Girl Spinning, 1818

Ridolfo Schadow, Girl Spinning

Marble, SPSG Skulpt.slg. 5579

Schadow modelled the Girl Spinning (13) in 1816. The young woman is depicted holding a finished clew of yarn in her raised left hand. The hanging threads and the attached hand spindle are now missing. The ambiguous figure – spinner or Goddess of Fate – was extremely popular. Poems were even dedicated to her. In 1821 the Prussian King acquired this sculpture, unaware that it already belonged to the Bavarian Crown Prince. This resulted in a brief diplomatic crisis.



In 1818 the Crown Prince of Bavaria, the later King Ludwig I, commissioned a copy of the Girl Spinning from Schadow in Rome. He paid the artist so that he was able to buy the marble. In 1820, in order to raise interest for his work in Berlin, Schadow sent this figure and a Girl Tying her Sandal to his father. Johann Gottfried Schadow organized a small exhibition in his studio, at which King Friedrich Wilhelm III of Prussia acquired both sculptures. As the Girl Spinning already belonged to the Bavarian Crown Prince, Ridolfo was concerned that he would lose his favour as a client. Consequently, he immediately started on a new version. Unfortunately, his premature death prevented this copy from reaching Bavaria.

Schadow enthralled the public with his Girl Spinning. At the beginning of the 19th century it was a popular theme in poetry and music. Poems in German and English were also dedicated to Schadow’s Girl Spinning. Two surviving copper engravings from Domenico Marchetti (1780-1838) show her with threads and spindle (17, 18). The actual act of spinning also employed the distaff, as depicted by Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg (1783-1853) in his watercolour of a spinning Roman (19).

Sylva van der Heyden


Statue of the spinning girl, at Chatsworth, the seat of the Duke of Devonshire.

SPIN on, most beautiful.

There's none to mock

Thy simple labour here. Majestic forms

Of high renown, and brows of classic grace,

Whose sculptured features speak the breathing soul,

Rise in illustrious ranks, but not to scorn

Thy lowly toil.

Even so it was of old,

That woman's hand, amid the elements

Of patient industry and household good,

Reproachless wrought, twining the slender thread

From the light distaff, or in skilful loom

Weaving rich tissues, or with glowing tints

Of rich embroidery, pleased to decorate

The mantle of her lord. And it was well ;

For in such shelter'd and congenial sphere

Content with duty dwelt.

Yet few there are,

Sweet Filatrice, who in their earnest task

Find such retreat as thine, mid lordly halls,

And sparkling fountains, and umbrageous trees,

And parks far stretching, where the antler'd deer

Forget the hound and horn.

And we, who roam

Mid all this grand enchantment - proud saloons,

And galleries radiant with the gems of art

And genius, ravish'd from the grasp of time

And princely chapel, uttering praise to God

Or lose ourselves amid the wildering maze

Of plants, and flowers, and blossoms, breathing forth

Their eloquence to Him - delighted lay

This slight memorial at thy snowy feet.

Lydia Huntley Sigourney, 1841