Sunday 23 December 2012

Mansion House, Bank EC2

The pediment of George Dance the Elder's Mansion House was carved by Robert Taylor, whose father Robert Snr was one of the masons on the building. This led to inevitable but apparently unjustified accusations of inside influence when he got the job.
Taylor's composition is unusual for its date in a very admirable portrayal of the City as prospering through peace rather than conquest. As an 'explanation' on a contemporary engraving has it: "...their general Design is to exhibit LONDON Triumphant, not in military Atchievements, but in the necessary and social Arts of Trade and Commerce, which are the true Arts of Life."
The central figure is a female personification of the City trampling Envy beneath her feet. She holds a shield with the City's arms on it in one hand and a wand of office (a vindicta or Praetorian wand) in the other. She wears a towered hat identifying her with Cybele, the mother-goddess of Rome, the imperial city that London's city fathers desired to emulate.
To her right, a small boy carries the symbols of authority and independence including the fasces and a pileus or cap of liberty. He seems to be holding the City's sword by the blade, so tears before bedtime I think.
At the left, Old Father Thames holds an urn from which the river springs eternal, and the rudder of a ship that looms behind. A swan and an anchor appear at his feet.
The group on the right represent the trade that made London, in the words of the explanation, "the Chief Emporium in the Universe". A female offers London the fruits from a cornucopia, and two boys bring goods in bales, barrels and bags. They are accompanied by a stork, which is apparently the bird of commerce and also " its singular Affection to its Parents, it is a lively representation of the Citizens of LONDON, whose Duty, Industry, Love to their Constitution, and Zeal for their Privileges, accord an inexhaustible Supply to their Common Mother."
That is an image that today's greedy bankers would do well to adopt.

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