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Public Statues and Sculpture Association

Gerard Johnson I (living c.1567; died 1611)

Sculptor born Garat Janssen in Amsterdam. He moved to England c. 1567, it is presumed as a Protestant refugee from the wars of religion. Although he became an English citizen in 1568 (the probable date for the anglicisation of his name), the fact that he was not born in England debarred him from working in the City of London. Consequently, in common with many of his former countrymen, he set up a workshop just south of the river Thames, in Southwark. He married an Englishwoman and had five sons, two of whom, Nicholas (fl. c.1594; d. 1624) and Gerard II (fl. c.1612), also became sculptors. By the late 1580s two workshops dominated the English market for monumental sculpture, Johnson’s and that set up some years earlier by William Cure (also probably from Holland) and by then run by his English-born son, Cornelius Cure (living 1574; d. 1608/1609); these two workshops were the principal centres of the so-called Southwark school of sculpture. By 1591 Johnson’s reputation was sufficiently high for him to attract a commission from the 5th Earl of Rutland for two tombs, one for his uncle, the 3rd Earl (d. 1587), and the other, his father, the 4th Earl (d. 1588), to be erected in the chancel of St Mary’s church, Bottesford, Leics. Then in 1594, with his son, Nicholas, Johnson made a magnificent two-tiered tomb for the 1st Earl and Countess of Southampton (d. 1550 and 1574) and their son, the 2nd Earl (d.1581), for erection in the south chapel of St Peter’s church, Titchfield, Hants. And in 1595, Johnson made three tombs for the Gage family, to be erected in St Peter’s church, Firle, East Sussex: for Sir John Gage (d. 1556) and his wife; Sir Edward Gage (d. 1569) and his wife; and John Gage (d. 1595) and his two successive wives. On the basis of the style evidenced in these six documented works (an uncommonly large number for the period) numerous attributions to the Johnson workshop have been made, including the monuments to Thomas Hungerford (d. 1581) and Sir Thomas Lawrence (d. 1593) and their respective wives at Chelsea Old Church, London; William Thynne (d. 1584/85), Westminster Abbey; Roger (d. 1587) and Olyver Manneres, St Michael’s church, Uffington, Lincs; Sir William Dormer and wife, All Saints’ church, Wing, Bucks (dated 1590); and 1st Viscount Montagu (d. 1592) and family, St Mary’s church, Easebourne, West Sussex. Although Johnson is also known to have made garden sculpture and at least one chimneypiece, it was as a ‘tombemaker’ that he described himself in his will.

Bibliography: T. Cavanagh, Public Sculpture of Kensington and Chelsea with Westminster South-West, Watford, 2023, pp. 67–69; K.A. Esdaile, English Monumental Sculpture since the Renaissance, London, 1927, pp. 5–6, 16, 18, 20, 30, 117–19; J. Seddon et al, Public Sculpture of Sussex, Liverpool, 2014, pp. 60–61; M. Whinney (rev. J. Physick), Sculpture in Britain 1530–1830, London (1964), 2nd edn 1988, pp. 47–51; A. White, ‘Biographical Dictionary of London Tomb Sculptors’, The Volume of the Walpole Society, vol. 61 (1999), pp. 65–70; A. White, ‘The Johnson (formerly Janssen) family’, ODNB, 2004.

Terry Cavanagh November 2023