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Combat in the North Gallery

In response to:

The Mystery of the Ring from the May 29, 2008 issue

To the Editors:

In her review of Boxing: A Cultural History [NYR, May 29], Joyce Carol Oates is mistaken in stating that “by the time of the English Golden Age of boxing [circa 1780–1837]…boxing’s Greek origins had long been forgotten.” In 1808 a group of Royal Academicians and connoisseurs paid five shillings each to see the Lancashire prizefighter Bob Gregson strike poses among the recently imported Elgin marbles, housed in a temporary store off Piccadilly. Three boxing matches were staged in the same location, so that the muscle action of the boxers and the marble figures could be compared. Twenty years later, the 3rd Earl of Egremont commissioned from John Rossi a statue of athleta Britannicus, with fists raised for combat, and placed it in the north gallery at Petworth, alongside the antique sculptures collected by his father. The juxtaposition suggests a desire, at least among the English elite, to measure both its sporting heroes and its artists against the standards set by the ancients.

Celina Fox

London, England

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