Curious London Memorials – 5. Eros (or the Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain)

February 2, 2011

Situated in the heart of Piccadilly Circus, the Eros statue has become an icon of London. Yet few of those who cluster around this iconic figurine realise that the aluminium statue (a rarity in itself) is actually a memorial, not to mention that it wasn’t intended to represent Eros at all.

The monument – which also features a bronze fountain below – was erected in the late nineteenth century to commemorate Anthony Ashley-Cooper, the 7th Earl of Shaftesbury and a well-regarded Christian reformer and philanthropist of the Victorian era, and is formerly known as the Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain.

Designed by Alfred Gilbert and unveiled in 1893, the winged figure holding a bow was apparently actually intended to represent Eros’ brother, Anteros – a Greek god associated with selfless love as opposed to his brother Eros, who is associated with erotic love – and, according to some, bore the name The Angel of Christian Charity, which makes sense given the man whom it is intended to commemorate.

While the statue attracted controversy when it was first unveiled thanks not least to its nudity, it has stood in Piccadilly Circus ever since (or at least mostly ever since – there have been a couple of brief periods such as when it was moved while Piccadilly Underground station was built and during World War II when it was moved for safe-keeping). It was restored in the 1980s.

A copy of the fountain and statue by Gilbert was later placed in Liverpool’s Sefton Park.

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