Tuesday 3 December 2013

The Princess Royal Nurses Home, Guilford Street WC1

The Hospital for Sick Children in Great Ormond Street was largely rebuilt by architects Hall, Easton and Robertson in the 1930s, starting with the nurses' home in 1933.
Over the doorway, Eric Aumonier created a bas relief sculpture of Hygeia flanked by the nine muses.
Hygiea was the daughter of Asclepius, the demi-god of medicine, and she is almost invariably depicted feeding her father's wise snake from a bowl of healing balm.
Eric Aumonier came from a dynasty of architectural sculptors founded by his grandfather William. He studied at the Central School of Arts and Crafts and initially joined the family firm but left in the lat 1920s to strike out on his own. His work starts in the Art Deco but by the 1950s had become much more International Modern.
(Thanks to Nick Baldwin, archivist at Great Ormond Street Hospital, and Peter Kent of the RIBA Library for their help).
The Muses, from left to right:

Melpomene, Muse of Tragedy, with the Mask of Tragedy.

Polymnia, Muse of Hymnody. "Polymnia, nursingmother of the dance, waved her arms, and sketched in the air an image of a soundless voice, speaking with hands and moving eyes in a graphic picture of silence full of meaning." (Dionysiaca)

Clio, Muse of History, clutching a scroll.

Erato, Muse of Lyric Poetry, including love poems. Often shown with a lyre - is that a lyre behind her and to her right?

Urania, Muse of Astronomy and Universal Love, holding her rod and celestial globe.

Calliope, Muse of Epic Poetry and Homer's inspiration. She is usually depicted with a writing tablet but here seems to be holding a staff or musical instrument.

Terpsichore, Muse of Dance. Usually shown sitting down, accompanying the dancers on the lyre, but here shown joyously dancing herself.

Euterpe, Muse of Music. Usually shown with a double flute but Aumonier depicts her with cymbals.

Thalia, Muse of Comedy and Idyllic Poetry. The happy one, with the mask of comedy.


Hels said...

Since the building was going to be the Hospital for Sick Children, I wonder if the sculptor was asked to present his bas reliefs with a health care vision. With the exception of Asclepius, none of the images have anything much to do with healing, charity or children.

The bas reliefs are typically Deco and beautifully crafted, so perhaps they were meant for the staff and parents.

Anonymous said...

Surely the symbolism is fairly obvious though nowadays would be definitely inappropriate.

When the building was built as a nurses home, all nurses were female. So the goddess of health, Hygeia, is shown surrounded by all the other female graces. The artist is complimenting the nurses saying that they not only bring health, but also share all the other female talents. It is very very old fashioned but perhaps more respectful than patronising.