In the first of a series of posts that focus upon the research of participants, Eoin explores the Scots National Monument to the Prince Consort, as part of his wider interest in the collection of sculptures that Queen Victoria commissioned after Prince Albert’s death.
The death of the Prince on 14 December 1861 was one highly significant in terms of the material culture it generated. Queen Victoria herself acquired and commissioned a large number of memorial works – in various media. These ranged from private mementos such as plaster casts of Albert’s hands to large public memorials in Windsor and elsewhere. The works she commissioned were paralleled by numerous public memorials. Within days of the Prince’s death, towns and cities across the United Kingdom and the British Empire began to plan public memorials. The Scots National Monument to the Prince Consort in Edinburgh’s Charlotte Square was one of four national memorials –the others were in Dublin, London and Tenby in Wales.
Begun in 1865 but not completed until 1876, the Edinburgh monument was the work of numerous Scottish artists – Sir John Steell, one of the foremost sculptors in Victorian Scotland, executed the equestrian statue of the Prince that surmounts the monument. As an art historian, one of my first responses would be to think about processes of production, from the type of stone used for the monument’s pedestal to the bronze casting of the equestrian statue, statue groups and relief panels. I would also think about the monument’s three-tiered representational scheme. At each corner of the monument’s base are four statue groups representing the various strata of Scots society – the Upper Classes, the Lower Classes, Artists and Scholars, and the Services. Inset into the statue’s pedestal on the next level are four bronze relief panels representing Victoria’s and Albert’s marriage (pictured), Victoria and Albert with their children, the opening of the Great Exhibition in 1851, and Prince Albert presenting diplomas. Surmounting the whole is an equestrian statue of the Prince as a Field Marshal. The intention here is clear: to demonstrate the Prince’s life, deeds and virtues, and to represent the community of mourning generated by his death. Yet, one of the primary aims of the conference is to encourage us to think about memorial artworks, objects and texts, not simply as artworks, objects and texts, but to think about the ways in which they might have functioned as part of the Victorian experience of grief and expression of mourning. We want to think about what these memorials mean in themselves, but also to consider how contemporaries might have viewed, engaged with and potentially found solace in them.