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Inside the Reading Room at Manchester’s Central Library is a gorgeous, ornate, marble mini clock tower, a baldacchino, our first stop on this tour of the art treasures of the city. It was included in 1934 when Emmanuel Vincent Harris’s building was opened and is based on the larger, baldacchin canopy that stands in the centre of Rome’s St Peter’s Basilica, probably the world’s most visited church, above the tomb of St Peter. That Baldacchin was made out of bronze work taken from the Pantheon in Rome in ancient times.
Why create such a connection? Manchester’s Central Library is situated on St Peter’s Square and its design is based on the Pantheon in Rome. St Peter’s Square was named after St Peter’s church, built by James Wyatt in 1794 (demolished 1907). A few years earlier he had gone to Rome and drawn the dome of St Peter’s Basilica “being under the necessity of lying on his back on a ladder slung horizontally, without cradle or side-rail, over a frightful void of 300 feet”.
When Manchester announced it was to hold an art treasures exhibition at Old Trafford in 1857 the city’s leaders wrote to the owners of special collections, with the hope of borrowing their great works. Most complied. However William Cavendish, seventh Duke of Devonshire, replied: “What in the world do you want with art in Manchester? Why can’t you stick to your cotton spinning?”
Nevertheless Manchester now has an art gallery packed with masterpieces, including a huge number of ever-popular Pre-Raphaelites by William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Foremost is Ford Madox Brown’s monumental Work, a perfect inclusion for the city built on the notion of hard work, whose Latin motto, Concilio et Labore, translates as “with diligence and hard work”. Join us to hear the full description and explanation of that and other of Manchester’s great art treasures.