Kensington Gardens : The Albert Memorial and its sculptures (Assesment 2)

September 5, 2009

Kensington Gardens

The Albert Memorial is located in Kensington Gardens an area that covers 260 acres. It was built in memory of  Prince Albert, Queen Victoria´s husband, who died of typhoid fever at the age of 42.

Kensington Gardens was part of Hyde Park for over 100 years. It was Henry VIII’s favorite place for hunting. But in 1689 the new King and Queen William and Mary had the idea to create a separate park. They bought Nottingham House, on the western side of Hyde Park and named it Kensington Palace and made it their home. The Queen created a garden which grew bigger when Mary’s sister Anne became Queen. However it was Queen Caroline, wife of George II,  in 1728  who really transformed the Gardens. She took another 300 acres from Hyde Park and hired landscape designers to create an English style garden and change the design. The Palace was the focus of the garden as well as the Round Pond in front of it. They also created a natural-looking lake called the Long Water. The gardens were a fashionable place and was open to public on Saturdays provided that the visitors were ‘respectably dressed’. The gardens lost their glory when Queen Victoria moved the court to Buckingham Palace.

The Gardens are particularly popular for sunbathing and picnics. King William III who was an asthma sufferer found the place quiet and air very healthy and that is when Queen Anne had enlarged the Palace Gardens. One of the most popular features in the Gardens is the bronze statue of Peter Pan. This statue shows Peter Pan standing on a pedestal covered with squirrels, rabbits and mice. There are statues of John Hanning Speke, the explorer who discovered the Nile and Edward Jenner, who developed a vaccine for smallpox. Today, a children’s play ground has also been opened in memory of Diana, Princess of Wales.


Kensington Gardens - Kensington Palace and Queen Victoria Memorial


Peter Pan statue

Albert Memorial

The Albert Memorial is one of the greatest representations of Victorian art. The official title was the Prince Consort National Memorial. It celebrates Victorian achievement and Prince Albert’s

passions and interests. Queen Victoria had it built in memory of her beloved husband, Prince Albert of Saxe Coburg – Gotha.  When Prince Albert died on 14 December 1861, the authorities and scholars around the Queen expressed several thoughts as to what they could do to honor the Prince.  They thought to establish a University or international scholarships.  But the Queen insisted on building a memorial “in the common sense of the word.”  A committee was appointed to undertake the project and make the design which was going to be approved by the Queen. The committee changed composition several times due to the deaths of  two of the main people. Finally, in May 1862 a committee of seven architects submitted two designs to the Queen in February 1863 and in April of the same year George Gilbert Scott´s design was approved.

The Memorial was designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott in the gothic revival style. “My idea in designing the Memorial,” Gilbert Scott wrote, “was to erect a kind of ciborium to protect a statue of the Prince; and its special characteristic was that the ciborium was designed in some degree on the principles of the ancient shrines. These shrines were models of imaginary buildings, such as had never in reality been erected; and my idea was to realise one of these imaginary structures with its precious materials, its inlaying, its enamels, etc, etc.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albert_Memorial p.1). It was opened in 1872 and the statue of Albert was installed in 1875.


Albert Memorial

The monument consists of the central figure which is the statue of Prince Albert seated. It is surrounded by the so called Frieze of Parnassus which is decorated by various sculptures.  These depict 169 individual composers, architects, poets, painters, and sculptors, musicians and architects all of which aim to show Albert´s enthusiasm for the arts and sciences.  The whole composition is very allegorical.  There are: four groups which depict Victorian industrial arts and sciences (agriculture, commerce, engineering and manufacturing),  and four more groups with statues of  Europe, Asia, Africa and The Americas at the four corners.  Each continent-group includes several ethnographic figures and a large animal.  There is one animal for each one of the continents: A camel for Africa, a buffalo for America, an elephant for Asia and a bull for Europe.  This great work was coordinated by the sculptor Henry Hugh Armstead as well as other artists of the Royal Academy.


Frieze of Parnassus

The mosaics of the Memorial’s canopy show more allegorical figures both at the exterior and the interior of the whole. The four mosaics of the exterior show the four arts (poetry, painting, architecture and sculpture) and they are supported by two historical figures on each side. The historical figures are: King David and Homer (poetry), Apelles and Raphael (painting), Solomon and Ictinus (architecture), and Phidias and Michelangelo (sculpture). The materials that were used in the mosaics include enamel, polished stone, agate, onyx, jasper, cornelian, crystal, marble, and granite.

A dedicatory legend divided into four parts is below the cornice of the canopy. The legend reads: Queen Victoria and her people – To the memory Of Albert Prince Consort – As A Tribute Of Their Gratitude – For A Life Devoted To The Public Good. There are four statues on the pillars of the canopy which represent the four sciences: Astronomy, Geology, Chemistry and Geometry.

Four more statues which represent the practical arts are on the niches Rhetoric, Medicine, Philosophy and Physiology. The four bronze figures of Astronomy, Chemistry, Rhetoric, and medicine are works of Henry Hugh Armstead ; the designs are characteristic of Applied Mechanics and represent the Lever, the Wedge, and the Screw, with figures of Archimedes and Watt.

Eight more statues which represent the moral and Christian virtues are near the top of the canopy’s tower. These include the four cardinal virtues and the three theological virtues,

which are Faith, Hope, Charity and Humility, Fortitude, Prudence, Justice and Temperance. Above these at the top of the tower are angels and at the very top there is a gold cross.

As time went by the Memorial had been abandoned and towards the end of the 1990s the decay which it had suffered was more pronounced. A decision was taken for thorough restoration, cleaning, repainting and re-gilding as well as structural repairs. During the restoration the seated figure of Prince Albert, was covered in gold leaf.


figure of Prince Albert

Description of the marbles of the podium

The podium of the Albert Memorial which can be described as a cube with angels cut off consists of  sixteen upright surfaces. Eight of these are the work of Mr. Armstead and are dedicated to poetry, music and painting. The central figure is Homer enthroned holding the harp resting on his left knee. On Homer’s right is Dante who has turned and is gazing up at him; the arms are rigid and there is the stress of mental absorption which gives a rigidity and austerity to the composition. On the other side the figure of Shakespeare who is seated and reclines on Homer’s left is a contrast to the posture of the two others.

Immediately over Dante stands Virgil who is leaning on the Homeric throne and looks at Homer who is a most probably the common source of their inspiration. A little behind Virgil is Pythagoras, a prophet, or poet in the old sense. On the left hand, Chaucer rests on the throne also looking towards Homer. In front of him, Milton leans forward. This group of the poets is completed by Corneille, Moliere and Cervantes supporting Virgil on the left, and Schiller and Goethe supporting Milton on the right.


The next group are the musicians. Next to Schiller, stands Bach talking to Handel and next to them Gluck listening to them. Mozart follows and then Haydn who is sited. Mendelssohn is inclining forwards absent minded and Weber next to him as well as Haydn and Beethoven.

Then there is the group of three English composers, Gibbons in the centre, Lawes on the right and Tallis on the left.

The group of the painters occupy the east front. In the centre upon a throne we see Raffaelle who is looking at number of designs. On the left Michael Angelo leaning on the throne. Da Vinci is on the right also leaning on the throne holding his book of great thoughts near his heart. To the right of Da Vinci stands Masaccio and beside him Angelico on his knees and in the space above is the face of Ghirlandajo. Giotto, John Van Eyck, Albrecht Durer and Rubens come next. Above the sitting figure of Rubens appear Rembrandt and Holbein. (John Lucas Tupper, Henry Hugh Armstead, http://www.victorianweb.org/sculpture/armstead/bio1.html )

Historical Note

During the period which took its name from the long reign of Queen Victoria (1832-1901) England was the first country to become industrialized and reached a  peak in her development as a world power.  By the second half of the 19th century London has become the centre of commerce and manufacturing and has known a rapid expansion and development.  The historian David Thomson has described the developments in England and the Nineteenth Century. He says that the period “is one of strenuous activity and dynamic change, of ferment of ideas and recurrent social unrest, of great inventiveness and expansion.” (The Norton Anthology of English Literature, 3rd edition, vol.2, p. 876). Especially, during the middle years after the Time of troubles was over, it was a time of prosperity and development for England.  All the institutions worked well, there was a growing sense of satisfaction, the queen and her husband, Prince Albert, very much liked and very much devoted to duty.

In 1851 Prince Albert opened the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park which is a celebration of  the triumphs of trade and industry.  The exhibition was to house the exhibits of modern industry and science in a gigantic glass greenhouse, The Crystal Palace.  All modern architectural principles had been employed for the construction of the Crystal Palace and mainly iron and glass were used.  Both the building and the exhibits symbolize the triumph of Victorian technology.


Crystal Palace - Prince Albert opens the Great Exhibition

It is obvious therefore that the whole composition of the Prince Albert Memorial agrees with the ideas and trends of the middle of the nineteenth century as well as with the mentality of the person that was built to honor.  In any case, it is characteristic that the seated figure of the Prince holds in its right hand and rests on his knee the book of the Great Exhibition.

Bibliography – Sources Consulted

1)      Beattie, Susan. The New Sculpture. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1983.

2)      British Sculpture 1850-1914. A loan exhibition of sculpture and medals sponsored by

The Victorian Society. London: Fine Art Society, 1968.

3)      Read, Benedict. Victorian Sculpture. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1982.

4)         “Henry Hugh Armstead.” English Artists of the Present Day. Essays by J. Beavington Atkinson, Sidney Colvin, F. G. Stephens, Tom Taylor, and John L. Tupper. London: Seeley, Jackson, and Halliday, 1872, 61-66. [full text].

5)      The Norton Anthology of English Literature.  Third Edition. Vol. 2.  W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. New York, 1962.

6) http://www.victorianweb.org/sculpture/armstead/bio1.html

7) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albert_Memorial


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