Pay row artist gave City Chambers statue pig ears

NEW evidence has emerged to support one of the most enduring legends of any of Edinburgh’s monuments – the myth of the grand sculpture cast with pig’s ears.
, Alexander and Bucephalus outside the City Chambers. Picture: Ian Rutherford, Alexander and Bucephalus outside the City Chambers. Picture: Ian Rutherford
, Alexander and Bucephalus outside the City Chambers. Picture: Ian Rutherford

The famous statue of Alexander the Great taming Bucephalus – sited proudly at the City Chambers – ­is rumoured to have been deliberately crafted with the ears of a sow amid a pay dispute with the artist.

Its creator, Sir John Steell, was commissioned in 1832 to shape a huge bronze statue of Alexander the Great taming his warhorse and spent years perfecting the artwork.

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But the money ran out before completion and it’s believed the artist gave the unharnessed horse statue pig’s ears when it became clear he would not be paid in full.

The statue lay unfinished for five decades before finally being cast in bronze in 1883.

The statue, which originally stood in St Andrew Square, has spent the past 99 years outside the City Chambers in Parliament Square.

Now, a rare early model cast in Steell’s workshop around 1833 has emerged from a private collection in the west of Scotland – proving the animal’s ears were indeed altered.

The 20in tall bronze is to be auctioned at Lyon & Turnbull in Edinburgh on Wednesday when it is expected to fetch more than £1500.

Douglas Girton, Lyon & Turnbull’s head of antiques, said: “Between the original sculpture in 1833, to when the full-size statue was executed, the artist has modified the design.

“Why he did that, I cannot say, but he certainly revisited his original concept.”

And he added: “There is a difference between the model that we have and the statue at the City Chambers.

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“Specifically, a difference in how the artist rendered the ears.

“In our model, a forelock of hair comes down over the horse’s left ear. In the later statue that hair is brushed back so that the ears are more exposed. The left ear, particularly, is more prominent.”

Steell began sculpting aged 14, in his father’s workshop. He went on to study at the Edinburgh Life Academy and in 1829 travelled to study in Rome.

Later, having established his reputation sculpting busts for wealthy Edinburgh residents, he was commissioned in 1832 to begin work on his most famous sculpture, Alexander Taming Bucephalus.

He is said to have been offered 100 guineas by the council plus a large sum in donations.

Sir John, from Aberdeen, who was appointed sculptor to Queen Victoria in 1838, died just eight years after his monument was completed.

The bronze shows the moment Alexander the Great tamed the horse by turning it towards the sun so it could no longer see the shadow.

Alexander taming Bucephalus depicts one of the early defining moments in Alexander the Great’s life. The legend tells how an untameable horse was presented to King Phillip, Alexander’s father. After the king refused the animal, the 12-year-old Alexander took the reins and spoke softly to it, turning him to face the sun as he realised Bucephalus was afraid of his own shadow.

It was presented to the city by subscribers in 1884 and moved from St Andrew Square to the City Chambers in 1916.