Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain

Coordinates: 51°30′35″N 0°08′04″W / 51.50984°N 0.13449°W / 51.50984; -0.13449
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Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain
The fountain in 2014
ArtistAlfred Gilbert
TypeFountain, sculpture
MediumAluminium, bronze
Dimensions1097 cm × 518 cm (432 in × 204 in)
LocationPiccadilly Circus, London, W1
Coordinates51°30′35″N 0°08′04″W / 51.50984°N 0.13449°W / 51.50984; -0.13449

The Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain, officially and popularly known as Eros,[1] is a fountain surmounted by a winged statue of Anteros, located at the southeastern side of Piccadilly Circus in London, England. Moved after the Second World War from its original position in the centre of the circus, it was erected in 1892–93 to commemorate the philanthropic works of The 7th Earl of Shaftesbury,[2] the Victorian politician and philanthropist, and his achievement in replacing child labour with school education. The fountain overlooks the south-west end of Shaftesbury Avenue, also named after the Earl.

Description and history[edit]

Alfred Gilbert's use of a nude figure on a public monument was controversial at the time of its construction, but it was generally well received by the public. The Magazine of Art described it 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."[3] The statue has been called "London's most famous work of sculpture";[4] a graphical illustration of it is used as the symbol of the Evening Standard newspaper and appears on its masthead. It was the first sculpture in the world to be cast in aluminium and is set on a bronze fountain, which itself inspired the marine motifs that Gilbert carved on the statue.

Although the statue is generally known as Eros, it was created as an image of that Greek god's brother, Anteros.[5] The sculptor Alfred Gilbert had already sculpted a statue of Anteros and, when commissioned for the Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain, chose to reproduce the same subject, who, as "The God of Selfless Love" was deemed to represent the philanthropic 7th Earl of Shaftesbury suitably. Gilbert described Anteros as portraying "reflective and mature love, as opposed to Eros or Cupid, the frivolous tyrant." Gilbert commented on his reason for the statue, saying:

As to the figure surmounting the whole if I must confess to a meaning or a raison d être for its being there I confess to have been actuated in its design by a desire to symbolise the work of Lord Shaftesbury the blindfolded Love sending forth indiscriminately yet with purpose his missile of kindness always with the swiftness the bird has from its wings never ceasing to breathe or reflect critically but ever soaring onwards regardless of its own peril and dangers.[6]

The model for the sculpture was Gilbert's studio assistant, a 16-year-old Anglo-Italian, Angelo Colarossi (born 1875 in Shepherd's Bush).[7] Fernando Meacci was involved in the moulding of the fountain[8] and it was probably cast by George Broad & Son.[9]

The memorial was unveiled by The 1st Duke of Westminster on 29 June 1893.[10] Following the unveiling there were numerous complaints. Some felt it was sited in a vulgar part of town (the theatre district), and others felt that it was too sensual as a memorial for a famously sober and respectable Earl. Some of the objections were tempered by renaming the statue as The Angel of Christian Charity,[11] which was the nearest approximation that could be invented in Christian terms for the role Anteros played in the Greek pantheon. However, the name never became widely known and the statue was thence referred to as Eros, the god of sensual love; inappropriate some said in relation to the Earl's commemoration, but hailed by others as an ironic representation of the more carnal side of the neighbourhood, into which Soho had developed.

1896 and 2020 pictures taken from the same approximate position, showing the monument's original, pre-World War 2 position, and its modern site

The whole memorial has been removed from the circus twice in its history. In 1922, construction began on the new tube station directly beneath the memorial. The memorial was therefore taken away and put in Embankment Gardens. It returned to Piccadilly Circus in 1931, but when the Second World War broke out in 1939, the statue only was removed for safety and kept in Egham.[12][13] It did not return to Piccadilly Circus again until 29 June 1947.[14] The statue was again removed in the 1980s – this time for restoration – and resited upon its return in February 1985. During the restoration a set of plaster casts was unearthed in the basements of the Victoria and Albert Museum which revealed damage to the statue.[15] The statue was also vandalised in 1990 and after radiography and restoration returned in 1994.[16] In May 2012 the statue had a new bow string fitted after the original was broken by a tourist.[17]

In the winter of 2013–14, the statue was covered with a PVC snow globe featuring internal fans blowing the "snowflakes". This also had the function of protecting the statue from vandalism and it was planned to return in subsequent years. However, strong winds caused the globe to become damaged and deflate and it was not subsequently repaired.[18] In winter 2014–15, octagonal advertising hoardings forming a box for giant Christmas presents had a similar function.[19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ On the National Heritage List for England, the fountain's statutory address is SHAFTESBURY MEMORIAL FOUNTAIN EROS, PICCADILLY CIRCUS W1
  2. ^ "Eros – Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain | Art UK".
  3. ^ Speel, Bob. "Statue of Eros at Piccadilly Circus". Speel. Retrieved 3 November 2020.
  4. ^ Bradley, Simon; Pevsner, Nikolaus (2003), London: Westminster, The Buildings of England, vol. 6, London and New Haven: Yale University Press, p. 58
  5. ^ Lloyd; Mitchinson (2006). The Book of General Ignorance. Because of the bow and the nudity... everybody assumed it was Eros, the Greek god of love
  6. ^ Hatton, Joseph (1903). The Life and Works of Alfred Gilbert. London: Art Journal. p. 16. Retrieved 3 November 2020.
  7. ^ "Eros", National Conservation Centre
  8. ^ British bronze sculpture founders and plaster figure makers, 1800–1980 – M
  9. ^ British bronze sculpture founders and plaster figure makers, 1800–1980 – B
  10. ^ Ward-Jackson, Philip (2011), Public Sculpture of Historic Westminster: Volume 1, Public Sculpture of Britain, vol. 14, Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, p. 225
  11. ^ Fountains and Water Features Archived 27 December 2015 at the Wayback Machine
  12. ^ Weinreb, Ben; Hibbert, Christopher (1992). The London Encyclopaedia (reprint ed.). Macmillan. p. 271.
  13. ^ Marshall, Prince (1972) (1972). Wheels of London. The Sunday Times Magazine. ISBN 0-7230-0068-9.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  14. ^ The Scotsman 30th June 1947.
  15. ^ Eros Restored : For a Mere $250,000 You Can Own a Life-Size Casting of One of London's Best-Known Statues, 31 May 1987|Bevis Hillier
  16. ^ Repairs and Alterations to Listed Building Supplementary Planning Guidance
  17. ^ Universal restring Eros after he broke his bow!
  18. ^ Piccadilly Circus Eros 'snow globe' will not return
  19. ^ NOV 28, 2014| LOCAL AUTHORITY CONTRACT. Eros surrounded by box of giant Christmas presents

External links[edit]