AN 18th-century visitor to Rome described the city’s population as being made up of a quarter priests, a quarter people who do nothing, a quarter who do a little work and a quarter statues. Although Athena isn’t exactly sure how that formula could be applied to London in 2017, there is no question that the city’s statue numbers are growing at an alarming rate.
Now, Athena must admit that she’s partial to a statue herself: after all, the Parthenon once housed a much larger than life-sized tribute to your favourite goddess and, today, she encounters herself in sculpted form around the world. However, the over-monumentalisation of London threatens to erode some of our best-loved civic spaces and, in the process, will also trivialise many of our existing statues, monuments and commemorative sites.
The latest controversy in this sphere has swirled around proposals to erect a statue of Margaret Thatcher on Canning Green in Parliament Square, where the Iron Lady would share top billing with the now largely forgotten George Canning (Prime Minister for four months in 1827) and the rather better remembered Abraham Lincoln. Measuring 10ft high plus plinth and costing £300,000, the Thatcher statue is, for the time being at least, not going to be erected.
Some expressed fears that the statue might be a target for ‘left-wing vandals’, but a more substantial objection appears to be that the daughter of the late Prime Minister feels that the statue’s lack of a handbag is a serious failing. It was once observed that trousers spelled the death of monumental statuary and, in that spirit, Athena tends to object to the incorporation of modish accessories such as handbags, mobile phones or sunglasses on public monuments; however, the wishes of the Thatcher family need to be respected.
We are also not sure that the proposed Thatcher statue reaches the quality threshold that we should aim for in such prominent works of art. The sculptor Douglas Jennings did worthy work portraying George Clooney and Angelina Jolie at Madame Tussaud’s, but some may perhaps find his Lady Thatcher lacking the distinction that such a prominent and near permanent fixture should have. Not that the menagerie of politicians in Parliament Square should in any way be regarded as an exemplary display of sculptural brilliance. Perhaps the preposterous memorial to Lloyd George— a magnificent cape with a man attached— is germane for the Liberal who ludicrously declared that ‘Hitler is one of the greatest of the many great men I have met’.
Nevertheless, Athena would like to suggest a 10-year moratorium on all monument building in central London. This would give a commemoratively exhausted populace time to have a proper debate on who and what should be monumentalised, where and how.
‘There should be a 10-year moratorium on monuments in central London’