Ariel at Tivoli Corner

Nuggets – bite size chunks of London

Ariel at Tivoli Corner

The acute­ly-angled north-west­ern cor­ner of the Bank of Eng­land is known as Tivoli Cor­ner because Sir John Soane took inspi­ra­tion for its appear­ance from the Tem­ple of Ves­ta at Tivoli in Italy. Soane crowned his lit­tle tem­ple with an elab­o­rate attic but Her­bert Bak­er replaced this with a shal­low, cop­per-roofed dome when he recon­fig­ured and enlarged the Bank between the wars – for the most part destruc­tive­ly.

Perched atop the cupo­la sur­mount­ing this dome is a gild­ed bronze fig­ure called Ariel, after the spir­it of the air in The Tem­pest – though Shakespeare’s Ariel was male and this one is not. The stat­ue is by Charles Wheel­er, who pro­duced sev­er­al works for the rebuilt Bank, of which Ariel is the most high­ly regard­ed and gained the Roy­al British Soci­ety of Sculp­tors’ medal for the best work of the year in 1937.

Her­bert Bak­er appar­ent­ly sug­gest­ed the idea of Ariel to Charles Wheel­er because he saw the Bank’s then gov­er­nor, Mon­tagu Nor­man, as a mod­ern Pros­pero. The flam­boy­ant Nor­man con­trolled the Bank for a remark­able 24 years from 1920.

Nev­er one to miss an oppor­tu­ni­ty for self-con­grat­u­la­tion, Bak­er com­pared his part­ner­ship with Wheel­er to the friend­ship between the Renais­sance archi­tect Fil­ip­po Brunelleschi and the sculp­tor Donatel­lo.

For the staid Bank of Eng­land, Ariel rep­re­sent­ed a rad­i­cal choice. Finan­cial insti­tu­tions in gen­er­al have tend­ed to pre­fer sta­t­ic-look­ing stat­u­ary – con­not­ing rock-sol­id sta­bil­i­ty – but Ariel was sup­posed to sym­bol­ise dynam­ic ener­gy cours­ing around the globe, lat­er rephrased as “the dynam­ic spir­it of the Bank car­ry­ing cred­it and trust over the world.” How­ev­er, soon after its instal­la­tion an Amer­i­can vis­i­tor is said to have sug­gest­ed that it might rep­re­sent “the pound ster­ling bal­anc­ing on one foot.”