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The Frieze of Parnassus encircles the base of the Albert Memorial in London and consists of 169 life-size full-length sculptures of individual artists from history. The total length of the frieze is approximately 64 metres (210 feet). Depicted from top:
South side: musicians and poets
East side: painters
North side: architects
West side: sculptors

The Frieze of Parnassus is a large sculpted stone frieze encircling the podium, or base, of the Albert Memorial in London, England. The Albert Memorial was constructed in the 1860s in memory of Prince Albert, the husband of Queen Victoria.

The frieze is named after Mount Parnassus, the favorite resting place in Ancient Greek mythology for the muses. It contains 169 life-size full-length sculptures, a mixture of low-relief and high-relief, of individual composers, architects, poets, painters, and sculptors from history. The depictions of earlier figures necessarily, were imaginary, although many of the figures were based on materials contained in a collection of artworks and drawings gathered for the purpose of ensuring authentic depictions, where this was possible.

The total length of the frieze is approximately 64 metres (210 feet). The frieze was intended to be the 'soul' of the memorial, and the memorial's designer, George Gilbert Scott, stated that he was inspired by the Hémicycle des Beaux Arts by Paul Delaroche.[1] The memorial was not laid out precisely to directions of the compass, however, closely enough that the sides are referred to by direction. Musicians and poets were placed on the south side, with painters on the east side, sculptors on the west side, and architects on the north side.

Henry Hugh Armstead carved the figures on the south and east sides, the painters, musicians, and poets (80 in total), and grouped them by national schools. John Birnie Philip carved the figures on the west and north sides, the sculptors and architects (89 named figures, plus two generic figures), and arranged them in chronological order.

The carving was executed in situ, and was said by Scott to be "perhaps one of the most laborious works of sculpture ever undertaken". The initial contracts, agreed around 1864, had specified that the work was to be completed in four years for £7,781 15s. The eventual cost, however, exceeded this by some £2,000 and the work was not finished until 1872.

Large groups of figures of eminent persons from the past often decorate public buildings and monuments of the later nineteenth century, and some buildings such as the Walhalla temple in Bavaria and the Panthéon in Paris were dedicated to this purpose. Many figures of visual artists decorate the Victoria and Albert Museum close to the Albert Memorial at the other end of the "Albertopolis" complex. A mosaic frieze of more generalised figures from the arts runs round the circular Royal Albert Hall adjacent to the memorial. The Parnassus by Raphael (1511), opposite the philosophers of The School of Athens in the Vatican Raphael Rooms, is an earlier group portrait of great artists.


List of figuresEdit

Side[2] Group[3] Inscription[4] Official history[5] Identification Notes
South Musicians AUBER D. E. F. Auber Daniel Auber
South Musicians MEHUL E. H. Mehul Étienne Méhul
South Musicians RAMEAU J. P. Rameau Jean-Philippe Rameau
South Musicians LULLI J. B. Lulli Jean-Baptiste Lully
South Musicians GRETRY A. E. M. Gretry André Ernest Modeste Grétry
South Musicians JOSQUIN-DES-PRES Jasquin Des Pres Josquin des Prez
South Musicians ROSSINI G. Rossini Gioachino Rossini
South Musicians MONTEVERDE C. Monteverde Claudio Monteverdi
South Musicians CARISSIMI G. Carissimi Giacomo Carissimi
South Musicians PALESTRINA G. P. A. de Palestrina Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina
South Musicians GUIDO D'AREZZO Guido Guido of Arezzo
South Musicians ST AMBROSE St Ambrose Ambrose
South Poets CORNEILLE P. Corneille Pierre Corneille
South Poets MOLIERE Molière Molière
South Poets CERVANTES Cervantes Miguel de Cervantes
South Poets VIRGIL Virgil Virgil
South Poets DANTE Dante Dante Alighieri
South Poets PYTHAGORAS Pythagoras Pythagoras
South Poets HOMER Homer Homer
South Poets CHAUCER G. Chaucer Geoffrey Chaucer
South Poets SHAKESPEARE W. Shakespeare William Shakespeare
South Poets MILTON J. Milton John Milton
South Poets GOETHE Goethe Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
South Poets SCHILLER Schiller Friedrich Schiller
South Musicians BACH Bach Johann Sebastian Bach
South Musicians GLUCK Gluck Christoph Willibald Gluck
South Musicians HANDEL Handel George Frideric Handel
South Musicians MOZART Mozart Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
South Musicians MENDELSSOHN Mendelssohn Felix Mendelssohn
South Musicians HAYDN Haydn Joseph Haydn
South Musicians WEBER Weber Carl Maria von Weber
South Musicians BEETHOVEN Beethoven Ludwig van Beethoven
South Musicians TALLIS T. Tallis Thomas Tallis
South Musicians O. GIBBONS O. Gibbons Orlando Gibbons
South Musicians LAWES H. Lawes Henry Lawes
South Musicians PURCELL H. Purcell Henry Purcell
South Musicians ARNE T. A. Arne Thomas Arne
South Musicians BOYCE W. Boyce William Boyce
South Musicians BISHOP Sir H. R. Bishop Henry Bishop
East Painters TURNER J. M. W. Turner J. M. W. Turner
East Painters WILKIE Sir D. Wilkie David Wilkie
East Painters REYNOLDS S. J. Reynolds Joshua Reynolds
East Painters GAINSBOROUGH T. Gainsborough Thomas Gainsborough
East Painters HOGARTH W. Hogarth William Hogarth
East Painters REMBRANDT Rembrandt Rembrandt
East Painters RUBENS Rubens Peter Paul Rubens
East Painters HOLBEIN Holbein Hans Holbein the Younger
East Painters DURER Durer Albrecht Dürer
East Painters H. VAN EYCK H. and J. Van Eyck[6] Hubert van Eyck
East Painters J. VAN EYCK H. and J. Van Eyck[6] Jan van Eyck
East Painters STEPHEN OF COLOGNE S. Lockner Stefan Lochner
East Painters CIMABUE Cimabue Cimabue
East Painters ORCAGNA Orcagna Orcagna
East Painters GIOTTO Giotto Giotto di Bondone
East Painters FRA ANGELICO Fra Angelico Fra Angelico
East Painters GHIRLANDAJO Ghirlandajo Domenico Ghirlandaio
East Painters MASACCIO Masaccio Masaccio
East Painters L. DA VINCI L. Da Vinci Leonardo da Vinci
East Painters RAPHAEL Raphael Raphael
East Painters MICHAEL ANGELO M. Angelo Michelangelo
East Painters BELLINI Bellini Giovanni Bellini
East Painters TITIAN Titian Titian
East Painters MANTEGNA Mantegna Andrea Mantegna
East Painters P. VERONESE P. Veronese Paolo Veronese
East Painters TINTORETTO Tintoretto Tintoretto
East Painters COREGGIO Coreggio Antonio da Correggio
East Painters AN. CARACCI A. Caracci Annibale Carracci
East Painters L. CARACCI L. Carraci[7] Ludovico Carracci
East Painters VELASQUEZ Velasquez Diego Velázquez
East Painters MURILLO Murillo Bartolomé Esteban Murillo
East Painters POUSSIN Poussin Nicolas Poussin
East Painters CLAUDE Claude Claude Lorrain
East Painters DAVID J. L. David Jacques-Louis David
East Painters GERARD Gerard François Gérard
East Painters GERICAULT Gerecault Théodore Géricault
East Painters DELACROIX Delacroix Eugène Delacroix
East Painters VERNET Vernet Claude Joseph Vernet
East Painters DELAROCHE Delaroche Hippolyte Delaroche
East Painters INGRES Ingres Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres
East Painters DECAMPS Decamps Alexandre-Gabriel Decamps
North Architects PUGIN Pugin Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin
North Architects SCOTT Scott George Gilbert Scott
North Architects COCKERELL Cockerell Samuel Pepys Cockerell
North Architects BARRY Barry Charles Barry
North Architects CHAMBERS Chambers Sir William Chambers
North Architects VANBRUGH Vanbrugh John Vanbrugh
North Architects WREN Wren Christopher Wren
North Architects INIGO JONES Inigo Jones Inigo Jones
North Architects MANSART Mansart Jules Hardouin Mansart
North Architects THORPE Thorpe John Thorpe
North Architects PALLADIO Palladio Andrea Palladio
North Architects VIGNOLA Vignola Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola
North Architects DELORME Delorme Philibert de l'Orme
North Architects SANSOVINO Sansovino Jacopo Sansovino
North Architects SAN GALLO San Gallo Giuliano da Sangallo
North Architects PERUZZI Peruzzi Baldassare Peruzzi
North Architects BRAMANTE Bramante Donato Bramante
North Architects WILLIAM OF WYKEHAM William of Wykeham William of Wykeham
North Architects ALBERTI Alberti Leone Battista Alberti
North Architects BRUNELLESCHI Brunelleschi Filippo Brunelleschi
North Architects GIOTTO Giotto Giotto di Bondone
North Architects ARNOLFO DI LAPO Arndfo Di Lapo[7] Arnolfo di Cambio
North Architects ERWIN VON STEINBACH Ermin Van Steinbach[7] Erwin von Steinbach
North Architects JEHAN DE CHELLES Johan de Chelles Jean de Chelles
North Architects ROB DE COUCY R. de Courcy[7] Robert De Coucy
North Architects WILLIAM OF SENS William of Sens William of Sens
North Architects WILLIAM THE ENGLISHMAN William the Englishman William the Englishman
North Architects ABBE SUGER Abbe Suger Abbot Suger
North Architects ANTHEMIUS Anthemius Anthemius of Tralles
North Architects HERMODORUS Hermodoraus[7] no article[8]
North Architects APOLLODORUS Appollodonus[7] Apollodorus of Damascus
North Architects CALLIMACHUS Callimchus[7] Callimachus (sculptor)
North Architects LIBON Libon Libon
North Architects CALLICRATES Callicrates Kallikrates
North Architects ICTINUS Ictinus Iktinos
North Architects MNESIKLES Mnesicles Mnesikles
North Architects CHERSIPHRON Chersiphron Chersiphron
North Architects RHOECUS Rhoscus[7] Rhoecus
North Architects METAGENES Metagenes Metagenes
North Architects THEODORUS Theodorus Theodorus of Samos
North Architects HIRAM [9] Hiram Hiram Abiff[10]
North Architects BEZALEEL Bezaleel Bezalel
North Architects SENNACHERIB Sennacherib Sennacherib
North Architects NITOCRIS Nitocris Nitocris
North Architects CHEOPS Cheops Khufu
West Sculptors EGYPTIAN Egyptian none[11]
West Sculptors ASSYRIAN Assyrian none[11]
West Sculptors RHOECUS R. Loecus[7] Rhoecus
West Sculptors DIBUTADES Dibutades Butades
West Sculptors BUPALUS Bupalus Bupalus
West Sculptors PHIDIAS Phidias Phidias
West Sculptors SCOPAS Scopas Scopas
West Sculptors BRYAXIS Bryaxis Bryaxis
West Sculptors LEOCHARES Leochanes[7] Leochares
West Sculptors PRAXITELES Praxiteles Praxiteles
West Sculptors LYSIPPUS Lysippus Lysippos
West Sculptors CHARES Chanes[7] Chares of Lindos
West Sculptors GIULIANO DI RAVENNA Giuliano de Ravenna no article[12]
West Sculptors NICCOLA PISANO Niccola Pisano Nicola Pisano
West Sculptors GHIBERTI Ghiberti Lorenzo Ghiberti
West Sculptors TORELL W. Tonel William Torell
West Sculptors LUCA DELLA ROBBIA Luca Deklla Robbia[7] Luca della Robbia
West Sculptors WILLIAM OF IRELAND William of Ireland William of Ireland
West Sculptors VERROCCHIO Verrocchio Andrea del Verrocchio
West Sculptors DONATELLO Donatello Donatello
West Sculptors MICHAEL ANGELO Michael Angelo Michelangelo
West Sculptors TORRIGIANO Torrigiano Pietro Torrigiano
West Sculptors GIAN DI BOLOGNA Gian Di Balogna[7] Giambologna
West Sculptors BANDINELLI Bandinelli Bartolommeo Bandinelli
West Sculptors VISCHER Vischer Peter Vischer the Elder
West Sculptors CELLINI Cellini Benvenuto Cellini
West Sculptors BACCIO D'AGNOLO Baccio D'agnelo[7] Baccio D'Agnolo
West Sculptors GOUJON Gaujon[7] Jean Goujon
West Sculptors PALISSY Palisay[7] Bernard Palissy
West Sculptors BONTEMPS Bontemps Pierre Bontemps
West Sculptors PILON Pilon Germain Pilon
West Sculptors CANO Cano Alonzo Cano
West Sculptors STONE Stone Nicholas Stone
West Sculptors BERNINI Bernini Gian Lorenzo Bernini
West Sculptors CIBBER Cibber Caius Gabriel Cibber
West Sculptors PUGET Puget Pierre Paul Puget
West Sculptors GIBBONS Gibbons Grinling Gibbons
West Sculptors BIRD F. Bird Francis Bird
West Sculptors BUSHNELL Bushnell John Bushnell
West Sculptors ROUBILIAC Roubiliac Louis-François Roubiliac
West Sculptors CANOVA Canova Antonio Canova
West Sculptors FLAXMAN Flaxman John Flaxman
West Sculptors DAVID (ANGERS) David D'Angers Pierre Jean David
West Sculptors THORWALDSEN Thorvaldsen Bertel Thorvaldsen

Selection, arrangement, and omissionsEdit

The frieze in its context; the Albert Memorial as seen from the south side

The selection of figures reflects contemporary thinking, although even by the taste of the 1860s it seems odd to omit Schubert, then considered rather lightweight, whilst including Daniel Auber and Grétry.

Among the painters, a classical tradition predominates to the extent that there is no hint of Mannerism in the sixteenth century and Giulio Romano is omitted, nor is there any reference to Rococo taste, where a modern list would include Antoine Watteau and François Boucher. The painters represented in the frieze reflect to some extent, Albert's own taste for the "Primitives" of the late Middle Ages, although Duccio is absent. Botticelli and Vermeer were yet to be rediscovered, and El Greco, Caravaggio, and Goya, who would all figure in a modern canon, mostly were regarded with suspicion.

No English poet after John Milton was featured. Among the architects, the figure of Nitocris, the only figure representing a woman on the frieze, may have been selected because it was at one time thought that she was the pharaoh responsible for the pyramid now credited to Menkaura.

Other figures commemorated elsewhere on the Albert Memorial, on the canopy mosaics, but not on the frieze, are Apelles (painting), King Solomon (architecture) and King David (poetry). The preferred south side of the memorial, being the direction in which Albert's statue faces, is populated by poets and musicians, with poets at the centre in accordance with the Victorian concept of poetry as the highest of the arts.

The arrangement of the other groups also reflects this Victorian thinking, with the fine arts of the sculptors and painters on the east and west sides, joining a spiritual side on the south (the poets and musicians) and a material side on the north (the architects). At least three of the sides also have a central, pre-eminent figure seated on a throne, with Homer for the poets, Raphael for the painters, and Michelangelo for the sculptors.

Scott originally intended the last of the architects depicted in full to be himself, however, after all the other characters had been chosen, he realised he'd forgotten Pugin, the great genius of the Victorian Gothic Revival. So Scott replaced his own statue with Pugin's, and then placed himself as a relief head, looking over Pugin's shoulder.[13]

Authenticity and detailsEdit

Authentic points of detail and historical accuracy include Phidias being depicted as bald, the phorminx (lyre) being held by the bard Homer, William Hogarth's dog, Paolo Veronese's hand resting on a greyhound,[14] Daniel Auber's right arm in a sling, the building models held by William of Wykeham and Jean de Chelles, the model of Trajan's Column held by Apollodorus of Damascus, the object held by Hiram, the sculptures held by Dibutades and Phidias, Ghiberti leaning on a panel, the sculptures being held by Donatello and Michelangelo, and the statue being admired by the group to the right of Cellini.

Authentic period detail also is seen in much of the clothing, the details of facial hair, furniture, and accessories, including scrolls, books, swords, and palettes. The figures are posed, either in isolation or in groups, with some figures facing each other in poses of admiration or engaged deeply in conversation.


  1. ^ 'Albert Memorial: The memorial', Survey of London: volume 38: South Kensington Museums Area (1975), pp. 159-176: "[The frieze's] affinity to Delaroche's Hémicycle des Beaux Arts in the École des Beaux Arts was avowed by Scott himself." (date accessed: 18 May 2008)
  2. ^ Due to the geometry and layout of the memorial, there is some overlap between the sides for the different groups of figures. The north–south–west–east convention used here is that used in the Survey of London: volume 38 – South Kensington Museums Area (1975, General Editor F. H. W. Sheppard), in which two articles about the memorial appeared: [1], [2].
  3. ^ The four basic groups were identified using the official history. The further separation of the poets and musicians was done on the basis of an essay by John Lucas Tupper, titled Henry Hugh Armstead, concerning the career of the sculptor who carved this part of the frieze. The essay was published first in The Portfolio, and then in English Artists of the Present Day. Essays by J. Beavington Atkinson, Sidney Colvin, F. G. Stephens, Tom Taylor, and John L. Tupper. London: Seeley, Jackson, and Halliday, 1872, 61-66. It has been republished here [3].
  4. ^ The inscriptions were transcribed from a set of four photographs from May 2008: South face, East face, North face, West face.
  5. ^ The National Memorial to His Royal Highness the Prince Consort, pp. 65–90, published by John Murray in 1873. This official list is mentioned here [4] ("The subjects are listed in the official history."), and the list used here was obtained from here [5], although that source contains several presumed transcription errors.
  6. ^ a b This is a combined entry in the official history for two of the figures.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Presumed transcription error.
  8. ^ This entry may refer to "Hermodorus of Salamis", said by some sources to be the architect of the second century B.C. Temple of Jupiter Stator.
  9. ^ The name "Hiram" is inscribed twice on the memorial, either side of the corner point on the frieze where the figure is located.
  10. ^ This entry may refer both to the biblical king of Tyre, Hiram I and his architect, Hiram Abiff.
  11. ^ a b The first two figures in the sculptors group are nameless representations of an Egyptian and an Assyrian.
  12. ^ This entry could refer to "Giuliano Argentario" (also known as "Iulianus Argentarius"), one of those involved in the financing and construction of the Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna, Italy.
  13. ^ TV programme: "Pugin, God Of Gothic", Channel 4 Television, UK
  14. ^ One of Veronese's works is titled Boy with a Greyhound

External linksEdit