Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Royal Society of Arts, John Adam Street WC2

When Robert and James Adam designed the home of the Royal Society of Arts in 1772, they drew the facade with statues on the pediment and decorative plaques on the walls but these got left off in an eighteenth century economy drive.
For more than two centuries the building looked like this ----->
To celebrate the bicentenary, the RSA decided to complete the decoration. I have to thank Rob Baker and Rebecca Short of the RSA's Archive and Library for the following information.
In 1980 two casts of an 18th century roundel depicting Priam's appeal to Achilles for the body of Hector were placed on the front wall. The King of Troy kneels before the iron-willed warrior, grasping his wrist as he pleads for the return of his son's body, while Achilles makes a gesture of refusal. Behind, an old man points to the heavens, reminding the hero that the Gods have approved Priam's request. It is an affecting scene.
It was not until later that the facade was finally completed by the addition of the statues. Rob Baker writes:
"The statues were commissioned by Sebastian de Ferranti, a former Vice President of the RSA. They were made by Plowden and Smith, and put up in 1994.
The figure of Minerva, representing arts, is holding a shield bearing the Gorgon's head and a spear. The figure of Ceres, representing agriculture, is holding a young oak tree, symbolising an early interest in agriculture by the Society. By her feet is a harpoon for catching whales, an invention and industry encouraged by the Society at that time. The other figure, representing manufactures and commerce, is carrying English broad cloth to rocky shores."
 For the RSA's Strand frontage, click here.

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