Context 143 - March 2016

C O N T E X T 1 4 3 : M A R C H 2 0 1 6 31 KIMBERLY RECZEK Restoring the Nelson Pediment’s Coade stone One of the finest examples of Coade stone work, the Nelson Pediment in Greenwich is in need of cleaning. Initial trials have shown how the job can best be done. The Nelson Pediment, an enormous memorial set in a tympanum in the KingWilliam block of the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich, is a remarkable tribute to Admiral Lord Nelson. Designed by BenjaminWest and sculpted with Joseph Panzetta, the 10 x 40 foot alto-relievo piece is a stunning allegorical depiction of the great British hero who died at the Battle ofTrafalgar in 1805, just a few years before the work’s commission. At the centre is an epic Britannia, the moment she receives the body of Nelson,while a great beardedNeptune and his attendant Tritons appear to command the scene. Winged Victory, also present, supports the weight of the dead hero, and the British lion roars his dominion of the seas above a tablet inscribed,‘CXXII BATTLES.’The grief of the nation is represented by the weather-beaten face of the British seafarer, brokenwith sorrow, and a disconsolate trio of sisters, personifications of the English, Scottish and Irish kingdoms,who lament together amid frothingmarine horses, ocean-washed rocks, cannons and sinking ships. The Nelson Pediment has a debt to pay to the arts of ancient Greece. BenjaminWest, just a few years before the design of the Pediment, was one of the first to view and study the Elgin Marbles that had arrived in London in 1807.ThatWest was profoundly affected is apparent not only in its frieze arrangement and placement, but also in individual figures that are borrowed directly from the Parthenon sculptures. The Marbles are echoed in the horse’s heads, the torso of Neptune, and the lay of fabric across the three female mourners. The Nelson Pediment is also significant for its ambi- tious and highly skilled use of Coade stone, a material reaching perfection in the late 18th century. Also called Lithodipyra (meaning ‘stone twice fired’), Coade stone is composed of ball clay, grog, flint, fine quartz and The Nelson Pediment: at its centre Nelson’s body is passed by Neptune andWingedVictory to Britannia; in the detail below sculptor Joseph Panzetti captures the grief of the nation in the faces of the onlookers. (All photos: Sabine Brand and Kimberley Reczek, DBR Conservation Ltd)