Odds and quads

December 10, 2009

Eric Gill's Portland stone relief of Christ expelling the moneylenders from the temple was greeted with outrage when it was unveiled in 1923.

Now regarded as one of the greatest British sculptors of the 20th century - his work forms part of the current Wild Thing exhibition at the Royal Academy in London - Gill (1882-1940) was both a devout Roman Catholic and a man of prodigious sexual appetite, with a rare gift for arousing controversy.

The relief was commissioned by Sir Michael Sadler, vice-chancellor of the University of Leeds (1911-23), as a memorial to the 244 members of staff who had fallen in the First World War. But the moneylenders, who are dressed like modern businessmen, were widely regarded as an overt insult to the city's dignitaries.

There were many attempts to remove the sculpture from its prominent position on the outside of the university's Great Hall or, failing that, to cover it discreetly with ivy - although Gill's admirers frequently pitched in with clippers to tidy it up.

In 1961, the relief was transferred to its current position in the foyer of the Michael Sadler Building.

Send suggestions for this new series on the sector's treasures, oddities and curiosities to: matthew.reisz@tsleducation.com.

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