Vertumnus removes his mask of an old woman, revealing his true form to Pomona

John Cheere1755 -

National Palace of Queluz

National Palace of Queluz
Queluz, Portugal

A lead sculpture, representing Vertumnus and Pomona. Pomona has flowers in her hair and is depicted sitting with a basket of fruit in her lap. Vertumnus, standing, places his right hand on the woman’s shoulder, while his left hand holds a mask. Next to Pomona is a flying cupid.

Pomona was the Roman nymph of fruit (poma), who had a sacred wood, the Pomonal. Vertumnus was a god of probably Etruscan origin, who had the power to transform himself into as many forms as he wished. Ovid describes his love affair with Pomona and, according to legend, Vertumnus wore the mask of an old woman to conquer her. Both Vertumnus and Pomona were linked to vegetation, to the changing of the seasons and the fertility of the soil. The presence of a cupid (a winged boy armed with a bow and arrow), the personification of universal desire and the intermediary in human and divine matters of the heart, evokes the love affair between Vertumnus and Pomona.


  • Title: Vertumnus removes his mask of an old woman, revealing his true form to Pomona
  • Creator: John Cheere (1709-1787)
  • Creator Lifespan: 1709 - 1787
  • Creator Nationality: English
  • Date: 1755 -
  • Location: Hyde Park Corner, London, England
  • Sculptures by John Cheere: The gardens of the National Palace of Queluz display the most important group of lead statues outside England created by the British sculptor John Cheere (1709-1787) and all displayed in the same place, which makes these sculptures extremely important in the international artistic panorama. The brother of Henry Cheere (1702-1781), who was also a sculptor, John Cheere set up a thriving business at Hyde Park Corner around 1737-1738, in an area of London that had a longstanding tradition in this type of work, making a name for himself through the production of large-sized sculptures cast in lead, copper, plaster and ceramics. His lead sculptures were used above all in the decoration of gardens and the façades of English stately homes, at a time when gardens were adapting to the French style with its abundance of sculptural decoration. The relative ease with which the sculptures could be reproduced, their low cost and the quality of finishing made possible by the use of lead meant that Cheere’s pieces were in great demand. Sometimes, the statues were made in such a way as to imitate marble, other times they were painted in bright colours or partly gilded, which served to heighten their theatrical effect. Thus, whereas the mythological figures were painted in such a way as to imitate the noble materials of marble, gold or bronze, those relating to pastoral themes or the commedia dell’arte were painted in a natural way, in a variety of colours, with special attention being given to the figures’ costumes. In November 1755, Lisbon was struck by a violent earthquake, accompanied by a huge tidal wave and a devastating fire that destroyed much of the city, particularly the lower lying area in the centre, known as the Baixa. Despite the catastrophe, the works at Queluz continued to press ahead and, between 1755 and 1756, Dom Pedro commissioned a series of statues from John Cheere to decorate the Palace gardens. The first commission (1755) was made through Dom Luís da Cunha Manuel (1703-1775), the Portuguese ambassador in London, with the help of Dom Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo (1699-1782), the future Marquis of Pombal. Lisbon witnessed the arrival of two sculptural groups (Meleager and Atalanta and Vertumnus and Pomona), 23 individual statues (Neptune, Meleager, Mercury, Fame, Apollo, Diana, Bacchus, Venus, Ceres, Flora, Gladiator, the Four Seasons of the Year, four figures from the commedia dell’arte – Pierrot, Harlequin, Scaramouche and Colombina – and four pastoral figures – shepherd, shepherdess, a man with a drum and flute and a woman with a rake), as well as 24 flower pots. Together with this first commission, Cheere sent a list of other works that were available for sale. The second order (1756) was larger than the first and was based on this list of sculptures. This time Dom Martinho de Melo e Castro (1716-1795), a diplomat in the British capital, was placed in charge of the whole process of purchasing and despatching the new order, which included seven groups of sculptures (Abduction of Proserpina, Aeneas and Anchises, Rape of the Sabine Women, David and Goliath, Cain and Abel, Venus and Adonis, Bacchus and Ariadne), six figures (Hercules, Meleager, Atalanta, Justice, Minerva and Mars), 16 animals (four monkeys, four lions, four tigers, two foxes, a harpy and an eagle), four groups with holes in them to be placed in the middle of large tanks and water jets, eight boys to adorn cascades, and 48 flower pots painted bronze and gold, amounting to a total of 89 pieces, including sculptural groups, figures forming groups and isolated figures. This huge number of lead statues formed an integral part of a grandiose and brightly coloured garden designed by the French architect and goldsmith Jean-Baptiste Robillion (1710-1782), a disciple and collaborator of the famous goldsmith Thomas Germain. The inventories of the Palace of Queluz clearly show how some pieces changed places in the gardens on various occasions, while others had to wait for some years (after they had been received and their quality had been suitably checked) until the most suitable spot was chosen for their placement. In fact, the location of the statues kept changing as the gardens expanded and new arrangements were made for their ornamental and functional organisation. Of the orders that were placed and received between 1755 and 1756, many sculptures have since either been lost or gradually ruined beyond possible repair. However, the group of sculptures that is still in place in the gardens of the Palace of Queluz is proof of the quality of John Cheere’s work and reflects the sophisticated and erudite taste of Dom Pedro, in keeping with the European taste of the mid-18th century. Cheere’s sculptural work – influenced by the Gardens of the Palace of Versailles and by the most important works of reference from the times of Antiquity and the Renaissance – brings together themes drawn from various sources, ranging from the legends of Greek and Roman mythology to figures drawn from the Commedia dell’Arte, as well as picturesque characters from everyday rural life, together with exotic animals. His inspiration is revealed in the statues that he produced, whose dominant note is the great care taken in the reproduction of the figures’ anatomical features and the adaptations that he made to the models that he used. John Cheere’s statues underline the innovative nature and high quality of 18th-century British sculpture. The sculptures at Queluz were subjected to profound conservation and restoration work between 2005 and 2009, sponsored by the World Monuments Fund (Britain and Portugal). The restoration of the lakes and fountains was part of a project that lasted until 2010.
  • Rights Information: National Palace of Queluz
  • Physical Dimensions: w120 x h170 x d93 cm
  • Photo: Carlos Monteiro, 2011.
  • Original Title (portuguese): Vertumno tira a máscara de velha e dá-se a conhecer a Pomona
  • Material(s) / Technique(s): Lead
  • Image Rights: © Direção-Geral do Património Cultural / Arquivo de Documentação Fotográfica
  • Type: Sculpture, Sculpture Garden

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