London Art@Site Sir Alfred Gilbert Eros

Sir Alfred Gilbert



Piccadilly Circus
The famous statue of Eros in Piccadilly Circus is one of the symbols of London. It is also known as the Shaftesbury Monument, having been erected as a memorial to the philanthropist Lord Shaftesbury. The actual figure rises above a fountain, which is made in bronze, but Eros is made out of aluminium, at that time a rare and novel material. The sculptor was Alfred Gilbert RA, and he used the fountain idea as an excuse for incorporating a variety of fishes and crustaceous life in the design. The fountain was unveiled in 1893, and was warmly described by the Magazine of Art as 'a striking contrast to the dull ugliness of the generality of our street sculpture, ... a work which, while beautifying one of our hitherto desolate open spaces, should do much towards the elevation of public taste in the direction of decorative sculpture, and serve freedom for the metropolis from any further additions of the old order of monumental monstrosities.'
Unfortunately, the statue had already been vandalised by August of the same year, and the spot had been 'permitted to be used as a playground by dirty and squalid children'. Since then it has undergone various tribulations, including in 1994 damage by a drunken visitor climbing on it and bending the figure. Since then, it was renovated and put back, as one of the most familiar sculptural emblems of London.
The statue, and the decorations on the base of the fountain, are characteristic of Gilbert's work, in a New Sculpture, art nouveau style. Note particularly among the decoration, the heads and half-figures of children or cherubs, and these are also similar to other studies of the juvenile form by Gilbert.
At the East end of Piccadilly is Piccadilly Circus, a world-famous traffic circle with a statue of Eros in the middle of it. But don't let this circus fool you. There were no clowns and trapeze artists here. Just as with Oxford Circus, the name merely refers to a circle (Latin circus"circle", from Greek kyrkos"circle"). Also, we're appalled to report that Eros was recently moved to one side to make way for more cars. Whoever ordered this move was sorely lacking in historical perspective. The point is, while the statue is definitely a winged archer, neither the artist nor those who commissioned the monument ever called it"Eros". That name came out of the popular imagination. Its official name is"The Lord Shaftesbury Memorial" and the whole thing was devised as a visual pun to commemorate this great philanthropist. If the archer were to release his arrow, its shaft would bury in Shaftesbury Avenue. Yes, we know it's a rotten joke but it was a little secret piece of London known only to those who loved the city. Obviously, that group doesn't include the faceless bureaucrats who pointed the arrow at random passing motorists.
In the last series, when Alan guessed that the statue in Piccadilly Circus was Eros, he was told by Stephen that he was wrong and that it was The Angel of Christian Charity.
I believe that Stephen was wrong too. The statue was intended to be Anteros, twin brother of Eros, who was the god of selfless love, in contrast to Eros, the god of sexual love. The sculptor of the statue Sir Alfred Gilbert made this distinction ''reflective and mature love, as opposed to Eros or Cupid, the frivolous tyrant'.
The Angel of Christian Charity appellation only came about when people insisted on mistaking anteros for Eros and complained that the statue was an unfit memorial to the very respectable Earl of Shaftesbury. And I believe that Stephen also made an error over the direction of 'Eros's' bow, which I believe was supposed to point to the Earl's home in Wimborne Saint Giles, Dorset.