Treasures of London – Richard Coeur de Lion…

June 2, 2017


Located in Old Palace Yard outside the Palace of Westminster, this Grade II-listed equestrian statue of 12th century crusader-monarch King Richard I, known as the “Lionheart” or Coeur de Lion, is the work of 19th century sculptor Baron Carlo Marochetti. 

The nine metre high statue was originally exhibited as a clay work at the Great Exhibition of 1851 – it was located outside the west entrance of the Crystal Palace – and, despite the tail falling off soon after it was display, it was well enough received by the crowds attending the exhibition (as well as the critics) that a public subscription was raised to cast the statue in bronze. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were among those who subscribed.

It was initially proposed that the statue be placed on the site of the Crystal Palace as a memorial to the exhibition (along with a statue of Prince Albert), but this plan was put aside and, after numerous other sites were considered, the current location was settled on.

The statue was erected on the site, facing south, in 1860, although it wasn’t completed with the addition of two bronze bas relief panels until 1867. These depict Richard on his death bed pardoning Bertran de Born, the archer whose arrow caused his death, and Richard fighting Saracens at Ascalon during his crusade in the Holy Land. Two other proposed panels were never made.

The statue was peppered with shrapnel when a bomb landed only a few metres away in 1940 during the Blitz, leaving Richard’s sword bent and damaging the tail and granite pedestal. The sword was fixed soon after. Further conservation works were carried out in 2009.

Italian-born Marochetti had worked in Paris as a sculptor before following King Louis-Philippe to London after the revolution of 1848 and largely remained in the city until his death in 1867. He was created a baron by the King of Sardinia.

His statue of Richard is one of few artworks created by non-British artists in the Parliamentary estate and while Marochetti had plans to create another equestrian statue, this one of Edward, the Black Prince, to face his statue of Richard across the entrance to the House of Lords, it never eventuated. Plans to install the second statue are, however, once more being talked about.

PICTURES: Above – The statue in Old Palace Yard (David Adams); Below – Detail of the panel depicting the death of the king (Prioryman/CC BY-SA 4.0)

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