Right of Reply: James Hall
The art critic responds to Philip Hensher's views on new statues for Trafalgar Square
Monday 26 July 1999
A pioneering archaeologist in sixteenth century Rome doubted whether it was worth excavating nude antique statues because they offered "no new information". Renaissance antiquarians gave precedence to ancient artefacts that had inscriptions, or that illustrated a name occurring in an ancient text.
A similarly literary attitude prevailed with modern sculpture. The first guidebook to Westminster Abbey, produced by the antiquary William Camden in 1600, reproduced the inscriptions, but did not illustrate or describe the monuments. Of course, the quality of most of London's public sculpture is indifferent - as is that of most of the architecture. But there are some extraordinary works - products both of genius and of inspired lunacy - that are more like poems than sermons in stone. The Albert Memorial (1863-72), which has been called a "polychrome banana-split", is one of the most sensuous confections in nineteenth century art. The surrealist writer Louis Aragon marvelled at the "phallophoria of Trafalgar Square, where one-armed Nelson is the witness to the nation's hysteria". By describing E H Baily's Nelson (1839-43) as a witness, he did at least pin-point his oddly diffident body language. Nelson is an almost Giacomettian figure atop his column, lost in space, a shrivelled Simon Stylites. Statues can and should be much more than petrified CVs.
GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival
TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride
Arts & Ents blogs
- 2 California man brutally beat 82-year-old Sikh grandfather he mistook for 'one of those people'
- 3 School kitchen manager 'fired from Colorado school for giving hungry students free lunches'
- 4 Gay teenager 'forced to have sex with his own mother' to 'cure' his homosexuality, campaigners in India say
- 5 Charles Kennedy 'had better judgement drunk than many sober politicians' says Ian Hislop
Syd Barrett's inner visions
Britain's Got Talent 2015: Simon Cowell 'feels like an idiot' after Jules and Matisse scandal
Game of Thrones season 6: George RR Martin doing 'anything he can' to get new book The Winds of Winter out before next HBO series airs
Game of Thrones, Battle of Hardhome: 20-minute Wildlings versus White Walkers battle took a 'solid month' to film
Game of Thrones season 5 episode 9, The Dance of Dragons: Jon Snow returns to The Wall after epic Battle of Hardhome
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination
Migrants in Kos: Photos show real tragedy after Brits abroad complain of 'awkward' holidays
British tourists complain that impoverished boat migrants are making holidays 'awkward' in Kos
Michael Gove determined to scrap the Human Rights Act – even if Scotland retains it
Threat to scrap Human Rights Act could see UK follow Nazi example, warns UN official
Church of England 'one generation away from extinction' after dramatic loss of followers