The Monument’s Sculpture

The sculpture on the west panel of the pedestal, facing Fish Street Hill, is a basso-relievo by Caius Gabriel Cibber, the sculptor, which represents the King affording protection to the desolate City and, freedom to its rebuilders and inhabitants.

The design is allegorical and displays a female figure, representing the City of London, sitting on ruins in a languishing condition, her head hanging down, her hair dishevelled and her left hand lying carelessly upon her sword; behind is Time with his wings and bald head, gradually raising her up. Another female figure by her side gently touches her with one hand and, with a winged sceptre in the other, points upwards to two goddesses sitting in the clouds, one with a cornucopia, denoting Plenty, the other having a palm branch in her left hand, signifying Peace. At her feet is a bee-hive, denoting Industry, by which the greatest difficulties can be surmounted. Beneath the figure of London, in the midst of the ruins, is a dragon supporting a shield bearing the arms of the City of London. Over her head are shown houses burning and flames breaking out through the windows. Behind Time is a group of citizens raising -their hands in encouragement.

Opposite these figures is a pavement of stone raised with three or four steps, on which stands King Charles II in Roman costume, with a baton in his right hand and a laurel wreath on his head, corning towards the City of London, and commanding three of his attendants to descend to her relief. The first represents Science, with a winged head and a circle of naked boys dancing on it, and in her hand a figure of Nature with her numerous breasts ready to give assistance to all. The second is Architecture holding in the right hand a plan, and in the left, a square and compasses. The third figure is Liberty waving a cap in the air.

Behind the King stands his brother, the Duke of York, holding in one hand a garland to crown the rising city, and in the other an uplifted sword for her defence. The two figures behind are justice with a coronet, and Fortitude with a reined lion. Above these figures are represented houses in building and labourers at work. Lastly, underneath the stone pavement on which the King stands, is a figure of Envy gnawing a heart and emitting contagious fumes from her envenomed mouth.

Cibber had to be got out of The Marshalsea Prison at times where he had gone for unpaid gambling debts. The Monument is 202 ft in height, being equal to the distance westward from the bakehouse in Pudding Lane where the fire broke out.  It took six years to construct 1671 – 1677.  The balcony is reached by a spiral stairway of 311 steps and affords panoramic views of the metropolis. Each step is exactly 6 inches high.  A superstructure rises from the balcony and supports a copper vase of flames. Originally it was to be a sculpture of King Charles 11 to which he objected. The very top of the edifice has a hinged lid and the spiral staircase surrounds a void (rather than a solid shaft) so the whole height can be used by a giant pendulum, or as a telescope. Robert Hooke’s laboratory’ is a room below ground not normally open to the public. The scientific nature of the Monument did not work out as the noise and vibrations from the carts on cobbles negated Wren and Hooke’s intentions.

Steve

 

 

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