Type Building , Sculpture
The triumphal arch is flanked by two large Corinthian columns supporting a massive entablature. Above this, four shorter columns support a second entablature, which is topped by a pediment. Within the central space created by the four columns, is an aplustra, or naval trophy, depicting the curved stern of a ship adorned with the spoils of war. This was set in the same elevated position that the eagles occupied on the portico of Septimus Severus at Rome when James Stuart saw the monument there. The aplustra is surmounted by other adornments, including a cable and anchor, all alluding to the remarkable career of Admiral Lord Anson. On either side of the aplustra are two sarcophagi, bearing the busts of George and Elizabeth Anson. There are two roundels within the spandrels of the triumphal arch, both of which are of naval significance. They show Neptune and Minerva establishing naval discipline, thereby commemorating George Anson's reforms of the navy. All of the sculpture is by Peter Scheemakers.
James 'Athenian' Stuart and Nicholas Revett, on behalf of the Society of Dilettanti of which Thomas Anson, the then owner of Shugborough, was a foundation member, had gone to Athens in I748 to draw and publish the principal buildings. Work on the triumphal arch, begun in November 1761, was modelled on the Arch of Hadrian, which he had illustrated in the third volume of his Antiquities of Athens.
The original was built by the Athenians to honour the achievements of Hadrian in both war and peace. It was with this same sense of George Anson's achievement during his illustrious naval career that the triumphal arch was begun at Shugborough. However, following the Admiral's death in 1762, Thomas Anson must have decided to adapt the arch into a memorial for his brother. In 1763, the Marchioness de Grey, visiting Shugborough, declared that 'It was a most beautiful structure, that has been long begun, but will now I understand be applied to a different purpose from what could first be intended'.(1) This explains why the naval trophy is flanked by the two sarcophagi bearing the busts of George Anson and his wife. In 1764 Stuart sent a sketch for the profile of the entablature of the Arch including 'the coping or the stones which support the Aplustra'.
Admiral George Anson joined the navy when he was fourteen and after forty years' service became First Lord of the Admiralty in 1751. When war broke out with Spain in 1737, he was given orders to break the Spanish trading monopoly across the Pacific. The exploits of his ship Centurion are well documented. His involvement in the experimental use of chronometers to determine longitude led to his later appointment to the Board of Longitude.
PMSA recording information