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The sculpted figures

History

The eight Winds

The scientific work of the Observatory

Signs of the Zodiac

Below the level of the balcony are the Signs of the Zodiac modelled for the Coade factory by J C F Rossi, who took his designs from the Farnese Globe, a celestial globe (now in the Museo Nationale, Naples) which has survived from Roman times and is thought to be a Roman copy of a Greek original. A map of an 'Ancient Globe of the Heavens' taken from the Farnese Globe had been published in Spence's Polymetis in 1747, and it was this map that Rossi used as a model for the Observatory's Zodiac signs. The number of Zodiac panels is not 12 but 11 – the signs for Scorpio (the scorpion) and Libra (the scales) are combined both on the Farnese Globe and on the Observatory.

 

It has long been recognised that the names given by both Greeks and Romans to the signs of the zodiac derive from Greek mythology. For example, Aries is the ram whose golden fleece was recovered by Jason, Taurus the bull whose form Zeus assumed when he abducted Europa, and Leo the lion slain by Herakles (Hercules) as the first of his twelve labours. The curious form of Capricornus, the goat with a fish-tail, derives from the myth in which the god Pan jumped into the water just as he was changing shape in an attempt to escape from the monster Typhon. While the half of him above the water assumed the shape of a goat, the lower half became a fish.

 

Morning, Noon and Evening

In between the signs of the zodiac on the north face are the three Morning, Noon and Evening panels, also in Coade stone, which were the work of a third sculptor, Robert Smirke. On the Morning and Noon panels, the quadriga (four-horse chariot) of Helios (the sun) is seen riding across the sky, and the Evening panel depicts Nyx (the night) with Artemis (goddess of the moon) setting off for the night's journey.

 

The Eight Winds

The figures of the Eight Winds appeared on the original Tower of the Winds in Athens and were used by the sculptor John Bacon (1740-99) as the basis for his designs for the flying figures round the top of the stonework of the Observatory. Bacon also designed the two statues (in cast iron) of Atlas and Hercules who support the globe on the roof. The condition of the Windrush stone of which the Eight Winds are made compares unfavourably with that of the Coade stone of the Zodiac and other figures below, which has successfully withstood the elements for two centuries.

See more details about the Eight Winds.

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