Looking Back / Winter 2003
Mistress of the Hall

The mysterious bronze maiden of Knox College

Although only 18 inches high, she is the centre of attention in the stately boardroom of Knox College. Photo: Michael VisserHigh above her, the portraits of austere, bespectacled Presbyterian ministers and professors seem transfixed by this young woman. It is not clear who this bronze maiden is (Demeter? Andromeda? Persephone?), but she was probably cast in France in the late 19th century. Typical of the period’s taste for academic classicism, she is likely based on a Roman or Greek prototype. According to one art expert, such sculptures were bought by members of the bourgeoisie, who were conservative in their artistic tastes. The records of how this maiden ended up at Knox are lost, but she likely came from a private home many years ago, proudly placed in a stately room amid clinking glasses of port and clouds of pipe smoke. Not exactly a chaste background for someone so lovely and virginal, yet, after all these years – and in spite of the very serious and respectable painted faces surrounding her – she calmly holds her own.

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