Lord Cobham commissioned Rysbrack to deliver seven statues representing the Saxon gods who gave their names to the days of the week for a rustic temple for his gardens at Stowe. Executed between 1728 and 1730, they represented the third and final project with which Rysbrack was involved at Stowe, and were preceded by statues of King George I and Queen Caroline, and by busts of eight British Worthies for Gibbs' Belvedere. The deities, which were carved in Portland stone, and placed on tall bases bearing identifying inscriptions in Runic lettering, consisted of six full-length figures, mostly standing, and a half-length of Sunna, the Sun god.
After the Stowe sale of 1921, the Saxon gods were widely dispersed, and their true identities were only recently recognised, when Thuner (now in the Victoria and Albert Museum) and Woden (now in a private collection) were rediscovered (Moore, op. cit., passim.). At that time the identity of four others, not previously recognised as having belonged to the series, Friga (formerly at Portmeirion, and now in the Buckinghamshire County Museum), Tiw (at Anglesey Abbey), Mona (now Buckinghamshire County Museum), and Seatern (now in a private collection), was re-established. Now the last of the seven, Sunna, which was previously known only from an old photograph (Davis, loc. cit.), has been rediscovered by Samantha Wyndham of the National Trust. It is the only half-length figure in the series, for reasons which are explained below.
Lord Cobham's intention was to create a political garden in accordance with his Whiggish, liberal beliefs. He shared a conviction common at the time that the Saxon tradition, introduced to these shores by Hengist, had championed a democratic spirit in public affairs. The choice of Saxon gods and of Runic inscriptions, which were much studied and believed to represent a form of writing that preceded the Roman invasions, was consequently motivated by a desire to celebrate qualities of the island race Cobham found wanting in such 'corrupted Progeny' of his own time as Sir Robert Walpole and King George II. In addition, Cobham believed he could trace his own ancestry back to the Saxons.
In 1732 Gilbert West, who was Lord Cobham's nephew, published a poem dedicated to Alexander Pope entitled Stowe, the Gardens, in which he describes the individual figures. He may indeed have been the inspiration behind the learned iconography of the whole scheme. He describes Sunna (Sunday) as 'First radiant Sunna shows his beaming Head.' This iconography was closely based upon the figure of The Sun in Richard Verstegan's A Restitution of Decayed Intelligence in Antiquities, which was published in Antwerp in 1605, and which described and illustrated all seven gods (Kenworthy-Browne, p. 224, fig. 10 for the illustration). Verstegan's text reads: 'Half a naked man, the face ringed by fire; he holds a burning wheel to signify his course round the world', and is clearly the basis for Rysbrack's representation.