lung disease in 1817, at only 39 years of age. Despite his premature death, Horner was already a well-known member of the British parliament, and one of the first people to speak out against child labour, among other controversial topics. His brother, Leonard Horner, who was a successful geologist, later went on to further his brother’s interest in the child labour issue, becoming directly involved in factory inspections. His work was mentioned by Karl Marx in his critical analysis “Capital”.
Horner was buried in the Old English Cemetery of Livorno. His sarcophagus tomb was adorned with the fine marble sculpture that Chantrey carried out free of charge since he was an admirer of Horner. However, perhaps as a result of the bombings of the Second World War, the decoration went missing and was considered to be lost (as cited in this publication by Professors Alison Yarrington and Cinzia Maria Sicca).
The Livorno delle Nazioni cultural association, formed in 2011 and consisting of just five members, has been carrying out research and maintenance work in the cemetery for some years. During one afternoon of clearing weeds and undergrowth, they came across Horner’s likeness buried in earth and leaves. It was broken into three pieces but there appeared to be nothing missing. Following some careful research to verify the finding, the authorities were notified and the sculpture was transferred to Villa Mimbelli in Livorno where it is currently stored.
The association hopes to be able to attract the funds necessary to restore the work which could then be displayed in a local museum. Ideally, funds will also be found to make a copy or two: one to restore to Horner’s tomb, and another perhaps for an interested museum or gallery in the UK. In fact, considering the legacy left by Chantrey for the acquisition of British works of art which eventually formed the main body of the Tate Gallery in the early 1900s, this would surely be a fitting location for a copy of the Horner medallion.
For a complete history of Horner's time in Italy and his grave:
The story of a grave