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An Unhinged Memorial

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Wednesday, 25 May 2011

An Unhinged Memorial

The Hunterian Museum at The Royal College of Surgeons England is full of amazing and often macabre exhibits and is completely free.

My favourite object in their collection is not in the museum proper but is near the foot of the main staircase.

The Macloghlin Memorial, Mors Janua Vitae (Death is the gate of life) by Sir Alfred Gilbert, 1908
Mr and Mrs Macloghlin are staring lovingly at a small casket. The casket contains both of their ashes. Mrs Macloghlin commissioned the unusual memorial from Alfred Gilbert.

As he worked on the sculpture he and Mrs Macloghlin started a love affair. So enamoured was she by his charms that she arranged for her bronze head to be fitted with a hinge, so that when Sir Alfred died his ashes too, could be added to the memorial!

Unfortunately the affair ended, Mrs Macloughlin's scalp was never hinged and when the time came Alfred Gilbert needed to settle instead for a memorial in St Paul's Cathedral.

Best known for his Shaftesbury memorial,


Alfred Gilbert had most interesting, albeit turbulent,  professional and love-lives. An excellent brief biography can be found at the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography here. Most libraries have a subscription that you can access from home, if yours doesn't I would badger them to do so, it is a magnificent resource.

If you haven't been to the Hunterian you can find more details of their incredible collections at their site here.

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