Pantheons: Sculpture at St Paul’s Cathedral, c.1796–1916

Public monuments have an increasingly contested presence in contemporary Britain and across the former British empire, in the wake of the Black Lives Matter and Rhodes Must Fall movements. Pantheons: Sculpture at St Paul’s Cathedral, c.1796–1916 was a four-year, AHRC-funded project, exploring one of the largest but least well-known, state-sponsored artistic projects in British history, featuring some of the most significant individuals in Britain and across its former empire in the long nineteenth century.

Background

The project, launched in October 2019, was a partnership between the Department of History of Art at the University of York and St Paul’s Cathedral, that returned to centre stage the unparalleled and unprecedented collection of monuments in one of England’s most iconic and significant buildings, and one of the top-20 most-visited sites in the UK. The project focused on the more than 300 monuments erected in the cathedral from the first quartet, in the midst of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars in 1795, to the outbreak of the First World War, in order to understand the precise role the pantheon played in British, European and Imperial history and art history in the long 19th nineteenth century, and how the pantheon transformed its ecclesiastical environment and was inflected by its distinctive cathedral surroundings. As a result, the project sought to communicate the pantheon’s complex, contestable value to a diverse, multicultural audience in the 21st century.

Aims

Starting from close analyses of the monuments themselves, in all of their detail, material, and three-dimensional complexity, the project sought to increase significantly the range of visual, archival and conceptual sources brought into relation with the monuments, and particularly the less well-known post-Napoleonic examples, in order to provide richer and more complex art historical interpretations of the monuments, through sustained engagement with the sculptures themselves, in their particular and changing spaces, across time.

Outcomes

The project funded new colour photography of the entire pantheon, as well as a host of digital humanities resources, available with open-access to the public. In addition, the project generated two new guidebooks to the collection for the public and invited a wide variety of different voices to comment on, appraise and critique the monuments from a diverse array of perspectives, through the 50 Monuments in 50 Voices project. At the centre of the project is the fully searchable cathedral ground plan, complete with all of the monuments, and accompanying infographics, to enable scholars and the public, for the first time, to investigate, map, conceptualise, and visualise the pantheon across time and space. The project also engendered more then a million words in the catalogue entries that provide history and analysis for those who wish to explore the individual monuments, their subjects and their creators in more depth – the website will continue to be updated with these catalogue entries, as they are edited and ready for publication.