By Wayne Fortune
Having recently joined the LRF Heritage & Education Centre team one of the most enjoyable distractions to my day-to-day activities is noting the vast array of incredible objects stationed around 71 Fenchurch Street. My favourite item - or rather items - are the pair of speckled grey marble lions guarding the entrance hall.
These sculptures were a gift from Francisco Schiaffino, the first Lloyd’s Register surveyor to be appointed at Genoa in 1872, and are 19th century versions of a group of twelve bronze lions sculpted by Matteo Bonicelli in 1651, themselves based on the famous Medici Lions. The original Medici Lion sculptures served as majestic ornaments for the garden staircase to the Loggia dei leoni (approximately “Gallery of the lions”) of Villa Medici, home of Ferdinando I de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany (1587-1609), while four of Bonicelli’s bronze group now guard the dual throne in the Royal Palace of Madrid.
Perhaps my favourite part of the history of the lions in the entrance hall is that one of them is not one of the original pair gifted by Signor Schiaffino. A story has it that a dissatisfied Lloyd’s Register client – presumably a somewhat muscular dissatisfied client! – shattered one of the lions when he threw it down the steps of White Lion Court (Lloyd’s Register offices prior to Fenchurch St). Thankfully Signor Schiaffino saw fit to generously arrange a replacement; I do wonder which one of the two it is.
Lions have long been associated with Genoa, one of the most important ports in the Mediterranean. Signor Schiaffino’s first survey report, Genoa No.1, is for the barque Unico, dated 22 May 1872. Unico was built during 1871 and 1872 in Recco by Paolo Rolla, and mastered by Bernardo De Gregori; Signor Schiaffino opined she should be classed “A for 10 years”.
It seems to me that the wide array of beautiful and interesting objects found at 71 Fenchurch Street, including these grey marble lions, shows something of the esteem in which Lloyd’s Register was, and is, held by clients, associates and employees. The symbolism of the lions - representing strength, courage and leadership, as well as conveying a sense of majesty and awe - as they sit in the entrance hall must have consciously or subconsciously registered with almost everyone arriving at 71 Fenchurch Street over the years.
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