Tuesday 29 October 2013

Oxford and Cambridge University Club, 71 Pall Mall SW1

Apollo and Minerva  Presiding
The Oxford and Cambridge University Club was built in 1835 by brothers Sir Robert and Sidney Smirke, with terracotta-colour panels designed by their father, the painter Robert Smirke. They were executed by the architectural sculptor William Nicholl.
On completion in 1838, the club was described by The Gentleman's Magazine as a "magnificent accession to the architectural ornaments of the metropolis." In its description, derived from The Civil Engineer and Architect's Journal, it states:
The bas reliefs in the panels above the windows of the principal floor require particular notice.They are executed in Roman cement by Mr W.G. Nicholl from designs by R. Smirke Esq. R.A. and are intended to illustrate those exalted labours of the mind, which it is peculiar province of the Universities to foster and promote. In the centre panel, Minerva and Apollo preside on Parnassus; a female figure personifying the river Helicon pours from an urn source sacred to the God of verse, and the Muses surround them at the foot the Mount. In one of the panels Homer is represented singing to a warrior, a female and a youth; in other is Virgil, reciting his Georgics to group of peasants. The four other panels represent Milton reciting his verses to his daughter, inspired by a superior agency hovering over him; Shakespeare attended by Tragedy and Comedy; Newton explaining his system; and Bacon recommending his philosophy.
The choice of the modern mind-labourers seems a little invidious for a club intended for the alumni of both universities - Bacon, Milton and Newton were all Cambridge men, and Shakespeare, sad to say, was not fostered or promoted by any university at all. The fact that the founding committee was chaired by Lord Palmerston (St Johns College, Cambridge, 1803-06) can have been mere coincidence.
Homer Sings
Virgil Recites
Milton Inspired

Shakespeare Attended
Newton Explains
Bacon Recommends

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