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Crowning glory of Writers’

- STATUES INSPIRED BY ROME ATOP BUILDING MAMATA WANTS RESTORED
Agriculture with the English squire, who is not visible here, and the barebodied Indian farmer. While the native wears only a loincloth and a turban, the English agriculturist dons a jacket and a hat as well.

It was only in the late 19th century that Writers’ Buildings acquired its now-familiar red hue. It was then decided that this structure, which was originally meant for the writers or junior servants of the East India Company, would be turned into a secretariat for “quick disposal of work”.

When Ashley Eden was lieutenant governor-general (1871-1874), three new blocks were added and the building was made over.

Alex Bremner, who teaches architectural history at the Edinburgh School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, University of Edinburgh, described this in an email to Metro as a “Neo-Renaissance style of architecture, with French accents, such as the mansard roofs. This was a style quite common in the late 19th and very early 20th centuries. There are a number of buildings in other parts of Britain’s former empire that adopt this style. Such as the town halls in Sydney and Bendigo (Australia) and Cape Town (South Africa), to name but a few!”

The red surface of exposed brick was part of this makeover, as were the portico in the central bay, and the parapet and the neo-classical statuary that lines the terrace.

The statues were by the noted English sculptor and painter, William Frederick Woodington (1806-1893), whose name is inscribed behind the figures. His best-known work is a colossal lion cast in artificial stone now installed on Westminster Bridge, London.

Minerva stands above the central portico of Writers’ Buildings. The Ashok Stambh beneath her was installed only after Independence to replace the British coat of arms

Holding centre stage is Minerva above the pediment in the central portico. The Ashok Stambh in the middle of the pediment was installed after Independence, replacing the British coat of arms. The allegorical figures of Science, Agriculture, Commerce and Justice line the parapet and can be seen clearly from ground level.

Hebe, or the goddess of youth, who is also the cupbearer of the gods of Mount Olympus, stands beneath the mansard roof. There is another statue of Psyche with a bare torso.

The facade of Writers’ Buildings is richly embellished with floral carvings and foliage. Innumerable urns adorned with the heads of women are silhouetted against the skyline. The couchant lion lying down but with its head raised cannot be missed. They remind one of these symbols of imperialism in the Victoria Memorial Hall, Raj Bhavan and Prinsep’s Ghat, which had been shifted to Fort William by General Jacob for safe-keeping.

All the decorative elements are painted light cream which stands out against the deep russet. This, no doubt, added to the grandeur of the building.

The figure of Commerce stands erect flanked by English and Indian tradesmen. The Englishman is an Abraham Lincoln lookalike. A sapling now sprouts from his locks.
The savant accompanying the seated figure of Science wears a mortarboard. His Indian counterpart is turbaned
A dancing girl strikes a pose with arms akimbo. She wears a loose, flowing tunic and is about to take her first steps A Roman matron transfixed besides a sewerage pipe. The noxious fumes must be blamed for her grim look

Pictures by Amit Datta