Saturday 15 January 2011

delete Somerset House, Strand WC2

Surmounting the Strand facade is the coat of arms of George III, carved by John Bacon Senior. The shield is quartered with the harp of Ireland, the lion of Scotland and the three lions of England and the fleur-de-lys of France.
In the fourth quarter is the badge of Hanover, comprising two lions for Brunswick, another lion for Luneburg and a horse for Westfalia. Charlemagne's crown at the centre signifies George's position as Archtreasurer of the Holy Roman Empire, a title that must have given him much simple pleasure.
It must be one of the last royal coats of arms to show the fleur-de-lys, which were finally abandoned in 1801 partly because the claim to throne of France was ridiculous but also to recognise that the French throne no longer existed.
The arms are supported by figures of Fame, blowing his trumpet, and the Genius of England, who points meaningfully to a plaque below the main arms with the image of Saint George brandishing his sword as he jumps his horse over the dragon.
The group was very much admired at the time. Giuseppe Baretti in his Guide of 1781 says "The whole is a much approved performance of Mr Bacon."
John Bacon was the son of a clothworker in Southwark who became rich and famous churning out memorials for churches. Philip Ward-Jackson has written of him: "His great abilities as a sculptor were disagreeably offset by what some saw as a smug and smarmily pious manner."


Hels said...

Nod, I noticed the fleur-de-lys immediately. By the way, what/who was the Genius of England?

Anonymous said...

From the Merriam Webster dictionary: "genius (3) a peculiar, distinctive, or identifying character or spirit."

Putting that another way, it is an allegorical figure representing an entity that does not exist but that people wish did exist.

columnist said...

Enjoying your blog very much indeed!