Parliament has lent one of its eighteen Magna Carta statues, normally situated high up in the House of Lords chamber, to Tate Britain’s exciting exhibition; 'Sculpture Victorious'. The exhibition will run from 25 February – 25 May 2015.
The statue on loan to Tate Britain is ‘Baron Saher de Quency, Earl of Winchester’ by James Sherwood Westmacott. The Earl of Winchester is represented in full chainmail, wearing a crown, tunic with cross, belt, and a formidable axe. It is one of eighteen statues of barons and prelates who in 1215 helped to secure the signing of the Magna Carta, limiting the powers of King John. This is the first time any of the statues displayed outside Parliament since their installation.
The Magna Carta statues were part of the decoration of the New Palace of Westminster; built to Charles Barry’s design after the fire of 1834. James Sherwood Westmacott was just twenty-one when the Fine Arts Commission announced a public competition and exhibition to find sculptors to decorate the new Palace. Westmacott submitted two British history subjects – King Richard I and King Alfred – to the exhibition, which was held in Westminster Hall in 1844. He was subsequently commissioned to make two of the statues for the House of Lords Chamber, Winchester and the Earl of Gloucester.
The decoration of the New Palace of Westminster was one of the most significant artistic events of the Victorian era. Providing a narrative of the development of the British state, the programme indicated the antiquity of the British constitution, but also the sense of its future, stressed by the strength and permanency of the sculptural materials.
'Sculpture Victorious' is a joint venture of Tate Britain and the Yale Center for British Art. It focuses on the making and viewing of British sculpture during the reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1901). The exhibition seeks to reveal not only sculpture’s inventiveness, vibrancy and modernity, but also the significant cultural and political position it occupied in nineteenth-century Britain and its empire.
Image (detail): 'Saher de Quincy, Earl of Winchester, 1848-53', zinc electroplated with copper, with gilding, by James Sherwood Westmacott (WOA S93)