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.
Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search
ReviewThese heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Salisbury ranked seventh-best city in the world to visit in Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015
- 2 Disney announces new female-led film Moana
- 3 Banksy arrest hoax: Internet duped by fake online report claiming artist's identity has been revealed
- 4 Kentucky gang rape: 15-year-old boy left in critical condition after sexual attack by group at party
- 5 Russell Brand threatened with arrest after filming outside Fox News headquarters
Cameron is warned 'no possibility' of UK reducing immigration and that bid to bring in quota on migrant workers would be illegal
Residents should throw a street party and mix with immigrant neighbours, councils told
Russell Brand threatened with arrest after filming outside Fox News headquarters
London bus driver 'kicks gay couple off for kissing'
Jose Manuel Barroso warns David Cameron against making 'historic mistake' over immigration reforms
Worst Airports of 2014: Poll names Islamabad airport in Pakistan worst in the world