Description: In 1797, a marble monument to David Garrick was erected in Westminster Abbey on the west wall of Poets’ Corner. Charles Lamb encountered the monument in 1811 and became so rankled by it that he authored, in protest, one of the signature critical essays of the Romantic period: “On Garrick, and Acting” (1811), better known by its revised title “On the Tragedies of Shakespeare: Considered with Reference to Their Fitness for Stage Representation” (1818). Lamb’s essay—famous for its claim that to stage Shakespeare’s plays is to alter and diminish them—not only opposes assertions such as Denis Diderot’s that “A play is not so much to be read as to be performed” (Entretiens sur Le Fils naturel, 1757) but also objects to the cultural elevation of the art of acting that the Garrick monument symbolizes. Just years after Garrick monument was installed in the Abbey, Lamb marshaled a set of arguments against it: for book over body, poetic vision over theatrical spectacle, and individual readership over audience membership. Seen through Lamb’s eyes, the Garrick monument appears as a vulgarising throwback, and its monumental continuity actively counter-Romantic.
Description: Lovers past and present are united in A. W. N. Pugin’s depiction of the tomb of Abelard (1079–1142) and Héloïse (1098–1164) in the Parisian cemetery of Père Lachaise. The gothic monument with the reclining statues of the medieval lovers serves as suggestive background to the two young lovers, captured in intimate conversation in an Elysian garden, where death and love, stone and vegetation invite a contemplation of the passing of time with love as a transcending force. The solitude à deux contrasts with the overpopulated city of the dead, crammed with funeral monuments, which meets the modern visitor to the cemetery.
Location: Centro Dantesco dei Frati Conventuali, Ravenna [showcase]
Description: On May 27, 1865, in the small provincial town of Ravenna, a spectacular event occurred that made headlines all over the world, from New York to the East Indies. The mortal remains of one of the greatest poets that had ever lived, Dante Alighieri, were discovered after having been lost over some 350 years. Coinciding with the celebrations marking the sixth centenary of his birth — in Ravenna and well beyond, particularly in Florence — this remarkable event fueled unprecedented curiosity, coercing the local authorities to publicly exhibit Dante’s bones and the simple wooden coffin that had contained them for centuries. To such purpose this crystal showcase was used. During one month, from May 27 until June 26 1865, the public was allowed to see what remained of Italy’s national poet, an experience never to be repeated again. While satisfying the audience’s urge to establish a direct connection to a man as highly venerated as Dante was, the exhibition of his bones also revealed something about the cult of the author. As a consequence, this episode of hero worship signals a paradigmatic instance in a field where popular curiosity, scientific interest and concerns of heritage conservation meet and clash.
Description: This monument, tucked away in the gardens of the Dronninggård estate, northwest of Copenhagen, is, remarkably, the source of an essentially unknown poem by James Henry Leigh Hunt (1784-1859), the influential essayist, critic, journalist and poet, and the leader of the so-called ‘Cockney’ school of English Romanticism. Designed by the Danish neoclassical sculptor Johannes Wiedewelt (1731-1802), the monument features a twenty-nine line poem in French by the Dutch cavalry officer Jean Frédéric Henry de Drevon (1734-97), inscribed on a tablet of Norwegian marble. De Drevon’s lines are the source for Hunt’s poem, which was first published by John Carr (1772-1832) in A Northern Summer, in 1805.
Description: This strange-looking, even kitsch, object stands in a corner of Horse Guards, next to St James’s Park in London. For all its garish and even comic appearance, it is actually Britain’s only public monument to the Peninsular war. It was first unveiled in 1816, but its genesis began in 1812 with the Duke of Wellington’s victory at Salamanca. One consequence of this battle was that Napoleonic forces withdrew from the two-year siege of Cadiz, seat of the Spanish Cortes and the new liberal constitution. To celebrate this liberation, the Cortes gave a huge French mortar as a gift to the Prince Regent (later George IV), requesting only that it be displayed in a public place. The Prince duly obliged and commissioned the Royal Arsenal at Woolwich to build a suitable carriage. Four years and an immense expenditure later, the Cadiz ‘bomb’, as it soon became known, was shown to the public on the Prince’s birthday. Continue reading “The Cadiz Bomb”