Princess Diana’s memorial statue – what does it symbolize and who created it?
Commissioned in 2017 by Princes Willam and Harry, the statue was intended to mark what would have been Princess Diana’s 60th birthday. “Our mother touched so many lives. We hope the statue will help all those who visit Kensington Palace to reflect on her life and her legacy”, read a statement from the brothers. It joins The Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain in Hyde Park as a lasting tribute to her life and work. The Sunken Garden at Kensington Palace was chosen as the location for the statue, which underwent a redesign by garden designer Pip Morrison, including the addition of forget-me-nots, Diana’s favourite flower. Diana called the palace home after marrying Prince Charles up until her death in 1997. She was often found in the garden – the tranquillity no doubt providing respite from the intense press intrusion that marred her life.
What does the statue represent?
Cast in bronze, the statue depicts Diana as a nurturing figure surrounded by three children, designed to represent the ‘universality and generational impact of The Princess’s work’, according to a statement from Kensington Palace. Her time spent working as a nursery teacher’s assistant, as well as her role as president of Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children and Barnardo’s, no doubt informed the concept behind the statue. More information about Diana’s life and charitable work can be found in this Princess Diana biography.
In front of the statue lies a plaque printed with a verse from the poem, The Measure of a Man, which reads: “These are the units to measure the worth / Of this woman as a woman regardless of birth / Not what was her station? / But had she a heart? / How did she play her God-given part?”. The same poem featured in the programme for the 2007 memorial service for the Princess.
The artist behind the work
The artist chosen to create the work was the renowned British sculptor, Ian Rank-Broadley. A member of the Royal British Society of Sculptors, his works sit in the permanent collections of the British Museum, London’s National Portrait Gallery, the Ashmolean Museum and several others. After winning the Royal Mint’s commission for a new effigy of the Queen to appear on British and Commonwealth coinage in 1998, his choice was a natural one.
Aside from his artistic pedigree, the traditional nature of his work was no doubt a factor in awarding him the commission. A more maverick, spiky artist in the mould of Maggi Hambling, whose polarising work A Sculpture for Mary Wollstonecraft depicting a small figure of a naked woman, was probably deemed too high-risk. In a similar vein, the outfit Diana wears is smart and conservative, reflecting ‘the final period of her life as she gained confidence in her role as an ambassador for humanitarian causes and aims to convey her character and compassion’, according to Kensington Palace.
Perhaps due to Rank-Broadley’s artistic caution, critical reaction to his statue was less than enthusiastic, but for those who cared about and admired her, its presence is surely appreciated.