Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Central Criminal Court, Old Bailey EC4

Three bas-reliefs by Alfred Turner appear in the central portico of the Old Bailey. Turner was another sculptor with long-standing associations with the architect E.W. Mountford, but it seems that he may have got the commission via Frederick Pomeroy, who may have felt himself unable to take on all the sculpture for the building.
The panels are said to illustrate the quotation from Psalm 72 on the entablature: "Defend the children of the poor and punish the wrong-doer".
The central panel, however, seems to have little to do with retributive justice. An angel representing the Earth and the peoples thereof holds and armillary sphere and points down towards the building's main entrance. She is flanked by Spring sowing seed from a basket and Autumn holding a sickle and a sheaf of wheat.
The left panel is much more relevant - a mightily-muscled angel with drawn sword defends a woman and her children.
The right panel is a bit confusing. A even more muscly man with a truly heroic sword brandishes the decapitated head of Medusa, while behind him lies the corpse of a huge dragon. His shield is held by a buxom lass in what looks like a chain mail bra. She is looking adoringly in his direction - if he plays his cards right, he luck is in tonight.
The iconography is baffling, however. Is this guy Perseus, Siefried or St George? Turner was a big Wagner fan, according to Philip Ward-Jackson in Public Sculpture of the City of London, which explains the woman's Brunnhilde outfit, but the intended import of the piece seems to be unrecorded.

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