Hailed by some as "the most important work of the kind ever erected in England in the Italian style", and chastised by others for its overly ornate and even idolatrous nature, the Bodley Reredos have a controversial and storied past.
In the early 1880's the interior of Saint Paul's Cathedral originally designed by Sir Christopher Wren, underwent a re-design. Victorian architect George Frederick Bodley's (1827-1907) designed the altar and surrounds, which were constructed by the firm of Farmer and Brindley. The designs were executed in white Parian marble with panels in rosso antico, verde di Parto, and Brescia marbles and gilt detailed decoration. The reredos alone, which rose to an overall height of seventy-five feet behind the altar, are reported to have cost the astounding sum of £28,000. The present lots were a series of eleven reliefs depicting the various aspects of the Passion of Christ and were installed as a part of a frieze beneath the solomonic columns of the reredos.
Upon its completion, it was hailed by many critics as the most important decorative scheme of the age. However some viewed the incorporation of embellishments as Gothic German counter-reformation arrangements and contrary to the simple Protestant ideal and Wren's original designs. Upon the unveiling of the altar and reredos a group of Protestant churchmen initiated a campaign against the Dean and Chapter of St. Paul's Cathedral for erecting such superstitious symbols. The altar and surrounds survived the court case and the controversy surrounding them ultimately made them a major tourist attraction. The reredos was later exposed to some damage during the Blitz and was eventually dismantled in the 1970s.