Why raise a statue when we don’t know what Astell looked like?

There is no known surviving portrait of Astell. This raises an interesting problem for any sculptor who sets out to design a monument to her.

But the problem is a common one if we are to raise more statues to those groups who have been marginalised in our study of the past. Before the advent of photography, portraits were expensive things to produce. Primarily they were made for the wealthy elite, and the faces that now look back at us from Astell’s lifetime little reflect the majority of the people. In many ways this makes it even more important to produce monuments to pioneering women, like Astell, as they help us to recover a sense of their enormous contribution to public life, and their role in shaping Britain today.

After all, it’s not our appearance, but our thoughts and actions that should matter. A monument to Astell will need to embody and give life to her enormous contribution, unique in its time and made against the odds. We think this is therefore an exciting brief for any sculptor, and one which can move debates about statues forward in useful directions.

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