Helping London Rise Again . . . Allegorically

While London’s Monument to the Great Fire is, as a whole, splendid, its most significant artistic element is Caius Gabriel Cibber’s stunning bas-relief stone panel on its West face. So lets have a closer look (see, told you in my Monument Post that I’d get back to it).

Cibber’s carving is allegorical, depicting post-Great-Fire London as a distraught and discouraged woman. Head dropped, hair loose, half-reclining on a pile of rubble, Cibber’s London is clearly exhausted and grieving. So what exactly (besides a major rebuilding) is it going to take to get her on her feet again? Cibber offers some clear suggestions.

First of all, he makes it clear these things take time—Time is that bearded fellow with wings—but Peace and Plenty are in reach if London will rouse herself—they are the goddesses hovering above on a cloud, the ones the woman with the scepter is pointing towards as she lays a hand gently on London’s shoulder.

Cibber also reminds London, and Londoners, they that are NOT going to have to do this alone (or relying only on divine help). King Charles II and his Brother, the Duke of York (the later of whom led the efforts to combat the fire) stand to London’s left, looking resolute. “We are here for you” they say and we bring Science, Architecture, Liberty Justice and Fortitude—the figures surrounding the royal pair—each prepared play their part in helping you to rise from the Fire’s ashes. Powerful stuff, and much more interesting than Latin (Latin inscriptions are what the other panels offer visitors). Its easy to imagine Londoners taking courage and comfort from Cibber’s art.

Interested in more details on Cibber’s bas-relief masterpiece? Take a gander at the illustration below and check out this website: The Monument.

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