In 1886, Alfred Gilbert, one of Britain's leading sculptors, was commissioned to sculpt a memorial to Anthony Ashley-Cooper, seventh Earl of Shaftesbury, who had died the previous October. The following five years saw him working through a number of ideas in an attempt to find a design that would best commemorate the philanthropic life of the Lord, one of the most respected men of his generation. Gilbert finally settled on an ornate fountain, surmounted by the winged figure of Anteros, the ancient Greek symbol of Selfless Love. The figure of the naked youth was modelled by Gilbert's fifteen-year old studio assistant, Angelo Colorossi, and his precariously balanced pose, with outstretched bow arm and extended opposing leg, recalled that of Renaissance predecessors, such as Giambologna's Mercury and Titian's Bacchus. More used to 'coat and trousers' statues of statesmen and generals, rather than metaphors for their virtues, when Gilbert's finished monument was unveiled at Piccadilly Circus (see photograph above) by the Duke of Westminster in 1893 the public failed to comprehend the symbolism of Anteros, preferring instead to view him as Eros, god of Love, shooting an arrow of desire. And it is as Eros, comparable in its evocation of London as the Statue of Liberty is of New York, that the statue has become recognised and known the world over during the last century.
In 1983, as part of plans to alter traffic circulation around Piccadilly Circus, Eros was examined and found to be in urgent need of restoration. The following year, therefore, the figure was sent up to Edinburgh to Charles Henshaw and Sons Ltd, a firm of architectural metal workers. The choice of company was not by accident, as Henshaw still employed as advisor George Mancini who, more than half a century earlier, had worked with Gilbert on his lost wax castings.
By chance, the completion of the statue's restoration and its re-erection at Piccadilly Circus coincided with the opening of a major retrospective of Gilbert's work at the Royal Academy in 1986, itself the centenary of the sculptor's commission for the memorial. A further coincidence was the discovery at that same time of the original plasters for Eros, which had for many years been packed away in storage at the Victoria and Albert Museum. A private benefactor stepped in to sponsor the restoration of the plasters for the exhibition, and at the same time championed the casting of a new limited edition of the figure. The V & A, who retains casting rights to the model, authorised the edition, providing that afterwards no further casts were to be made for at least twenty years. The edition was supervised by the Fine Art Society, who had acted as Gilbert's exclusive dealer from 1919 until the artist's death in 1934. Meanwhile, the lost wax casting of the ten replicas - nine of them, like the original, in aluminium, the tenth in bronze - was entrusted to the Morris Singer foundry located in Basinstoke, near London. As he had done with the restoration of the original Eros, George Mancini was able to provide technical guidance on the chasing and, in particular, patination of the casts, drawing on his firsthand experience having worked as Gilbert's assistant.
Of the ten replicas of Eros cast, one went to the Art Gallery of South Australia in Adelaide; another went to replace a second original cast for Sefton Park, Liverpool, dating from 1929; and a third, formerly in the atrium of the Trocadero building a mere stone's throw from the original figure at Piccadilly Circus, was sold Sotheby's London, 22 May 1996, lot 159 (£199,500). The remaining six are thought to be in private collections.