Legend has it that the lions will come to life if Big Ben chimes 13 times. Although cast in bronze, the original plans called for stone or granite. Today, it's difficult to imagine anything other than the magnificent 20-foot-long bronze statues at the base of Nelson's Column. But they weren't always there - originally, the space was empty.
The world's first successful statue was created by Richard Westmacott and installed in Trafalgar Square in 1827. It showed King George III on horseback with his two sons. When the king saw the statue he is said to have remarked: "That's not my son - that's my husband!"
The statues are based on a design by Thomas Heatherwick. He also designed the London Eye. Heatherwick obtained the commission in 2001 after the original designer, Lord Norman Foster, became involved in another project.
Heatherwick paid tribute to both Foster and Westmacott by using elements from each of their designs on the final product. The lions, for example, reflect aspects of both sculptures but also have features that are uniquely their own.
Heatherwick also incorporated some smaller details which only came to light after he had completed the project. For example, he added fourteenth notes to the sound of Big Ben when it marks the hour. These notes represent all the years that have passed since Westmacott's death in 1828.
The Lions of Trafalgar Square The four lions around Nelson's Column were added in 1868, 25 years later. Edwin Landseer designed the piece, which was made in bronze by Baron Marochetti in 1867, using real lion carcasses and castings of a lion statue in Turin. The original cost £1,500 (about $20,000 today).
Edwin Landseer was an English painter who specialized in animals. He also designed the statues for London's other famous lions: Boadicea and her sons in Westminster Abbey and Queen Elizabeth I in Greenwich Park.
Landseer is also responsible for the design of the zoo gates at London's Regent's Park. His son George Frederic Landseer took over the business after his father's death in 1873.
The lions are removed from their pedestals each year during the Christmas holiday season when they are taken to a warehouse in Chiswick where they stay until spring when they return to London for re-enactments of battles from history books.
In addition to being designers, the Landseers were also sculptors. One of their assistants, William Wyon, went on to become one of the most successful British sculptors of all time.
The four lion statues in Trafalgar Square, encircling Nelson's Column, are known colloquially as the 'Landseer Lions,' after the artist who made them. They were originally named after two of Britain's prime minister William Ewart Gladstone's sons and a son-in-law.
The first three were cast in 1872, and designed by John Thomas Garlick. The last one was cast a year later, also by Garlick. All the lions are similar in design and can be distinguished only by their armorial bearings. Although they no longer carry nameplates, photographs are available of all four lions with written explanations of their various features.
The Landseer Lions are all on display in Trafalgar Square. It is possible to go inside each of them, but this requires a trip to the National Gallery or another nearby museum.
Lions had important roles in ancient Egyptian culture. Their images were used as protective deities during rituals to ensure prosperity for farmers. In medieval England, lions were used as royal symbols to show that you were loyal to the king.
In modern London, lions are still used today to symbolize loyalty to the monarchy.
There are four lions. They were cast in 1872-1875.
The first three lions were cast by J.W. Portch. The fourth was cast by Thomas Thornhill and is also known as the "Thorney Lion." All are of similar design but differ in minor details such as the position of the mane or the size of their claws.
They stand about 1.5 meters (5 feet) high and weigh between 80 and 100 kg (180 and 220 pounds).
It is estimated that they have consumed between 2,000 and 5,000 sheep, cows, pigs, and horses. This makes them the most lethal animals in London today.
The Landseer lions are not real lions; they are stylized images of a king lion. However, they do represent the apex of power for their time. King George IV was determined to have something grand done with respect to marking England's presence in South Africa. He ordered the construction of a column topped with a statue of himself standing on a lion. When it was completed in 1872, it became known as "Lion Capitol" or simply "Lion Col".
Sir Edwin Landseer's (1802–73) lion sculpture at the base of Nelson's Column in Trafalgar Square. They were all cast by Baron Marochetti and ultimately installed in position in 1867, representing the "biggest and most exacting commission with which Landseer was concerned" (Ormond 21).
The four lions stand on a stone pedestal that is itself covered in green and white marble. The entire work is set in a large circle, within which are more statues: among them, Landseer's own son, who also worked as a sculptor under his father's name.
The meaning of the lions has been the subject of much speculation. Some believe they depict the tribes of Judah, while others think they are meant to represent the Four Seasons or even Napoleon Bonaparte. However, it is generally accepted that they are based on characters from William Shakespeare's 15th century play, "Henry V", particularly King Henry's speech before the Battle of Agincourt.
Shakespeare wrote about this scene during the time when Sir Thomas More was chancellor of England. In the play, King Henry makes a speech in which he claims that his army is the best in the world because it contains men from every class of society. He then goes on to say that even though they are not fighting for glory nor riches but for their country, they are still worthy of respect and honor.