The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries in Westminster Abbey
Exploring the topography of Westminster Abbey is a fascinating experience. One of the advantages of these new Galleries is the magnificent view they give, especially of the Nave. At coronations, all of which have been held here since 1066, you get a bird’s eye view of proceedings from the eastern triforium, built by Henry III, where the Galleries are sited.
Four themes are evident…. the building of the Abbey, worship and daily life, its links with national memory as the Abbey commemorates the nation’s most prominent figures and its connection with the monarchy.
The artefacts selected are fascinating and range from a fragment of the Shrine of St Edward the Confessor, who founded the Abbey, and a copy of Magna Carta to peepshows featuring coronations which gave an insight into their scale and even the oldest stuffed bird in England which was owned by a Duchess.
The funeral effigies of monarchs were an important part of the ceremony until Charles II and were extremely lifelike. Effigies attracted crowds; the only one on show here who was not buried in the Abbey was the naval hero Admiral Horatio Nelson. There is also the realistic death mask of Henry VII who has a magnificent Chapel named after him.
An ingenious idea is to show us casts of the Abbey’s buttress beasts when the real stone images can be seen through the nearby windows. There is also a model for a Hanoverian burial vault and George II was the last monarch to be buried here. A film using CGI illustrates how the Abbey has changed over the centuries. These new Galleries are a fine addition displaying many of the Abbey’s treasures which reflect our history down the ages.
In contrast The Queen’s Window by David Hockney, designed on his 1-pad, which was dedicated by the Dean of Westminster last October and is supposed to commemorate her love of the countryside, is a disaster. Hockney is one of our finest painters but the standard of his work is erratic. Here his use of bright colours and childlike shapes looks incongruous and the work is totally at odds with its imposing surroundings. Opposite it are the statues of former prime ministers such as Disraeli and Gladstone. I only wish that their voices could be heard to condemn this dysfunctional tribute which is a blot on the otherwise unstained escutcheon of this national shrine to the famous.
It is ironic that in the same year, both the Galleries, which commemorate aspects of the Abbey’s life, past and present so superbly, and a stained glass window, which should have been placed in an outbuilding, have been erected. Unfortunately this misbegotten window is all too visible as every visitor who enters has no option but to pass by it.