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"Erected to the memory of the British soldiers and sailors who fell in the Crimean War" (Van Millingen's caption), the memorial was the result of a government commission. Marochetti designed it in the fashionable Egyptian style of the time, and his model of it was unveiled with great fanfare at the Peace Fête of May 1856, held at the Crystal Palace at Sydenham, to mark the end of the Crimean War. It was placed opposite a "Peace Trophy" – a large allegorical figure surrounded by smaller figures, all brilliantly decorated in gold and silver and hung with garlands, and in front of each of these two huge monuments stood two full-size models of his most important earlier works in Britain, his equestrian statues of Richard the Lionheart and Queen Victoria. The unveiling took place in the presence of the Queen and Prince Albert, with massed military bands, the Crystal Palace band (including stringed instruments) and 12,000 visitors in attendance (see "Peace Fete"). There was much cheering and the royal party descended from the dais to the playing of "Rule Britannia." It would be hard to imagine a more memorable showcase for a piece of sculpture.
Painting of the monument by the illustrator Warwick Goble (1862-1943). Source: Van Millingen, following p.88.
However, the war memorial came in for a good deal of criticism, partly because of its cost: £17,500 (see "Details of Sculptor"); and even because of its design. Lord Harrington complained in the House of Lords on 8 July 1856,
It was very defective in its proportions, inasmuch as the pedestal was as high as the superstructure, whereas the base of Cleopatra's Needle was only one-third the height of the pillar itself. Many obelisks in England were superior to Signor Marochetti's Scutari monument, in point of taste, beauty, and design. One point about it was very remarkable — the four unfortunate weeping angels could not possibly stand; or if they did, they must be standing either upon their wings, which extend considerably below their feet, or in a flying.
Whether it matters that the proportions are different from those of Cleopatra's Needle is a moot point, and the objection to the angels is rather comical. To modern eyes, which do not expect realistic representations of otherworldly beings, the monument seems to be both harmoniously and elegantly conceived. But there was another factor, too. Lord Harrington then went on to ask,
1. By whose authority the Scutari Monument had been undertaken? 2. Who had selected Signor Marochetti to undertake the work? 3. From what fund the payment was to be made? 4. Why the work had not been subjected to public competition, so that the sculptors of England, France, Italy, and Germany, might have sent in models, and an obelisk have been produced that would have immortalised our warriors and the sculptor for ages to come.
He then concluded rather contradictorily, "The sculptors of this country did not wish to disparage the talent and genius of Signor Marochetti, whom they all highly respected, but they complained that a system of favouritism had been adopted, and that equal justice had not been done to the sculptors and architects of this and other countries" ("The Scutari Monument"). That was the problem, then.
On this occasion, Lord Harrington's questions were at least partially answered by another member of the House of Lords. Lord Panmure explained that the government had undertaken the Scutari project "in accordance with the public wish"; had voted to fund it; and had also been responsible for the choice of sculptor. He defended the choice himself, saying that he "believed that the monument about to be erected at Scutari would be one of the finest the country had produced, and an honourable and handsome tribute by this nation to the memory of those brave men whom it was intended to commemorate." He also pointed out that "many of our first artists" were reluctant to enter competitions anyway, and suggested that the baron, as "being famous for some colossal works he had already produced," was surely the most obvious candidate for the commission. Most interesting of all were Lord Panmure's closing comments:
He thought that Baron Marochetti should not, at all events, be considered a foreign artist, for he had gained for himself a reputation in this country, and was looked upon more as an artist of this country than as a foreign artist. But even if he were viewed in the light of a foreign artist, the noble Earl could have no reason to complain of him, because it was his wish that the work should be competed for by the artists of England, Italy, France, and other countries. He (Lord Panmure) was quite certain that in Baron Marochetti's hands the work would be executed in a manner satisfactory to the country as well as creditable to the artist. ["The Scutari Monument"; emphasis added]
In fact, there is an acknowledgement here of British xenophobia, an acceptance that by some people at least Marochetti might still be seen as an outsider. Yet criticisms like Lord Harrington's did not prevent him from receiving another very high profile commission soon afterwards, for the Cawnpore Memorial in India. His angel centrepiece for this is partly based on the angels of the Scutari monument – with, however, wings apparently more capable of flight. Marochetti, it seems, listened to criticism. Much to the envy of some of his peers, he remained the sculptor of choice for such national icons.
"Details of Sculptor: Marochetti, Baron Carlo, RA." A Biographical Dictionary of Sculptors in Britain, 1660-1851. Henry Moore Institute. Web. 18 March 2015.
"Peace Fete At The Crystal Palace." The Times. 10 May 1856: 9. Times Digital Archive. Web. 18 March 2015.
"The Scutari Monument." Hansard. 8 July 1856. Vol. 143: 493-5. Web. 18 March 2015.
Van Millingen, Alexander. Constantinople. London: A & C Black, 1906. Project Gutenberg. Web. 18 March 2015.
Created 22 March 2015