Magnificent Gothic Revival tournament memorial saved for Ayrshire

  • 23 October 2014

A silver-gilt statue of a knight and horse, one of the only surviving items from the 1839 Eglinton Tournament, has been bought by the Dick Institute with help from an Art Fund grant.

Benjamin Smith, Statuette of 13th Earl of Eglinton and Horse, 1840 Dick Institute Museum and Art Gallery

Benjamin Smith, Statuette of 13th Earl of Eglinton and Horse, 1840

In 1839 Archibald Montgomerie, the 13th Earl of Eglinton, organised a grand reenactment of a medieval tournament in the Romantic style, transforming his home into a lavishly decorated Gothic castle. One of the last great Gothic Revival events, the Eglinton Tournament attracted 100,000 spectators and distinguished visitors including Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte, the future emperor of France.

The event was run at huge expense, almost bankrupting Lord Eglinton, and the tournament was postponed following a downpour on the planned date. It was resolutely criticised by the Whig party, but continued to inspire similar events as late as the Tournament of Brussels in 1905. Mark Girouard, a historian of chivalry, described the tournament as 'the most obviously famous product of 19th-century chivalry in Britain'.

Following the tournament, 300 citizens of Glasgow presented a magnificent candelabrum centrepiece, known as the Glasgow Eglinton Memorial, to the Earl of Eglinton. In a Christie's catalogue of 1922, the memorial is described as 'a candelabrum, the stem supporting branches for nine lights, surmounted by a military trophy, and with figure of a knight and warhorse at the base, on triangular pedestal chased with tournament scenes'.

In the 20th century most of the memorial was melted down to claim its value in scrap, leaving only the base and its statue remaining. Created by Benjamin Smith, the statue shows Lord Eglinton in his tournament outfit and regalia, standing beside a horse in demi-armour emblazoned with the Eglinton coat of arms.

The Dick Institute holds a number of items from the Gothic Revival movement, many of which were featured in 1839: A Gothic Adventure, a 2011 exhibition exploring the history of the tournament. The remaining statue from the Eglinton Memorial has been acquired with help from an Art Fund grant, and will be featured in displays on the Eglinton Tournament in the future.

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