Queen's sculptor wants to complete National Monument

It has been standing over Scotland's capital for almost two centuries - but was notoriously never finished off.

Tuesday, 18th April 2017, 6:00 am
Updated Tuesday, 9th May 2017, 7:02 pm
Sandy Stoddart was appointed the Queen's sculptor in Scotland in 2008.
Sandy Stoddart was appointed the Queen's sculptor in Scotland in 2008.

Now one of the Queen’s official artists has called for the National Monument on Calton Hill to be finally completed.

Sandy Stoddart, the Queen’s official sculptor in Scotland, said it would would create a “citadel of beauty” as well as honour the legacy of its original architects.

Edinburgh-born Stoddart has designed a number of Edinburgh’s best-known sculptures, including the leading Enlightenment figures David Hume, Adam Smith and James Clerk Maxwell.

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Stoddart believes completion of the Calton Hill monument, which helped win Edinburgh its nickname as the “Athens of the North,” would be “extraordinarily radical” and has offered to assemble a team of experts to take forward his idea.

He has predicted that finishing off the monument would offset the impact of the modern-day “generic horrors” which he says are gradually turning Edinburgh into the “Dubai of the North.”

Instigated to commemorate the Scottish soldiers and sailors who lost their lives fighting in the Napoleonic Wars, the National Monument was earmarked for Calton Hill over an alternative location on The Mound.

It was designed by the architects William Henry Playfair and Charles Robert Cockerell, and based on the Parntheon on the Acropolis in Athens.

Although work began in 1822 during George IV’s visit to Edinburgh, it was halted seven years later when the project ran out of funding, despite prominent supporters including the author Walter Scott and heritage campaigner Lord Cockburn. The fact it was never finished has seen the monument often described as “Edinburgh’s disgrace.”

Stoddart, whose most recent public art work for Edinburgh was a statue of Playfair erected outside the National Museum of Scotland, said completion of the monument would be a fitting tribute to the work of Playfair and Cockerell.

Stoddart said: “It would be extraordinarily radical to do this. Radical is a word that is misused. I consider myself a truly radical artist. I try to go back to the fundament roots of everything.

“I don’t mean something disruptive, I mean doing something proper of which the dead would approve. You are now allowed to pay homage to them these days. To protect these sites and work according to their command we have to work in collaboration with the dead.

“I’m really serious person about this kind of thing. I’ve dedicated my life to it. The making of monuments and the preservation of them is not a puny thing to do.

“It’s completely stupid to call the National Monument a disgrace. It was started and never finished. What we should try to do now is finish it. And not in contemporary terms, with some steel box grafted onto the wee Parthenon that was started. We should actually build the damn thing. It can be done.

“A proper group of people would have to be brought together to do it. Edinburgh could do so something extraordinary here if the city spoke to me. I could pull it all together and we could get started on it. It could be a citadel of beauty if it was done properly.”