King George IV's triumphal statue, conceived as a monumental centrepiece for a banqueting table, presents him in ancient parade attire as Pater Patriae. The Monarch, in Grecian armour and bearing his Imperial baton, stands astride a Grecian rostrum, with Ionic-fluted columnar shaft, which, with its stylobate, supports the 'shield' escutcheon displaying the Royal arms resting against the addorsed and recumbent Royal Lion-and-Unicorn supporters. The escutcheon, ensigned with the Royal crown surmounted by the British lion, is wreathed with the Garter ribbon of the chivalric order concerned with the defence of the realm, and wrapped by hero's oak branches and triumphal laurels. The 'sarcophagus' compass-fronted pedestal, on its rectangular plinth, is designed in the Renaissance manner customarily provided for ancient and modern heroes and its indented tablet, with ancient pounced ground, bears a bas-relief inscription in Latin, proclaiming the King as Pater Patriae. The monarch emulates Alexander the Great, with youthful windswept hair and cuirass and greaves embellished with the Herculean lion-pelt and mask. His sword is revealed beneath the folds of his paludamentum cloak, while the baton rests on his armour-clad side. His triumphal garb and attentive pose, presenting right profile, follows the stance of monarchs and rulers hearkening the wisdom of Athena, the protective goddess of Attica, such as the French adopted for planetary-sphere clocks in the 18th Century. His cuirass, embossed with a palmette-supported military trophy, portrays a winged nike (victory) placing the victor's palm on a helm held by her companion. This tendril-wreathed trophy of arms reflects Napoleon's Empire style derived from the architect Charles Percier and Pierre Fontaine's Receuil de Decorations Interieures, 1801. The statue also represents the influence of the connoisseur Thomas Hope (d.1831) who, as author of a guide to the antiquities displayed in the 'antique' enviroment of his mansion-museum entitled Household Furniture and Interior Decoration, 1807, and of Costume of the Ancients, 1809, displayed his belief, as a member of the Society of Dilettanti, in encouraging history painters and sculptors to emulate the antique.
George IV would have commissioned this statue from Philip Rundell (d.1827) of the Royal goldsmiths Messrs. Rundell, Bridge and Rundell of Ludgate Hill. It is designed as a centrepiece for a banqueting hall display of plate. It owes its origins to a variety of sources, including a column-supported Britannia centrepiece designed by the architect Charles Heathcote Tatham to commemorate Admiral Lord Nelson's victory at the Battle of the Nile and which is illustrated in his Designs for Ornamental Plate, 1806, pl.30. When, in 1810, King George III's Golden Jubilee was celebrated by Robert, 4th Earl of Buckingham by placing the King's statue on Dunstan's Pillar, Lincolnshire, a miniature replica of the monument was transformed into a centrepiece. The latter, belonging to Sir Joseph Banks Bt., President of the King's Royal Society, bears the Goldsmith Company's 1811 date-letter, and the mark of Paul Storr (d.1844) of Messrs Rundell, Bridge & Rundell, Goldsmiths by appointment to the King and George, Prince of Wales. It had passed to Lord Brabourne and was sold in these Rooms, 13 May 1992, lot 137. The following year's date-letter appears on the similar statue in the Royal Collection (see: A.G.Grimwade, The Queen's Silver, 1953, p.104).
While column-supported figures derive from antique monuments such as that of Emperor Trajan, this statue's Renaissance pedestal derives from that of the Capitoline monument to Emperor Marcus Aurelius. For centuries the latter had been identified with Constantine, who established Christianity as the religion of his Empire, and this concept lay behind its choice for equestrian statues of King William III, including the bronze statue restored for display at Carlton House in 1812 (see: Exhibition Catalogue, Carlton House, The Past Glories of George IV's Palace, London, 1991, no.33), and also for the bronze statue of George IV at Windsor Castle, executed by Edward Hodges Baily (d.1867). At Windsor, there is also a relief by the sculptor Lucius Gahagan (d.1866) portraying George IV attended by Arthur, Duke of Wellington, which alludes to the monarch's wide-ranging alliances creating a new Pax Romana in Europe, and his ability to commune with ancient Gods and Goddesses, as in this statue.
Another related silver statue, which portrayed the Duke of Wellington, had been proposed as part of a Service à la Francaise conceived in the Napoleonic Empire style, and commissioned for the Duke in 1810 from Domingos Antonia de Sequeira (d.1837) in the name of the Portuguese Prince Regent, Dom Joao (1767-1826), in gratitude for his role in the restoration of the Portuguese monarchy (Sequeia's painting of the proposed statue is illustrated in J. Yorke, Portugal's Silver Service, 1992, pl.19). It is of interest to note that while the Portuguese Prince Regent was in Rio awaiting his return to Lisbon, he was lent by his English counterpart a banqueting service executed by Messrs. Rundells (Information kindly supplied by Mr. J. Yorke).
The precise circumstances of the presentation of the figure to the Conyngham family are not known. The figure would undoubtedly have had major political significance and its symbolic status to the recipient would have been considerable. Lady Conyngham was the King's companion and mistress from 1820 until his death in 1830. She was undoubtedly acquisitive; Greville descibes her behaviour during the King's last illness in 1830: During the last illness wagons were loaded every night and sent away from the castle but what their contents were was not known...All Windsor knew this (C.C.F. Greville, The Greville Memoirs 1814-1860, ed. L.Strachey and R.Fulford, London, 1938 edition, II, p.31). It is undoubtedly simplistic to accept without qualification the opinion of pamphleteers, diarists and courtiers. Modern historians emphasise the simplicity of the Marchioness' nature and that was a large part of her appeal to the king and also gives more weight to the friendship between the Marquess and the King. The Dictionary of National Biography credits the Marchioness alone with obtaining the English title and promotions for her husband, but George IV's correspondence reveals that Conyngham himself had pressed for it as early as 1812. The promotion to Marquess in fact took place in January 1816; there is no evidence whatever that Lady Conyngham was a confidante and influential mistress until 1819-20 (see: C.Peter Kaellgren, 'Lady Conyngham's silver gilt in the Royal Ontario Museum', The Burlington Magazine, June 1992, pp.368-74). Conyngham was a vigorous supporter of Irish union in 1807 and was made a Knight of St. Patrick immediately following its successful passage. The King stayed at Slane during his highly political state visit to Ireland after the Coronation in 1821. Such a visit gives weight to the suggestion that the Marquess was a significant figure in his own right. Later they both came to play a key role in Royal Household politics; the Marchioness was de facto mistress of Windsor and her husband was appointed Constable in December 1821. The 1822 date for this figure is comparatively early in her relationship with the king and it seems more likely that it would have been given to the Marquess in some Irish political context than as a gift to the King's companion