A Taste of the Victorian Era: Albert Memorial, London

People spend a lot of their time focusing on Queen Victoria, but the Prince Consort was also an incredibly influential figure in shaping the city of London
photo Phoebe Darqueling

replica by Franz Xaver Winterhalter, oil on canvas, 1867 (1859)

Steampunk spends a lot of its time focusing on Queen Victoria. But the Prince Consort, Francis Albert Augustus Charles Emmanuel, was also an incredibly influential figure in shaping the city of London. Among other things, he was instrumental in organizing the Great Exhibition (1851). He reformed education in Britain, and championed the cause of the universal abolition of slavery. The Albert Memorial pays homage to this important figure with a mighty dose of both pomp and circumstance.

Though their marriage was to some extent arranged, the Prince Consort and the Queen clearly had a loving relationship. When he died at the age of only 42 in 1861, his passing deeply affected Victoria. She wore mourning garb for the rest of her reign. Her black clothing and understated appearance have become closely associated with her iconography . This is directly at odds with the way she chose to honor her husband.

 

Dripping with Gold…

 

There are many memorials and buildings that carry Albert’s name. My favorite was the Albert Memorial in the Kensington Gardens. The huge, Gothic Revival-styled architectural part of the sculpture was “opened” in 1872.  But it wasn’t formally dedicated by the Queen until the seated figure of Albert was placed into it in 1875. The polished bronze of the sculpture and the gilded angels on the canopy glint in the sunshine and catch the eye even from a great distance.

The figure of the Prince Consort is not the only sculptural element of the memorial. Eight allegorical sculptures grace the corners, divided into two groups. One set expresses the Victorian sciences and arts of agriculture, engineering, commerce, and manufacturing. The second set reflects the continents of Asia, Africa, The Americas, and Europe. The entire memorial is surrounded by a gorgeous iron fence painted burgundy and gold. There are also several mosaics in the canopy as well as a frieze, but the fence keeps you from getting close enough to see these elements well. I was really glad for the zoom feature on my camera, which allowed me to see some details. Or  when visit, you might consider bringing binoculars.

 

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