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RA VIC/ADDH2/2400 6 November 1888

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Letter from Austen H. Layard to Sir Thomas Biddulph, Keeper of the Privy Purse, reporting on J.H. Foley’s latest design for the central figure of the Prince Consort for the Albert Memorial, 6 November 1868

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George Gilbert Scott’s design of a ‘Gothic cross’ for the memorial to Prince Albert envisaged at its centre a statue of the late Prince.

Queen Victoria chose Baron Carlo Marochetti (1805–67) for this piece, as both she and Prince Albert had had a high regard for this sculptor; but in 1865 and at the age of 60, he was already working on statues of the Prince for Glasgow and Aberdeen, as well as the twin effigies of the Queen and her husband for the Royal Mausoleum at Frogmore.

His work on the Albert Memorial proved laboured; the full-size plaster model was not completed until March 1867, and in view of its size - nearly 14 ft high (4.3 m) - it was felt that a gilded model needed to be seen in situ before its effect could be fairly judged. Those who viewed it, including the Queen herself, considered it unsatisfactory and Marochetti was instructed to make alterations. His attempts to replace the intended seated figure with an equestrian one were not endorsed, but he seemed unwilling or unable to produce a model which met with Scott’s approval.

These difficulties were abruptly resolved when Marochetti died at the end of December 1867, but the problem then arose as to whether to employ a new sculptor to start afresh, or to incorporate Marochetti’s model. The Memorial’s Executive Committee agreed that the existing model was not acceptable, and in June 1868 J.H. Foley, who was already employed on the ‘Asia’ group, agreed to take up the commission anew.

Austen Henry Layard (1817–94) was a man of many parts: famous for his excavations at Nineveh and Babylon in the 1840s, he joined the Albert Memorial’s Executive Committee in 1866 (remaining only until 1869, when he moved to Madrid as the British Ambassador). In this letter he enthuses about Foley’s latest design for the central statue, feeling that it added ‘animation to the countenance and action’, as it made the Prince appear to be taking ‘an earnest and active interest’ in his surroundings. This, Layard felt, was ‘eminently in accordance with, and illustrative of, the Prince’s character’ and was also ‘in harmony with the general features of the monument’.

It was, of course, crucial that this design met with Queen Victoria’s approval, which it did, although both she and her daughter, the Crown Princess of Prussia, made a few suggestions for possible alterations. Yet it was some years before the statue was finally completed: Foley was still making alterations in January 1873 and the casting proved a major undertaking, the piece mould requiring nearly 1,500 pieces, the last two of which probably weighed 2 tons (2,000 kg) and 3½ tons (3,500 kg) respectively. When casting was under way in August 1874, Foley died. The work was sufficiently close to completion, however, to be finished; and on 25 November 1875 Prince Albert’s statue was moved onto its pedestal on the Memorial – and then immediately enclosed for gilding. When the hoardings were removed on 9 March 1876, the Albert Memorial was finally finished.