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Why the Statue of King George III is an important part of London’s heritage

Somerset House, is a neoclassical palace in London from the eighteenth-century and they offer free guided tours every month, thus there are a great many interesting things to be seen in this once royal palace.

As you arrive from The Strand you see a statue of King George III guarding the courtyard and he has been there since 1789 after commissioning the rebuilding of Somerset Place. This fabulous statue was completed by John Bacon the Elder before he was elected as an associate of the Royal Academy which was then based here in Somerset House for its original home.

Awash with nautical allusions, King George III is with a rudder, an antique prow, the river god has a cornucopia representing the Thames and the king is dressed for the occasion.

King George III (1760-1821) is here with Father Thames for ever more now they are immortalised in bronze, just in front of the fountains. This was all commissioned to the Royal Academy in recognition of King George’s generosity: he decided to keep the RA at Somerset House!

Thankfully the pedestal used as a public urinal was removed in 1922 for obvious reasons! The lower figure is Father Thames with a water jar and cornucopia. There is a lion resting by the feet of the King and in front is Old Father Thames who allegorically represents the River Thames.

Many more references to the sea can be seen with nautical sculptures on the facade of Somerset House. There are mythical sea creatures, mascarons of sea gods and nautical ornaments and most of these were by designed by Florentine artist Cipriani who moved to London permanently and painted the ceiling of Buckingham Palace as well.

Henry VIII died in 1547 and Edward was too young to rule the country so his uncle Seymour became his advisor, granting himself a Dukedom and giving himself a lavish palace to go with it!

Edward Seymour was the Duke of Somerset and the original palace by the River Thames belonged to him. It was one of many palaces trying to outdo the neighbours along the Thames.

Somerset Place was built in the Renaissance style but Seymour never managed to enjoy it to its full glory because he was executed in the Tower in 1552. Falling into the hand of the crown Elizabeth I used the building for visiting dignitaries and when Anne of Denmark lived there she renamed the place Denmark House.

The building we see today is the eighteenth-century replacement that was rebuilt for government use: a grand edifice with monumental wings and the huge arches allowed boats to dock right inside. Guided tours today show film of barges and how they used to bring people from larger vessels on the Thames right in to Somerset House which in those days was actually on the river banks before the Victoria Embankment was built.

Sir William Chambers designed Somerset House in the then popular European style of a large central square with no trees. Nowadays, it is the Edmond J Safra Fountain Court because Safra donated the fountains with 55 openings that are combined with fiber optic lighting and music to great effect.

Above all, the highlight today of Somerset House must be the Courtauld Gallery showing original artwork by Botticelli, van Gogh, Rubens, Cezanne, Brueghel, Goya and many more.

In summary, Samuel Courtauld was an English industrialist who set up an institute for art in 1931 and bequeathed his collection to them, thus the Courtauld Institute is the creme de la creme for art history scholarship probably now anywhere in the world.


Why ‘Macbeth’ by William Shakespeare is set moslty in the dark like a sleeping state of emotional blackout

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“Methought I heard a voice cry ‘sleep no more! Macbeth does murder sleep’ the innocent sleep, sleep that knits up the ravelled sleave of care.” This infamous quote is from the second scene of Act 2 in, “The Tragedy of Macbeth” by William Shakespeare and it was written around 1605. Thus, Macbeth is a play that is set mostly in the dark, partly to reflect a sleeping state of emotional blackout.

After murdering King Duncan in his sleep, Macbeth fears he will never be able to sleep again. Sleep is a necessity of life; something which makes life worth living and a good nights sleep often clears the air, unraveling all of our problems. Macbeth himself is able to sleep to begin with in the play (reflecting his clear conscience) but later, he suffers from insomnia due to paranoia. Unfortunately, with treason being a crime so heinous, Macbeth has now murdered sleep itself; thus, Macbeth is so unnerved he cannot move and he simply stares at his bloody hands. Never again will Macbeth be able to rely on sleep for revitalization!

Sleeplessness is a theme in Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” thus, distress and a guilty conscience means Lady Macbeth is unable to sleep. She falls into a sleeplessness and agitated state when she realizes she is partly responsible for the death of Duncan, Lady Macduff and Banquo. Lady Macbeth is thought to commit suicide at the end and this represents the opposite to sleeplessness, hence permanent sleep is something from which she will never awaken and insomnia turns Lady Macbeth delirious ending with permanent sleep and death.

Sleepwalking is a theme in the play. Act 5 Scene 1 is the last (on stage appearance) of Lady Macbeth and she rubs her hands as if to wash away her guilt, recalling three murders. Lady Macbeth cannot rid herself of a guilty conscience and this infamous scene, is written in prose not verse because she is no longer of sound mind; more like a zombie, it seems like the lights are on but no one is home!

Judi Dench completed Lady Macbeth’s transition from cold hearted bitch to guilt stricken lunatic, perfectly in 1976 at The Other Place in Stratford-upon-Avon. She performed the legendary sleepwalking scene without blinking, then let out a chilling scream as she glimpsed hell. This sleepwalking scene is completely Shakespeare’s own invention, where Lady Macbeth confesses her sins to the doctor and gentlewoman present, thus she is clearly disturbed and about to commit suicide.

Scotland is clearly a theme in the play. Good King Duncan represents peace with sleep and he is sleeping comfortably as a guest of the Macbeths before sadly sleeping forever, once he has been murdered. Perturbed sleep alludes in the play to a troubled Scotland in chaos under Macbeth’s rule – essentially a nightmare! Malcolm returns sleep and peace to Scotland at the end, thankfully and good wins over evil, when Malcolm defeats Macbeth.

In summary, William Shakespeare probably uses murdered sleep to represent the deranged state ofMacbeth and his wife, spiraling downwards with no way out. They are unable to move forward anymore. As most people can resolve their problems and sleep soundly, the Macbeths meet tragic ends, and “sleep no more!”

The Royal College of Surgeons

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Why the Hunterian Museum is important to the history of surgery in the United Kingdom

Based in the Royal College by Lincoln Inns Fields, John Hunter’s museum has quite a collection spread across two floors.

The highlight for many is the macabre wooden amputation knife supplied due to shortage of bodies for teaching used on live volunteers, though it is thought this sounds worse than it actually was and it was here that after World War I that plastic surgery came into being with shell shocked victims for the first time being successfully treated for horrific facial injuries received in the trenches.

“Representation in the imitative arts is a substitute for reality” according to William Hunter; he said when talking to the RA about exotic experiences and how paintings were considered an essential part of documentation, particularly before photography had been invented. There are some interesting pictures in this wonderful museum including one of a red-billed toucan!

Paintings in museums is always interesting as you don’t see many cabinets with exhibits in art galleries, thus much of the collection is from a far away place and a picture paints a thousand words so it is one way of documenting much of the journey.

The park that this fascinating museum overlooks is called Lincoln Inn Fields, and it is the largest public square in London, thus these gardens originally belonged to the nearby Lincoln Inn which is where barristers in London have traditionally been called to the Bar!

These fields in the centre of town have tennis courts, netball and a bandstand; cricket was apparently played here as long as 300 years ago though thankfully not anymore with so much glass and important people around.

There are many famous buildings around the park and Powis House is where the charter for the Bank of England was sealed in 1694, thus the lawyers for the landed gentry and the Queen are based in the area. The Dukes Theatre where performances of Handel’s final two operas were presented in 1740 and 1741 was just across the way and of course there are many theatres just a stones throw away from here.

In 1683 there was a public beheading of Lord Russell for his involvement in the Rye House Plot and it took four swipes to chop the man’s head off, making this place as infamous as it now is famous.

Tulkinghorn from “Bleak House” by Charles Dickens who of course was a lawyer worked in the building which is almost certainly Lindsey House and LSE now own many of the buildings around the square to which the Queen officially opened in 2008 a £71 million pound annexe.

The fields have always had quite an association with the homeless and during Ramadan, Muslims attend these Lincoln Inn Fields at sunset to feed people, though the homeless don’t stay in the park any more; hence, these fields have quite a cultural heritage to them and compliment one of London’s most interesting museums – The Hunterian!


Why a short, sharp, shock perfomance is often best for ‘Macbeth’ by William Shakespeare

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Plays on “The Tragedy of Macbeth” have possibly had more written about them than any other by William Shakespeare, partly because the theater allows so much scope for interpretation – on stage, “Macbeth” is often short but not shortened.

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The play in performance is a compact tragedy, half the size of “Hamlet” and it can be done in two hours flat, often in short, sharp, shocks; thus, there have been at least three landmark performances since World War II.When Macbeth returns triumphantly from battle, he encounters three witches on the heath who predictMighty Macbeth will become Thane of Cawdor and then subsequently King of Scotland. Banquo is with Macbeth and will father kings; Lady Macbeth spurs her husband on to kill King Duncan; Macbeth himself is then crowned; he has Banquo executed followed by most of Macduff’s family; Lady Macbeth goes mad and dies; and Malcolm (Duncan’s son) overthrows Macbeth with his army camouflaged by leaves from Birnam Wood, thus fulfilling the second prophecy by the witches.In 1976, Trevor Nunn famously put a black wooden O-ring on The Other Place stage floor in Stratford, symbolizing enclosed inner terror. Macduff stood outside the circle, while his family were slaughtered inside. Nunn made Duncan white – the antithesis of Macbeth’s blackness – preempting Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker in Star Wars just a year later (of course referring to good and evil using color) thus, Ian Mckellen and Judy Dench are now Sir and Dame, partly due to their performances back then!In 1986, Adrian Noble had the witches as children in a white nursery (as real as anything) at the Barbican in London, making the audience believe the supernatural actually existed the way people did in 1040 AD. The play was set in a black box and the moving stage allowed for stairs to jut out of the walls, doors to reappear, a table to rise up and smaller columns to jut out from the floor; when the walls finally moved in on the killer – shrinking his world around him – it alludes to the net closing in on Macbeth and he is killed by Malcolm, who is then crowned King of Scotland.In 1999, Gregory Doran had rubbery stage walls at The Swan in Stratford where apparitions leered out. The theater was a labyrinth of aisles, gangways, stairs and galleries and it became an assault course. The play was set in a modern, militaristic society in which Macbeth was a superb fighting-machine, dressed in battle fatigues and wearing a beret. This was supposed to allude to the war torn Yugoslavia of that era, with the Milosovics symbolic of the Macbeths. Thus, Doran also tracked the psychology of a doomed marriage, which descended into madness, guilt, anxiety, depression and paranoia, ultimately resulting in the downfall of the Macbeths!

Irving Wardle said in 1986 that Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” was the best play for radio because the protagonist is immediately introduced, engaging the listener straight away in the first, short scene, of just 10 lines. Hence, “Macbeth” incorporates sound, as a key part of the play, particularly in the second scene of Act 2, “I have done the deed. Didst thou not hear a noise?” and the use of soliloquy easily lends itself to the non-visual conditions of the play with “Tomorrow and Tomorrow” among the most famous in Shakespeare’s oeuvre.

In summary, the play “Macbeth” traditionally relies on the audience own imagination. It is a play of noises and noises appall Macbeth: shrieking owls, screaming women and laughter is common in any performance. Interestingly enough, Cheek by Jowl (in their 1987 version at the Donmar Warehouse in Covent Garden, London) had extras drumming fingers on the theater floorboards, plus a bow scraped on a violin – these are just some examples of the scope for interpretation that the superstitious Scottish Playhas had.

The Lord Mayor’s Stage Coach

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Why Giovanni Battista Cipriani’s artwork is particularly important to London

The word ‘float’ when referring to parades, originates from the Lord Mayor’s Show because the procession used to travel by river. Thereafter, the Lord Mayor, would travel by horseback until 1711 when Sir Gilbert Heathcote fell off and ever since a glamorous coach has been used!

On the 4th April 1757 this magnificent State Coach that we know and still love today, was commissioned at the cost of around a thousand pounds to be met by the Aldermen of the Day: that is approximately £120,000 presently which is nothing compared to the £2 million price tag a replica is likely to cost – the actual value of this 250 year old fully functioning original stagecoach, is just impossible to calculate.

When you think the door panels were painted by Florentine artist Cipriani and are worth millions by themselves, this is a one priceless antique!

The same coach has now been used for more than 250 years. It is housed in the Museum of London between shows for everyone to see, and this wonderful coach is the only exhibit ever to leave the museum.

Giovanni Battista Cipriani was a Florentine artist who lived in England from 1755 shortly after a spell in Rome studying architecture and sculpture.

Upon his arrival in London, Cipriani was patronized by Lord Tilney and gained some important commissions including painting the rooms that now house the Courtauld Collection in Somerset House; this is where the Royal Academy was based in the 1750s and Cipriani was a founding member of the RA.

The four compartments in the coves of the Royal Academy’s ante-room were painted by Cipriani and represent Allegory, Fable, Nature and History, while Cipriani also did the monochrome decorations of the Royal and Antiquarian Societies too.

Cipriani’s skills as an engraver learned whilst on secondment in Rome before arriving in Great Britain meant he became responsible for the carvings on the fronts of Somerset Place and the designs / drawings affiliated to them: keystones to the arches above the doors and the grotesque groups flanking the main doorways at the quadrangle.

Cipriani is credited with designing the diploma of the now world famous Royal Academy to which he was also a founding member; with RA as letters after his name, this great artist became sought after by publishers in the London area and repaired Verrio’s paintings at Windsor and Ruben’s ceiling at Whitehall.

Cipriani has had quite a presence here in London and this very much lives on, thus that included furniture design as well as well as a ceiling for Buckingham Palace.

Quite uniquely and most interestingly, it was Cipriani who painted the allegorical designs on the Lord Mayor’s Gold State Coach which is the same one that has been used for over 250 years.

These panels show the allegorical figures of Truth, Temperance, Justice and Fortitude thus, Temperance is a good City virtue because Plato said so in The Republic comparing just people to building a just city.

One door panel of the coach shows the Genius of the City enthroned above St Paul’s Cathedral while the Lord Mayor is escorted by Fame to her presence.

Prudence or wisdom, justice or fairness, temperance or restraint, courage or fortitude originally come from Plato and they are the basic virtues required for a virtuous life; Plato identified these virtues with the social classes of the city and the character of a good city – a city should be wise, brave, temperate and just and so should man.

Temperance was common to everyone but mainly the farmers and craftsmen; fortitude was the warrior class; prudence were rulers; and justice stood alone. These cardinal virtues are listed in Bible though they are not the same as the theological virtues and while the cardinal virtues date back to Greece regarding leading moral lives, the theological ones are specific to Christians relating to rungs of a ladder on a stairway leading to heaven.

As with Cipriani’s door panels on perhaps the world’s grandest and most famous coach, the cardinal virtues, are often depicted as female allegorical figures in paintings and sculpture.

Justice is often depicted with a beehive, bees, scales and a sword like a draped women standing with scales in one hand and a sword in the other, with bees coming out of a beehive in the background. Bees sting and provide honey which is symbolic of Christ relating to justice and bees hibernate meaning they resurrect like Jesus. Scales weigh up the good and bad in our life and a sword represents power or authority.

Prudence is usually represented with a woman holding a mirror and a serpent. The mirror is symbolic of art, self knowledge and reason because you can see things from different angles or with more clarity. If she is looking away from the snake this is an image of sin.

Temperance is personified quite often by a woman holding a bridle and reins, looking like a statue. She has the power to control horses and self control is a virtue.

Fortitude is strength, thus the City of London is perhaps the best example of a strong city anywhere in the world!

The City of London is sometimes called the Square Mile which is small for the biggest city in the world really isn’t? You might think it is the smallest city in the world with dimensions like that, but this refers to the Roman city of Londinium which is the main financial district in England’s capital city today but still has the remains of an ancient wall around it.

There are approximately 10,000 residents in the City but fifty times as many people work there in places like the Stock Exchange, Lloyds and the Bank of England. Having said that, there are 200 churches including St Paul’s Cathedral, there are parks and even schools for every age group making this area of London quite diverse.

As a microcosm within a microcosm of society the City has a leader called the Lord Mayor and this is not to be confused with London’s Mayor. The Lord Mayor heads the City Corporation and promotes our financial district with some success he might be able to claim!

Each November at the Lord Mayor’s Show he is driven through the city in his ceremonial coach pulled by 6 horses and only the Queen herself outranks this with her coach requiring 8 horses.

The cherubs on each corner of the coach represent Asia, Africa, America and Europe, thus there is the City’s guardian angel on either side of coach and she receives goods from around the world; another points towards the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral and this represents hope!

In summary, the footman’s seat is supported by mythical sea creatures and the footrest is a scallop shell, thus the City of London has a coat of arms and this decorates the back of the coach with fire breathing dragons in all their glory – this truly is a wonderful piece of work and has to be seen to be believed!


Book Review Gulliverstravel by Jonathan Swift

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Jonathan Swift wrote this adventure novel aged 59 and the word Gulliver only appears as the title.

On his first voyage, Gulliver is washed ashore after a shipwreck. He finds himself a prisoner of a race of people 1/12 his size in Lilliput. Gulliver is charged with treason and sentenced to blinding because he displeases the king. Then he escapes on a boat and sails away.

Gulliver is first a surgeon then a Captain and on the second part of his travels his sailing ship, the Adventurer goes to land for fresh water and Gulliver is abandoned, tiny this time instead of large on the island. He lives in a small house called the travelling box which is picked up by a giant eagle and dropped in the sea where he is rescued by some sailors and returned to England.

On his third journey, Gulliver is marooned near India on an island devoted to music and maths. He is on his way to Japan and discusses ghosts and history with a magician. When in Japan the Emperor pardons him for trampling on a crucifix and Gulliver returns home never to travel again.

However, Gulliver goes on a fourth voyage and his crew mutiny against him. They dump him on an island and the mutineers continue as pirates. On the island he resides with the natives and horses. Ruled by them, he is thought to be a danger, expelled and rescued by a Portuguese ship who returns him to England. In England he becomes a recluse and speaks with horses in the stables.

Gulliver encounters societies rather than islands as Robinson Crusoe and Jim Hawkins did.

It is Captain Robinson that invites Gulliver to serve as a surgeon on the third voyage and it was published seven years after Daniel Defoe’s novel.

The book is often just sold with the Lilliput section as a children’s book but still entitled Gulliver’s Travel’s. The Hobbit early editions alluded to Lilliputians and even mentioned them in the story, however this reference was removed for the third edition.

Jonathan Swift was born in Dublin. His mother was English and he left for England to be with her because of political troubles in 1688.

Eventually going mad with outbursts of violence he tried to tear out his own eye when it got infected. The money he made from writing went to a mental hospital in Dublin which still exists today.