Saturday, June 10, 2017

Imaging Billy - William III of Orange in bronze, paint and glass around the British Isles

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It is always healthy to look back into the Northern Ireland 'goldfish bowl' from a wider, external perspective. Generally, this helps to expand understanding and challenge existing perceptions.

July is only a few weeks away - a period which has become known as the 'marching season' and in recent years in Belfast, OrangeFest. For me throughout my childhood it was just called 'the bands' and of course 'the Twelfth', and in Scotland is generally the 'Orange Walk' - none of which have the militaristic connotation of 'marching’. King Billy has adorned gable walls and huge Orange banners for maybe 150 - 200 years, with various degrees of artistic skill, some brilliant, some very crude and almost ‘folk art’ in style. There’s a hand-painted wooden example at the Museum of Orange Heritage in Belfast which looks almost like a piece of ancient Shaker furniture.

I remembered that a while ago I looked into the locations of various statues of William of Orange around the UK and Republic of Ireland. There seem to have been 14 in total, most of which still exist, and are listed here in chronological order:

1692 - Preston - Hoghton Tower - unknown if still exists
1701 - Dublin - Dame Street / College Green - blown up 1929, fragments still exist
1718 - Portsmouth - Historic Dockyard - still there
1734 - Hull - Market place - still there
1735 - Glasgow - Cathedral - still there
1736 - Bristol - Queen Square - still there
1754 - Boyle, Co Roscommon - bridge, then ‘Pleasure Grounds' - destroyed 1945 (base still there)
1757 - Petersfield, Hampshire - Market Square - still there
1808 - London - St James's Square - still there
1889 - Belfast - Clifton Street Orange Hall - still there
1889 - Brixham, Devon - quayside - still there
1907 - London - Kensington Palace - still there
1930 - Belfast - King William Park, Lisburn Road - plaque still there
1990 - Carrickfergus - Castle Green - still there

There may be more. And perhaps even further afield there are others, such as the one I tried to locate at William and Mary College in Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia last summer.

So what did William represent or signify to those who decided to commission and install these statues? Some show him on horseback, some are just figures. Some are bronze, whereas the Portsmouth and Hull statues are painted gold. In some he is depicted in classical toga and laurel wreath, Others are the famous long-haired pose with wide brimmed hat and sword. The inscriptions on each tell us something. Maybe some research into the social context, the funders and the sculptors would reveal an interesting story. 

How many art collections include portraits of him? Below is one I photographed at Castle Ward back in Easter of this year, hung high on a staircase wall, directly above Sir James Hamilton. Below this is a photo of the 'William III' stained glass window from the Great Hall of Belfast City Hall

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Below: a few publicity images from the Greenwich Painted Hall, showing a detail of William and Mary from the painting The Triumph of Peace and Liberty over Tyranny by Sir James Thornhill, which was painted from 1708–14. It is currently undergoing major refurbishment. NewImage

London uk 30 march 2017 visitors will have a once in a lifetime chance HXY5XJLondon uk 30 march 2017 visitors will have a once in a lifetime chance HXY5XC