February 27, 2014
Bonfire Of The Royal Ivories
Setting fire to thrones, duelling swords and pianos? Don’t you just love the Royal Family? Well, no, I don’t actually, but I live in a country where most people do and we have a de facto constitution that allows a succession of hereditary heads of state and their countless kinfolk to continue their privilege unchallenged. Look at it this way. How would Americans feel if a Presidential family, the Nixon clan for example, suddenly became their hereditary leaders in perpetuity – no Reagans, Clintons, Bush’s, or Obamas, just Nixons right down the line forever? Don’t think that would go down too well. Putting personal politics on one side, it’s a fact that over here we do have a monarchy and it gets a lot of press. Their merest utterance gets a lot of coverage. Prince William, fresh from the embarrassment of going hunting (legally) in Spain just before co-hosting a symposium in London on illegal hunting and the criminal trade in wildlife, has sparked new controversy. As a symbolic gesture, he wants to destroy all the 1,200 pieces of ivory in the Royal family’s collection. If he achieves nothing else with his plan – and the likelihood is that he won’t – at least he got the publicity he craved with the press lining up to praise or rubbish the idea. The proposition has been branded as “vandalism,” “insane,” and “bonkers,” while others have welcomed the destruction as sending a message to the world that ivory products are or should be taboo.
Personally, I doubt that such an act would make a lot of difference. I can almost hear the laughter as hardened gangs of armed criminal poachers who are prepared to kill for their trade ask “Prince who says what? Just load the truck.” Still, the idea is being taken seriously so let’s look at what might be thrown on the bonfire if Willy gets his way.
First up there’s a magnificent ivory throne with a velvet-covered ivory footstool given to Queen Victoria in 1851 by the Maharaja of Travancore in India. Covered in precious gems, these pieces are carved with intricate motifs of Indian and British scenes. There is an 18th century dueling sword bought by George IV. It has an elaborate carved ivory hilt depicting Perseus, Andromeda and a Dragon. Then there are the pianos with their ivory keys including a satinwood instrument made for Queen Victoria in 1856 and painted with scenes of monkeys and cherubs playing music. Among the 1,200 items are picture frames and many pieces of furniture including bookcases, tables, chairs, and carvings – all being of incalculable value. There is even a portrait of Queen Victoria herself painted on ivory.
Those against the plan argue that it would be sacrilege to destroy precious articles and works of art that were completely socially acceptable when they were made and that it could even increase the trade and demand for ivory. Those for it argue that it sends out a clear message around the world that other legally held stocks of ivory should be disposed of in the hope that buying, selling, and owning them be vilified.
The really crazy thing about all this is that the Royals do not even own all this stuff or have any right to burn, crush, or destroy it as the treasures of the monarchy are held in trust for the state. So maybe young(ish) William was just being deliberately provocative and knew full well that it was a pie-in-the-sky idea that would get lots of publicity. Maybe he’s not quite as daft as he’s Royal-looking.
Image Credit: Thinkstock