Kate Viner, the sculptor of our summer exhibition Resilience in Clay, recently created a new sculpture of the Christ Child as part of the Cathedral's Nativity scene.
Resilience in Clay was created in collaboration with Sanctuary in Chichester who support those seeking refuge from persecution based on conflict and religious, social and or ethnic discrimination, resonating with the story of the Christ Child - who was born in a stable to parents who were then forced to flee their home.
Below, we speak to ask Kate about her process, inspirations and symbolism of creating this new work.
Can you walk us through your artistic process in creating the sculpture of the Christ child?
I was thrilled to be asked to sculpt the Christ child by the Cathedral. It's believed that original figures in the Nativity scene were commissioned in the 1920s so it was a great honour. It was especially fitting as we welcomed a new member to our family, who was born on November 1st, so I had the perfect model! Firstly, I did some pencil drawings followed by a number of quick clay sculptures to establish the shape, form and composition. Once I was happy with the clay sculpture, I made a one box mould to cast the figure. I also redesigned the crib, so that I could secure the figure and crib to a steel plate. I was keen to make sure it could be used for the next 100 years!
Were there any challenges or breakthrough moments during the creation of this piece that you'd like to share?
It was vital that the new Christ child would be in keeping with the existing Nativity figures. I was aware that the texture of the swaddling clothes would need to be in keeping, and worked to match that, as well as the skin tone. Ideally no one should notice it is a new character in the scene.
During the process you mentioned that being a birth partner and your friend's baby were reference points for this project. Can you elaborate on how those experiences influenced the creation of your Christ child sculpture?
Annabel was a fantastic model. It was incredible to be at her birth. She born so alert and aware and felt like an old soul, but at the same so vulnerable. I wanted to capture this. I decided to put the Christ child's hands snuggled next to his face. This is a motion a newborn does a lot, and therefore helped the sculpture feel life like. I hoped this positioning would evoke a feeling of Rodin’s Thinker, capturing that feeling of alertness and wisdom. I feel this was important for the Christ child.
I could really see the detail of her head shape, and the natural position and movement of her hands and feet. From a personal point of view I will forever see Annabel as a new born in the sculpture.
The Nativity is a powerful symbol for many. How did you approach incorporating traditional symbolism into your sculpture of the Christ child?
I made sure that the cloth was loose around the Christ child's head, I was then able to gold leaf the cloth in and around the head. This created a halo of reflective light, which I felt enhanced the symbolism. As part of the tradition, I was also very keen that the feet should be showing to bear witness to the fact that the son of God walked among us.