Scotland’s patron saint comes home

Saturday 30 November 2019

A fully restored statue of Scotland’s patron saint by world-renowned sculptor Sir John Steell takes pride of place in St Andrews, almost one year after the dilapidated disciple was rescued from its former home.

Statue of St AndrewThe larger than life-size statue of St Andrew, a copy of the sculpture by Francois Duquesnoy which sits in St Peter’s Basilica in Rome, was gifted to the University of St Andrews in the 1960s. However, over the years the patron saint’s left hand mysteriously disappeared.

Following an unsuccessful appeal to find the missing hand last year, the statue underwent an extensive conservation and repair programme to restore the saint to his former glory. During the process, the University’s Museums team made an exciting discovery: that the statue was not by the artist they had been told it was but is in fact by the revered sculptor Sir John Steell, who, in 1838, was appointed Sculptor in Ordinary by Queen Victoria.

Working with his father from studios in Edinburgh, Steell’s first major piece came in 1827 when the North British Insurance Company commissioned a huge timber statue of St Andrew to be placed outside their office in Edinburgh’s New Town. The work was based on a sketch of the statue of St Andrew in Rome by François Duquesnoy. As the office stood immediately opposite the Royal Scottish Academy it was quickly noticed by Edinburgh’s artistic society and acknowledged as a fine work. In 1829, spurred on by the success of this work, Sir John travelled to Rome to study sculpture more intensely before creating his stone sculpture of the saint.

Steell’s other works include many prominent statues in Edinburgh including the Duke of Wellington and the statue of Sir Walter Scott at the Scott Monument. Many of his works were sent abroad, to locations including Jamaica, Calcutta and New York, where his statue of Robert Burns sits in Central Park.

For almost four decades, Steell’s replica of St Andrew lived modestly in the shrubbery of the Botanic Garden car park in St Andrews. It was during this period that he and his hand parted company.

Dr Katie Stevenson, University of St Andrews Vice-Principal Collections, Music and Digital Content, who led the statue restoration project, said:

“The restoration and conservation of such a historically important sculpture will allow generations to enjoy it for years to come. We were delighted that during the restoration our team were able to confirm the added discovery that the statue of St Andrew is an original piece by Sir John Steell, which makes it even more significant not only to the University but to our understanding of the development of Scottish art in the nineteenth century.

“Before it came to the University in the 1960s, St Andrew sat in the foyer of the North British & Mercantile Insurance Company building in Edinburgh and as members of staff came in to work, they touched his fingers to bring them luck,” she said.

Dr Katie Eagleton, Museums Director, added: “Steell is credited with introducing large-scale marble carving into Scotland. We are pleased to be able to restore this wonderful statue and we hope that his new home in the gardens of the Wardlaw Museum on The Scores in St Andrews will allow people to enjoy him as never before.”

The fully restored statue can now be seen guarding the entrance to Wardlaw Museum, the main museum of the University of St Andrews, which itself is currently undergoing a major facelift.

Issued by the University of St Andrews Communications Office.

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