The lead sculpture of Charles II on horseback, located in Edinburgh’s Parliament Square, is the UK’s oldest lead equestrian sculpture. It was installed on the 16th April 1685, its design is attributed to Grinling Gibbons and it is a second version of the original bronze at Windsor Castle.
The sculpture was in very poor condition; the armature had failed, allowing the lead to slump and distorting the sculpture. The figure had sunk into the horse’s back and tipped forwards, and the front left shoulder of the horse had sunk, bulging over the upright leg. The statue had also undergone several restorations in it’s past, each of which had moved the design of the sculpture away from how it looked originally.
The sculpture was dismantled sufficiently to allow the previous armature to be taken out and replaced with a more comprehensive, stainless steel armature. While the sculpture was partially dismantled, the casting was remodelled, and once the new armature was in place the legs were welded back closer to their original position.
Paint analysis of minute surviving flakes of the original painted finish showed that the sculpture was painted green to replicate the natural, weathered patina of a bronze. This discovery is highly significant as this sculpture was cast from the same mould as a bronze version located at Windsor Castle. It is very likely that both the lead and the bronze sculptures would have been finished in the same way; the bronze version is now finished with a brown patina. The discovery of that green paint finish gives a clue to the original finish of 17c bronze sculptures and is a small but important advance in our understanding of the history of British sculpture.