11 November 2013
The Shakespeare sculpture at the British Library
A guest post by Jennifer Howes, Curator of Visual Arts, British Library
The first art work a visitor encounters inside the British Library is a full-size, marble sculpture of William Shakespeare. It stands just to the left of the main staircase, atop a specially designed travertine plinth.
The sculpture was commissioned by David Garrick (1717-1779), the famous actor-manager of the London stage, who revived Shakespeare’s genius in the 18th century. It was originally placed inside a purpose built, octagonal ‘Temple to Shakespeare’, in the grounds of Garrick’s villa on the bank of the Thames, at Hampton (see image below). It is still possible to visit Garrick’s Temple of Shakespeare today. The sculpture was kept there until 1779, when it was bequeathed - along with Garrick's books - to the British Museum.
Garrick commissioned the best sculptor of his day, Louis Francois Roubiliac (1702-1762), to create the sculpture. A portrait of Roubiliac by Adriaen Carpentiers, now in the National Portrait Gallery, shows him standing next to a maquette of the very same work.
In 2005 ownership of the sculpture was transferred from the British Museum to the British Library, and the sculpture was installed in the Entrance Hall of the St Pancras building.