Francis Bird (1)

I was intrigued as to who had been responsible for the statues of the apostles standing on the parapet of the north transept of St. Paul’s, nearly invisible from the ground.   The answer is Francis Bird, described by George Vertue as ‘the most famous statuary, that this Nation ever bred’.   I should have known about him.   He was trained both in Flanders, where he was apprenticed aged 11, and in Rome, where he worked under Pierre Legros, learning to carve the ornaments of baroque churches.   His first work for St. Paul’s was a relief of St. Paul preaching to the Bereans over the west door and he was then invited to do the carving of the Conversion of St. Paul in the tympanum of the west front.   Then he did the statue of Queen Anne to celebrate the completion of St. Paul’s.   The statues on the transepts belong to a later phase of work when a New Commission was appointed using John James as architect, not Wren.   In fact Wren vehemently objected to their work, as recorded in a letter to the Commission dated 28 October 1717, not long before his death:  ‘I never designed a balustrade.   Persons of little skill in architecture did expect, I believe, to see something they had been used to in Gothic structures;  and Ladies think nothing well without an edging…My opinion, therefore, is, to have statues erected on the four pediments only, which will be a most proper, noble and sufficient ornament to the whole fabric, and was never omitted in the best ancient Greek and Roman architecture’.   They went ahead and commissioned the sculptures nonetheless, even though Bird was a Catholic.

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