Removing Monuments from Oxbridge Colleges

January 6 2021

Image of Removing Monuments from Oxbridge Colleges

Picture: Cherwell.org

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

By all accounts, it's not a good time to be an historic monument in an Oxbridge College at the present moment.

All Souls College in Oxford are under growing pressure from campaign groups and some students to remove Henry Cheere's 1734 monument of Christopher Codrington (1668-1710) from the college's library (pictured). Growing criticisms of Cordington's connection to slavery in the West Indies prompted the recent removal of his name from the room. Officials are currently resisting calls to go further and remove the statue completely.

Jesus College in Cambridge has also drawn up plans to remove a late seventeenth century baroque plaque from its chapel and relocate it to a small room which is currently used as a wine store.

The plaque, attributed to Grinling Gibbons, was erected after the death of benefactor Tobias Rustat (1608-1694). Rustat's connections to the Royal African Company are judged by some to warrant the removal of his memorial. The full proposal document from the college, including a 'Theological Reflection' and quote from Cliveden Conservation to undertake the work for £11,123, can be found here.

Update - A reader has been in touch with the following comment:

I am not wholly against removing statues of obnoxious individuals but is there a point when the artistic importance of the statue overrides any concerns over the individual it memorialises? Both the Grinling Gibbons plaque and the Henry Cheere statue are impressive works by historically important sculptors and in themselves, devoid of their context, contribute to Oxford and Cambridge’s history and beauty. Would you also remove a portrait by Rembrandt if it was discovered that the sitter was involved in the slave trade?

I personally tend to agree with the questions above. For some pressure groups it is clear that everything must be viewed from a political lens. Surely there is room in this debate for aesthetic reasoning too?

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