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EXECUTED IN SILVER-GILT BY MESSRS GREEN, WARD GREENLUDGATE ST?
London Published April 1822. by Walton & Jarvis. Furmester Row.
THE SHIELD OF WELLINGTON.
It is remarked by Monsieur Dupin *, that, while the name of Nelson is associated with, and united to, some of the finest specimens of architecture and sculpture, which modern Europe can boast, while art has raised her choicest flowers to decorate the grave, and taste has wreathed with fairy hand the laurel crown around the tomb of the victor of Trafalgar ;—the name of the saviour of his country, the liberator of Europe, the hero of Waterloo, the immortal Wellington, is unconnected with any of those monuments of art, which have raised this country to the same pre-eminence in the intellectual, as her arms have acquired for her in the moral, world.
We regret that a man like M. Dupin, possessing a liberal and enlightened mind, and disposed, in general, to do justice to our national character, should have inferred from this circumstance, that the British people, while embalming the ashes of the dead, are insensible to the merit of the living ;-or. that, while they record with triumphant pride the victories achieved on the ocean, they are disposed to undervalue the services of those who have fought the battles of their country and of Europe on land. We regret still more that he should imagine that in England the gratitude of the nation is to be estimated by the magnificence of a pyramid, or the splendour of a temple. Such are not the rewards which Britain bestows; they are not the rewards to which her warriors aspire. They may, it is true, be occasionally superadded; but their absence implies neither demerit nor disregard.
* Voyages dans La Grande Bretagne, Entrepris relativement aux services publics de la Guerre, de la Marine, et des Ponts et Chaussées, en 1816, 1817, 1819, 1819. 1820. Deuxième Partie, Force Navale. Par Charles Dupin, Membre de l'Institut de France, &c. &c.
The genuine effusions of grateful thanks, the voice of praise, “ not loud, but deep,” the full tide of national bounty flowing to mitigate the anguish inevitable on war, to provide for the comforts of those who survived, and for the families of those who fell in the glorious conflict, the prayers offered at the throne of mercy for the happiness of the hero and his companions in arms,—these are monuments more precious than gold, more durable than marble.
For the satisfaction, however, of those who agree in opinion with M. Dupin, and if it were only to take away even the shadow of a pretence for cavilling, we rejoice that it has fallen to our lot to give a description, although but a faint one, of the “Shield of Wellington." Before we attempt a detailed account of this magnificent work of art, it will be necessary to offer a slight sketch of the circumstances which occasioned its production.
In the year 1814, after the efforts of the allied powers had succeeded in hurling from his throne the tyrant of Europe, and in restoring to the French people their legitimate sovereign, the principal merchants and bankers of the metropolis were anxious to testify in a suitable manner their sense of the services of him who had been, under Providence, the efficient cause of the success which had attended our arms. A meeting accordingly took place, the particulars of which it is unnecessary here to mention; the result was that a subscription was immediately opened, the proceeds of which were to be applied to the execution of some work of art, such as should be deemed most appropriate to the services of the hero, and most expressive of the feelings entertained by the donors. A committee was appointed, to whom full powers were given to determine on the best mode of carrying into execution the wishes of the subscribers, and to select from such designs as should be offered to their notice, that which their judgment should point out as the best. The committee consisted of the following gentlemen :
JOHN JULIUS ANGERSTEIN, Esq.
WILLIAM HOLDEN, Esq., Secretary. After the most attentive and anxious consideration had been given to the various plans which were suggested to them, the committee at length agreed that a piece of plate, of some sort or other, was the most judicious offering which they could make to the duke, and presented fewer objections and difficulties in xecution, than any design which was offered to their notice. As soon as the determination of the committee was made known, a spirit of competition was awakened, and an honourable rivalry commenced between those houses most eminent in that branch of manufacture to which this decision had reference. The principal competitors were Messrs. Rundell and Bridge, and Messrs. Green, Ward, and Green. It chanced that at this period the former of these houses was engaged in constructing a model of the shield of Achilles, intended for his present Majesty. It occurred to them, naturally enough, that the shield of Achilles would not be an inappropriate offering to the hero of Britain; and this idea was by them pressed upon the committee. An additional, and very important, recommendation which this plan carried with it, was that from being already engaged in a similar undertaking, they possessed a decided superiority over every competitor, in the facility with which they would be enabled to carry the work into execution : and, although many objections were started to this plan, we believe the committee were long in suspense, before they finally determined on its rejection.
In the mean time, Messrs. Green and Ward, anxious to procure some original design, which might obtain the approbation of the Committee, applied to Mr. Chantry for his advice. That gentleman without hesitation declared that he had not time for such an undertaking: adding that, which no other man would dare to say, “indeed he possessed not the talent for it." With a generous and liberal feeling, which does equal honour to his head and heart, he said, - If there is a man in England who can assist you, that man is Stothard.” Upon being informed of the doubt with respect to the shield of Achilles, he exclaimed, “ Surely, if it is to be a shield, let it be the shield of Wellington, not of Achilles.” This was the first suggestion of a Shield of Wellington. By the recommendation of Mr. Chantry, Mr. Stothard was consulted: the idea was maturely considered, the shield formed, offered to the Committee, and finally approved.
Messrs. Green and Ward, feeling, however, that in a work of this importance, they ought not to rely on the talents of any one man, however eminent, but should endeavour, by a collision of talent, to elicit the brightest spark of genius, applied to artists of the first rank for assistance in their undertaking. Among these, Mr. Smirke was, of course, consulted ; and the columns which accompany the shield, were formed after his design. When at length the various models were submitted to the committee for their final decision, those of Messrs. Green and Ward were adopted: and it is but justice to Mr. Smirke to say, that the original preference given to them arose principally from the great beauty of his first design of the columns, which, with some alterations which were found necessary in the progress of the work, are those which accompany the Shield.
We will now proceed to a more detailed description.
In describing the shield and the columns, (which are of massive silver, gilt, and the total weight of which is nearly five hundredweight,) we shall begin with the former, which must necessarily first strike the eye of every observer. Its form is circular, and its diameter is three feet three inches. At the most superficial glance three compartments first strike the eye-three concentric circles. The outer one is a broad border of deadened gold, richly ornamented in basso relievo ; the inner circle is likewise of deadened gold, radiating from the centre, and slightly convex; a bold group of figures in alto relievo, executed in deadened gold, occupies the centre, and the boss is formed by the head of the Duke of Wellington's charger.
Upon a closer inspection, the central group appears strikingly prominent, and is beautifully relieved by the radiant ground upon which it stands. It consists of fourteen equestrian figures, besides the allegorical one of Victory crowning the immortal Wellington, who appears in the middle surrounded by the principal officers, his illustrious companions in arms and victory. Without any singularity, the principal figure is sufficiently striking; and the other officers fill the surrounding space without producing any confusion. The grouping, in short, is most admirable; some of the figures are considered remarkable likenesses, and all are finished in a style which in this sort of workmanship is truly surprising. Lord Beresford, Lord Hill, the Earl of Hopetown, Lord Lyndoch, Sir Thomas Picton, Sir Lowry Cole, and others, compose this group of heroes.
At the feet of the Duke of Wellington, lies a figure whose fallen crown is emblematical of the downfall of the imperial dynasty. Two other prostrate figures, one with a dagger, and the other with a lighted torch, represent Treachery and Devastation, sharing the same fate. This composition is so neatly grand, that although the modern costume is preserved throughout the historical subject, the allegorical part does not interfere with it in the least. It is needless to eulogize the taste which the artist has displayed throughout the whole, and as long as this work exists, it will always continue so. Without descending to the mean shift of the Athenian artist, Mr. Stothard has rendered his own fame coeval with that of his work, and his own immortality with that of its illustrious subject.
The second circle is divided into ten compartments, which give the spectator an abstract of the Duke's military life up to the peace of 1814. Of course the victory of Waterloo is not included in this series. But although the spectator may regret this circumstance, it is, perhaps, more gratifying to the illustrious Wellington, that he has had an opportunity of increasing the debt of gratitude due to him by his country, since this idea was formed, than if this, his highest triumph, had been included in it.