Artist: Alfred Gilbert1

Origin of art: 1893

The famous statue of Eros in Piccadilly Circus is one of the symbols of London. It is also known as the Shaftesbury Monument, having been erected as a memorial to the philanthropist Lord Shaftesbury. The actual figure rises above a fountain, which is made in bronze, but Eros is made out of aluminium, at that time a rare and newly invented material. Alfred Gilbert used the fountain idea as an excuse for incorporating a variety of fishes and crustaceous life in the design. The fountain was unveiled in 1893, and was warmly described by the Magazine of Art as:

‘A striking contrast to the dull ugliness of the generality of our street sculpture, … a work which, while beautifying one of our hitherto desolate open spaces, should do much towards the elevation of public taste in the direction of decorative sculpture, and serve freedom for the metropolis from any further additions of the old order of monumental monstrosities.’

Unfortunately, the statue had already been vandalised by August of the same year, and the spot had been ‘permitted to be used as a playground by dirty and squalid children’. Since then it has undergone various problems. Like in 1994 damaged by a drunken visitor climbing on it  and bending the figure. Since then, it was renovated and put back, as one of the most familiar sculptural emblems of London.

2The statue, and the decorations on the base of the fountain, are characteristics of Gilbert’s work, in a New Sculpture, ‘art nouveau style’. Note especially among the decoration, the heads and half-figures  of children or cherubs, and these are also similar to other studies of the juvenile form by Gilbert.

To finish this post, I’ll give some final thoughts about the sculpture. Even though perhaps not everyone sees this sculpture as a masterpiece, there are always people out there that appreciate these kind of pieces of art and art of course in general. I for one think this is a special work of art, and shouldn’t just be trashed with. The statue is also nearly always referred to as Eros but was in fact meant to be Anteros. But because it is mostly (even on official sites) called Eros, I kept the title that way. In Greek mythology Anteros was the god of requited Love, love returned or counter love. In some cases he is also known as to punish those who would scorn love, the advances of others in love and the avenger of unrequited love. And Eros in Greek mythology was the primordial god of sexual love and beauty and Anteros was given to his brother Eros who was lonely and was the child of Ares and Aphrodite.