Salient Features of the Albert Memorial

One of London’s most ornate monuments, the Albert Memorial is located in Kensington Gardens opposite the Royal Albert Hall. It was commissioned by Queen Victoria to commemorate the death of her husband, Prince Albert who died in 1861 of typhoid at the age of 42. Designed by Sir Gilbert Scott in the Gothic Revival style, this memorial was opened by Queen Victoria in July 1872 but the statue of Albert was ceremonially “seated” in 1875. The memorial comprises of an ornate canopy or pavilion, which has been built in the style of Gothic ciborium over the high altar of a church and it contains a statue of the prince who is seen to be facing south. This memorial which took over ten years to complete, is 176 feet tall and the colossal cost of making it was met by public subscription. In 1970, it was Grade I listed.

Several Albert Memorials were created around the United Kingdom after the death of the Prince Consort, mainly due to his immense popularity. The one in Kensington Gardens is not the first as the earliest to be erected was Thomas Worthington’s Albert Memorial in Albert Square, Manchester that was unveiled in 1865. Both these memorials have a similar design as they present the figure of Prince Albert  enclosed within a Gothic ciborium. However, it is not clear as to which one was influenced by the other or whether both were independently designed.

The death of Prince Albert in 1861 had made the people in the government and public life think about what would be the best way to honour him and the form and shape of a suitable memorial. Several possibilities emerged including setting up a university or providing international scholarships. However, the final word was delivered by Queen Victoria that she preferred to have a memorial. Accordingly, the Lord Mayor of London appointed a committee to raise funds for a design that would be cleared by the Queen. However, the Mayor was relieved of this responsibility soon afterwards and the work was entrusted to people close to the Queen such as the Queen’s secretary and the keeper of the privy purse. Several designs were submitted out of which two were passed to the Queen for a final decision. Ultimately, the design of Scott was approved in April 1863.

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The statue of the seated figure of Albert was based on a sketch by John Henry Foley who was commissioned to make the portrait. The sketch model was approved and a full-size model was placed on the monument in 1870 and this design was approved by the Queen. The final statue was cast in bronze by a company in Southwark and the gilt bronze statue was ceremonially “seated” in 1875, three years after the opening of the memorial. The statue shows that Prince Albert is holding a catalogue of the Great Exhibition and is robed as a Knight of the Garter.

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The memorial’s central area is surrounded by the elaborate sculpture Frieze of Parnassus in which 169 people have been depicted including individual composers, architects, poets, painters, and sculptors. On the south side you can see musicians and poets and on the east side, painters have been placed. The west side shows sculptors and the north side has architects. There are two allegorical sculpture programmes at the corners of the central area and at the corners of the outer area, there are four groups depicting Victorian industrial arts and sciences and four other groups representing Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas at the four corners and in each group there are several ethnographic figures and a large animal.

The canopy of the memorial features several mosaics as external and internal decorative artworks. There are four external mosaics with each featuring a central allegorical figure of the four arts (poetry, painting, sculpture and architecture) supported by two historical figures (King David and Homer, Apelles and Raphael, Solomon and Ictinus, and Phodias and Michelangelo) on either side. The mosaics were made from materials including enamel, polished stone, agate, onyx, cornelian, crystal, marble, and granite.

The canopy’s pillars and niches feature eight statues that represent the practical arts and sciences with four pillars featuring Astronomy, Geology, Chemistry and Geometry, and four niches featuring Rhetoric, Medicine, Philosophy and Physiology.

There are eight statues near the top of the canopy’s tower that represent moral and Christian virtues, including the four cardinal virtues and the three theological virtues. The virtues are Faith, Hope, Charity and Humility, and Fortitude, Prudence, Justice and Temperance. On top of all these and towards the top of the tower, you can see gilded angels raising their arms heavenwards. There is a gold cross at the extreme top of the tower. There is a large under croft below the memorial consisting of numerous brick arches serving as a foundation for supporting the large weight of the stone and metal that were used for building the monument.

The Albert Memorial in Kensington Gardens, which celebrates Victorian achievement and Prince Albert’s passions and interests, is one of the grandest high-Victorian gothic extravaganzas anywhere and is officially titled the Prince Consort National Memorial.

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