Historic Sphinxes Return to Chiswick House

Cast lead statues stand guard again after a century's absence

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Monday 12th June saw the return of the ‘lost’ sphinxes of Chiswick House as a giant crane lowered them onto the stone gate piers to once more stand guard at the entrance to the magnificent Grade 1 18th century Neo-Palladian villa.

The two sphinxes, which each weigh 280kg, have been painstakingly recreated using a ‘Lost Wax’ casting process that involves creating a negative mould of the sphinx from an existing original cast lead sphinx inside the house. Molten wax is then poured into the mould, to create a hollow wax copy. These wax replicas are then ‘invested’ (coated in a hard ceramic mixture) and placed in a kiln. After two days, the wax melts out and vaporises leaving a hollow form inside the ceramic shell into which the molten lead is then poured. After cooling the ceramic casing is then broken away to reveal the new lead casting inside.

The first owner Lord Burlington, commissioned the two original sphinxes when the house was built in the late 1720s. However after being relocated within the grounds at Chiswick, the originals were removed at the end of the 19th century and are thought to have been taken to Green Park.

The original sphinxes were possibly intended as symbolic guardians of the villa, since in classical mythology the sphinx guarded the entrance to Thebes and strangled visitors who failed to solve her riddle. Three more sphinxes are to be found in the gardens behind the house.

Martin Clayton, English Heritage project director, said “It’s great to see the sphinxes back in their rightful place guarding Chiswick House, their reinstatement marks the beginning of a very exciting period of restoration for the Garden that will eventually see it restored to its former splendour.”

Howard Simmons, Assistant Chief Executive at London Borough of Hounslow added, “We are delighted the regeneration project for this wonderful park is now underway, and the return of the sphinxes to the entrance gates is symbolic of this new start. We are very grateful to the Wolfson Foundation for their support in helping to restore the park for future generations to enjoy.”

The project is part of an extensive regeneration project at Chiswick House, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund. The re-installation of the sphinxes has been made possible through the generosity of the Wolfson Foundation, which has pledged up to £600,000 toward the regeneration of the gardens at Chiswick House.

June 13, 2006