by Andy Brown

Plaster cast crucifixion of the body of James Legg, Chelsea pensioner, hanged for murder Nov 2, 1801, by Thomas Banks (1735-1805), Image Courtesy of The Royal Academy.


I’m here to settle an artists’ debate –

this seventy-three-year-old body deposed

from the scaffold and hammered to a cross;

cut down from the gallows and harshly flayed

to put the artists’ doubtful minds at rest:


the sculptor Banks,  the painters Cosway, West.

Gentlemen! Let me help you put it straight:

most paintings of the Crucifixion are

grossly incorrect… physically, of course…

you might say I was simulacral proof.


Captain William Lamb was my undoing.

Lamb who wouldn’t meet me in a duel,

who shunned my guns. (I shot him in the chest.)

Lamb “that tyrannical tempered man”

who gave me constant insults. I admit:


I was melancholy, I was depressed.

I couldn’t tell what I was doing, Iecorche_expert_button

was afraid I’d do away with myself.

I woke like a person surprised from sleep

when the nurse arrived with my prescription.


It was Joseph Carpue who cut me down

to put the artists’ theory to the test.

He took my body from that killing place,

then hoisted me up until I slumped into

that pose a body must when crucified.


There I hung until my carcass cooled.

And when I’d cooled, they took me to the bench

where Carpue flayed me, so the sculptor, Banks,

could make his cast. (West said he’d never seen

the human hand till he saw mine nailed there.)


And here I hang, still, in the “proper way”

of the Saviour, this mock James Legg –

survivor of the noose, the knife, the cross –

where curious Anatomy meets Art,

where Religion meets Justice, and firm proof.



About the Author

Andy Brown is Director of Creative Writing at Exeter University. Brown has published seven poetry collections, including, most recently Exurbia (The Worple Press), The Fool and the Physician (Salt Publishing), Goose Music [with John Burnside] (Salt Publishing), and Fall of the Rebel Angels: Poems 1996-2006 (Salt Publishing). Five further chapbooks include The Storm Berm (tall-lighthouse) and Of Science [with David Morley] (Worple Press). A selection of poems appears in Identity Parade (Bloodaxe). A previous Arvon Foundation Centre Director, he tutors for Arvon and the Poetry School. A Body of Work: Poetry and Medical Writing [with Dr. Corinna Wagner] is forthcoming in 2015 (Bloomsbury Academic).