Thirtieth Anniversary of Elisabeth Frink’s Risen Christ statue, blog by Catherine Cane
Easter Day 2023 marks thirty years since Elisabeth Frink’s sculpture, Risen Christ, was erected above the West Doors of Liverpool Cathedral. Most visitors to the Cathedral will likely know the sculpture as Welcoming Christ, an affectionate nickname that was originally given by Bishop David Shepherd due to the sculpture’s location above the main entrance.
Dame Elisabeth Frink was an English sculptor and artist whose final piece, Risen Christ, stands above the West Doors of Liverpool Cathedral. Risen Christ is the first piece of artwork one encounter when visiting and welcomes all who enter the Cathedral. The sculpture was installed a few days before Frink’s death from cancer of the oesophagus at the age of sixty-two in 1993.
Dame Elisabeth Jean Frink, born November 1930, began her career at the Chelsea School of Art. She was nine when World War Two started, meaning this was mostly where the roots of her work lay. Living in rural Suffolk, she had direct experience of bombing raids. According to some sources, having an absent soldier father provided inspiration for her lifelong preoccupation with heroic masculine imagery. In describing her vision of the Risen Christ, Frink stated:
“I wanted it to be a very simple, primitive figure. The one thing I didn’t want was the usual limp Christ figure.”
- Stephen Gardiner, Frink- The Official Biography of Elisabeth Frink, p.115.
Frink is described as a ‘post-war artist’, whose work focussed on men, birds, dogs, horses, and religious motifs which foregrounded masculine strength, struggle, and aggression. Frink described the Risen Christ drawings she presented to Dean Walters:
“They were very like the big figure you see in the studio - almost Greek kouros figures. ‘Here I am, back from the dead!’ That’s what he’s saying, really.”
- Frink, p.115
Frink had never visited Liverpool Cathedral before she received a letter from the Cathedral Committee inviting her to create a piece above the West Doors. Frink later recalled:
“I have to admit that I’d always assumed that the Anglican cathedral in Liverpool was rather boring. All I knew was that it was a large sandstone building by Giles Gilbert Scott, built during the last hundred years. I’d never even seen photographs of it. I changed my mind immediately I went there because it really is very beautiful, with enormous spaces inside.”
- Frink, p.132
The Risen Christ stands fourteen feet tall, twenty feet above the ground which, as stated by Frink, posed difficulty due to the vast optical distortions that came from being underneath it.
“People also approached it from afar. I’ve never had to deal with problems of this type before, and I find them fascinating. Sometimes I’ll lie down on the floor of the studio and look up at the figure to get the right perspective. That sort of thing is fun.”
-Edward Lucie- Smith and Elisabeth Frink, FRINK, a portrait (Bloomsbury: London, 1994) p.115.
Frink’s choice of material for the sculpture was deliberate and complementary to Sir Giles Gilbert Scott’s architecture and the sandstone brick. Due to the background of dark blue stained-glass, and the shadowy north-facing wall, Frink wanted the sculpture to resemble weathered copper and the colour of the statue to be nearer to green than blue. Additionally, Frink was fascinated by legends of the Green Man, and its association with rebirth and resurrection. In Pagan mythology, the Green Man symbolises the order of nature- autumn and spring, death, and birth. This association with resurrection links powerfully with Christian theology and the resurrected Christ.
The height of the Risen Christ meant that Frink employed a young architect, Brooke Stanford, who understood scale, assisted with armature, and did some of the initial modelling under her instruction. They worked in her studio at Woolland House, Dorset, where he was fascinated by the energy she exhibited and methods and materials she used. After Frink passed away, Stanford created the sunray panels beneath the sculpture, which were installed in the mid-1990s. The panels are a fitting tribute to his late mentor and cohesively create a focal point of the sculpture at the Cathedral’s entrance.
‘The effort she put into the work down to the minutiae, never sparing herself as the disease took a greater hold, sometimes having to rest every quarter of an hour, was a measure of how far she was driven by the magnificence of this final enterprise as much as a test of her extraordinary reserves.’
- Frink, p.279
Liverpool Cathedral, the largest Anglican cathedral in the world, is home to both traditional and contemporary artwork exhibited within its grounds on a permanent basis, with modern pieces being installed temporarily. As quoted by the cathedral, ‘At times of widespread illiteracy, visual art in churches was a powerful means of both communication and control.’
As well as Risen Christ, the Cathedral permanently displays Frink’s maquette of the sculpture, located in the south side of the Ambulatory. This was the first sculpture, or ‘draft’, of the Risen Christ and is one of six maquettes that Frink created.
Dame Elisabeth Frink passed away a few days after the sculpture was installed, yet we can pay tribute to her talent and artistic vision on the thirtieth anniversary and remember her outstanding contribution to 20th-century art whenever we enter the Cathedral’s west doors.
By Catherine Cane, University of Liverpool MA Creative Writing student on placement at Liverpool Cathedral.
With thanks to Helen Mason for her knowledge and support.
Gardiner, S. (1999). FRINK: The Official Biography of Elisabeth Frink. London: Harper Collins.
Lucie-Smith, E. & Frink, E. (1994). FRINK: A Portrait. London: Bloomsbury.
Edited by Emma Gossage, Enterprise Assistant, Liverpool Cathedral.
Risen Christ Statue
Elisabeth Frink Chiselling the Risen Christ
Risen Christ, Liverpool Cathedral Archives
Installation of Risen Christ, Liverpool Cathedral Archives
Elisabeth Frink’s Studio at Woolland House, in 2016, image courtesy of Helen Mason
Maquette of Risen Christ