Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Rodney Matthews & Aureola Rococo Elves

Perusing Imagine Magazine #1 I came across an advert for Minifigs "High Elfs". Immediately struck by the fact that I don't recall ever having seen them before. A quick scour through some early White Dwarf magazines shows them to be  completely absent, strange considering other ranges from Minifigs were heavily advertised.

The second thing that struck me was they look absolutely brilliant, and owe something of a debt to the artwork of Rodney Mathews.

Warriors from the Sky | Rodney Matthews | 1974

Aureola Rococo | Tunnel Elfs
Have to apologise for the low-res images - The original poster print of Matthews Warriors of the Sky is a meter wide, a few measly pixels can't really communicate it. Similarly the Minifigs catalogue, through black and white photography, offset printing and scanning  doesn't really translate the models either.

Twelve Towers at Dawn | Rodney Matthews | 1975

Aureola Rococo | High Elfs | Undercoated | Ms. Delaney King

Aureola Rococo | High Elfs

The Court of the Crimson King | Mr. Springfield
I think it's reasonably obvious by now that the range was somewhat inspired by Matthews work, but the details are not exact - Matthews goblins tend towards scale mail, whereas Aurelo Roccoco Elfs tend towards plate mail.

Rodney Mathews | People of the Pines | 1977

Aureola Rococo | High Elf Cavalry

The stylised alien horses are one of the more striking of the direct resemblances between the art - the People of the Pines from Corum stories, and the sculpt.

Rodney Mathews | Dragonlord (1976)
Aureola Rococo | Large Dragons with Elvin Dragon Masters

Aureola Rococo || Large Dragons | Mr. Goblin Lee
The Roccoco Large Dragon is clearly based on the Matthews original image - the horns, mouth, neck segmentation. Incidentally this painting of Elric, entitled the Dragon Lord also appeared on Citadel Miniatures "Eternal Champion" boxed set.

Citadel Miniatures Eternal Champion Box Set | via

The Aureola Rococo range also appears in the 1985 Minifigs Catalogue (via Henry's Wargaming) so undoubtedly they were in production, maybe earlier. Most likely they sculpted by Richard Higgs who ran Minifigs - and also did the Valley of the Four Winds range. More detailed photographs can be seen on the excellent Lost Minis Wiki.

Meanwhile the original moulds have been aquired by Cavalier / Matchlock minis and they are slowly getting all the old Minifigs back into production  - so far from the Aureola Rococo range the Mounted Knights of the Silver Rose and Aureola Rococo and the Neaderthals but no Elfs yet. If they're dedicated to getting the whole lot into production including all the 15mm historicals it might take a while!

Matthews elfin designs do have precedent in fairy illustrations, and we can trace many of the motifs to earlier works, not to deny him his stunning originality in style, but rather to draw his work, and that of Higgs into a wider traditional community of depictions of the little people.

pine fairy | The Sun Egg | Elsa Berskow | 1932

People of the Pine | Hat | Ms. Anabel Sousa Moss

Cicely Mary Barker | 1923 (?)

Froud & Lee | Fairies | 1979 | N.B Freddy Mercury comment.


  1. Great post about the best elves produced. I'm pretty sure Rodney Matthews made the die for all future elf designers in the fantasy wargaming world. I was /am certainly into the late 70's vibe when it came to inventing races and armies...there is so much great art out there by the likes of Roger Dean and Matthews, as well as loads of prog album covers and lyrics to peruse. Lets hope that Dave Ryan at Minifigs will re-release all the great ranges.

    1. Ah. Mr. Springinsfeld, we have been expecting you! The Court of the Crimson King is surely one of the grandest collections of Aureola Rococo Elfs this side of the Misty Mountains.

      Jes Goodwins work shows considerable influence from Matthews (a compliment to both, I think), it's especially pronounced in his earlier illustration and it left a mark that can be seen through most of the Elf and Eldar design he's done for Citadel through the years, a predisposition towards certain forms, certain stylisations. Might not be immediately obvious from the more goblin-esque elves here, but certainly his more Moorcockian subjects filter through.

      I did email Dave Ryan in preparation for this post, and was told to keep an eye out on the Minifigs Classic Fantasy site for when the rest of the ranges are released which I shall. Two eyes - as often as I can spare them!

    2. Thanks Zhu... it would be good to organise some sort of kickstarter to get the old Minifigs ranges back into production and convince Dave that it is worth doing. I have been hassling him since he bought all the moulds, but the impression I get is that he doesn't think it is financially worth the time to go through all the old moulds and get entire ranges back into production. (Starting with the AR and VFW lines!!). Any thoughts on a campaign to activate a re-release these great figures?
      BTW Gareth the Grot just sent me this link to this new 70's style band, just the thing for painting Tunnel Elves to

    3. Gareth has good taste in music as well as minis.

      Maybe a Kickstarter would be a mechanism, but to be really successful with todays miniature buyer - I think it would need good, clean, high quality photos of the models - to show buyers what they are going to get - and that might require the upfront investment.

      I don't know how many people have even heard of the Minifigs fantasy ranges. I know I was aware of the ME and VFW before - both of which have significant histories. Generating awareness of the ranges might increase demand, or at least create the opportunity for people who may be interested in them know they exist.

      Aesthetically they are quite different to a lot of other things out there. They have a folksy, quirky charm, and I think as you indicate they do need to be seen in a 1970s real ale, sci-fantasy, prog rock / light.

  2. An excellent range indeed! My brother bought lots of them in those days. And still owns them! I had an army of the Knight of the Silver Rose, from that same range of Aureola Roccoco, and also still have them also, I also have that large dragon with rider, somewhere. I should really dig them out and play a few games with them again.
    If Minifigs/Dave Ryan would bring the AR range back in production, I would certainly buy more of them!

    1. Yes WimVdB - definitely dig them out, an old range that deserves much more attention. The Knights of the Silver Rose have a particularly nice pine-cone type armour and pointed helmet that would seem to lend them an elvish air.

      The good news is that Dave Ryan is planning on releasing them at some point in the future. Perhaps if enough interest can be stirred up it could happen sooner than later?

    2. There were more interesting miniatures in that range. Amazons on unicorns and a range of barbarians, to name two. I'm really sorry I didn't bought more of them when I had the chance...

    3. Yes indeed although those were not particually Matthewsesque. The Sharadan Lords of Darkness seem to have taken inspiration from Frazettas Death Dealer - and make a nice range of 'early' Chaos Warriors.

  3. For some reason I'd never encountered Rodney Matthews' work before, and now I'm in love. Thank you.

    1. You're more than welcome. I am a little surprised that a gentleman of your talents and tastes hadn't come across his work before! I heartily recommend tracking down a good copy of In Search of Forever - as I said in the post, seeing the printed works is a very different experience to looking at these dirty jpegs, not for some nostalgic bookishness, but the size , some are produced at nearly the original poster size, and the fidelity of the image.

    2. You flatter me. I tell a lie though; after a quick image search it seems that I have seen one of Matthews' pieces before, that of a locust-like Statue of Liberty, but that's it.

      I adore "Warriors From the Sky" and I'll be picking up that book you recommend as I must see more of this beautiful work. Thank you again!

  4. Thanks for posting this! I'm glad Minifigs are producing the old figures again. I really hope they put out more molds for this series.

    I wonder if the Black Raven Foundry miniatures owned by Old Glory 15s, were inspired by Aureola Rococo?

    1. Hey, thanks Chad. I'd seen the 15mm Black Raven Foundry miniatures before. Certainly some of their elves anre in a similar vein - perhaps even compatible as a kind of Lesser Tunnel Elf, and the range has some interesting conceptual overlaps, classical amazons and hopelites. Unfortunately no information on when they were released or who sculpted them on the site, and small photos.

      I hope Minifigs can get the rest of the classic ranges up into production too, would be nice to see a renaissance of old school minis.

    2. That should have been "I'd not seen".

  5. I picked up the "tunnel elves" as goblins and various other elves, labelled as various sorts of elves, in blister packs for a "World of Greyhawk" line from early eighties (maybe late 70's).
    The elves from that line made great dark elves.

    1. Well I never. You're quite right! Many of the Aureola Rococo High Elfs were repackaged as "Valley Elves" for the World of Greyhawk range, which also included AR herself and some Amazons (although I'm not sure which came first, AR or WoG) Theres a great post on Greyhwk Grognard about them.