Sculptured pediment of Sir William Tite's Royal Exchange by Richard Westmacott Jr., RA. 1844. Portland stone, 4.5m high x 27m wide. Photographs by Robert Freidus. Text and formatting by George P. Landow and Jacqueline Banerjee. You may use these images without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the photographer and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one. Click on the images to enlarge them.]
Left: Trade and exchange of goods from the near-east. Right: Central portion of the pediment.
Starting in the left angle with a Turkish merchant doing his accounts, Westmacott shows an Armenian banker, and a Greek man holding an amphora. Then, coming closer to the centre, two Indians, a Muslim and a Hindu, standing behind a group wearing the robes of Lord Mayor, Alderman and Common Councilman. These are close to the central figure of Commerce. At the centre is the crowned figure of Commerce holding a "charter of exchange" in one hand and a rudder in the other, with a ship's prow clearly visible on one side of her, and a beehive and an overflowing cornucopia on the other. Ruskin, of course would have mocked Commerce as the "Goddess of Getting-On," but here, the source of all good(s), she stands on a base inscribed, "The earth is the Lord's and the fulness thereof" (Psalm 24.1) — a text chosen by Prince Albert himself (see Thornbury). Beside her on the right stand two British merchants amid dock scenery, examining material offered by a Persian trader.
The righthand side of the pediment.
To the right of the British traders and the Persian textile merchant is another group, starting with a Chinese man: this was the period of the Opium Wars when Great Britain forced China to allow the importation of opium from British India. The remaining figures are a sailor from the Levant, an African, a British sailor tying up a bale, and (not seen in this closer view) a "supercargo" or cargo-manager or -agent.
There are seventeen figures on the pediment in all, mostly, as Philip Ward-Jackson says, "in the round or virtually so" (318). It was a virtuoso performance by Westmacott, reflecting the vigour of Britain's commercial activities all over the globe, at their very hub. This was Richard Westmacott Jr's only important public work in London.
Ward-Jackson, Philip. Public Sculpture of the City of London. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2003.
Last modified 28 May 2015