Information Sheet 21 - Chamber Architectural Features and Furniture

The Chamber of the Legislative Council is home to both historical pieces of furniture and many unique architectural features, which compose an impressive example of Australian materials, design, and manufacturing.

Architectural Features

Chamber_Architecture1Legislative Council Chamber

Red is the principal colour for furnishings and fabrics throughout the Legislative Council Chamber, reflecting the customs of the Parliament of the United Kingdom - specifically, the House of Lords. The use of red, found in the Upper Houses of most parliaments in the Westminster tradition, is attributed to the status of red as a royal colour, and its consequent use in the room where the King or Queen would meet with Court nobles. Each of the columns within the Chamber is a single piece of Tasmanian freestone. The Chamber’s woodwork is of polished cedar brought from Queensland and northern New South Wales. 

The Ceiling

A highlight of the Legislative Council Chamber is the ornate ceiling featuring intricately modelled figures. The principal modeller for the Chamber was John Simpson Mackennal (1832-1901); however, James Scurry (c 1820-1900) and Charles Summers (1827-1878) also contributed.

On the lower parts of the Chamber’s ceiling, there are representations of ‘Knowledge’ and ‘Learning’ and the youth of Victoria. The figures with models of celestial globes and compasses refer to knowledge whilst the other figures wipe clean the tablet on which they write lessons. This echoes the concept of a tabula rasa, which is a Latin term meaning ‘blank slate’. The concept refers to the theory that human beings are born with no innate content and that one’s knowledge is gained by experiences of the world.

There are sculptural reliefs of female figures along the sides of the ceiling which symbolise concepts that the young colony of Victoria valued when the Chamber was built in 1856 such as ‘ Justice’, ‘Peace’, ‘Mercy’, ‘Architecture’, ‘Fame’, ‘Victory’, ‘Wisdom’, ‘History’ and ‘Plenty’.

‘Justice’ is a standing draped female, looking at the scales she holds in her left hand, while the right hand holds a sword. Her hair is tied in an Apollonian Knot, which relates to the Greek God Apollo - ‘god of moral and spiritual light and purity, institutor and guardian of civil and political order and the founder of cities’.

‘Peace’ is a female figure who, with her right hand, extends a laurel wreath, a sign of Victory.

‘Mercy’ has her arm extending upwards with a sword, and within her hair, wears a serrated edged crown which has two, four pointed stars. The wearing of stars on the head is thought to represent rationality, or the soul.

The figure representing ‘Architecture’ has her knee bent to support an open ledger. The figure also holds symbols of Architecture including a pair of compasses, a ruler set with circular protractor and a small set square.

‘Fame’ is a semi draped figure who has a series of sun rays behind her head. Traditionally, such rays can symbolise a ‘claim to respect and praise - something that deserves a reward that is visible to all’. She has a trumpet raised to her lips, quite possibly to proclaim the fame and glory of the new Parliament.

The ‘Victory’ figure wears a laurel garland and is holding a wreath of olive. This can be interpreted as symbolising joy and glory as well as peace. The winged figure stands in a triumphant pose.

The ‘Wisdom’ figure wears a plumed helmet, shield and sword, all common symbols for wisdom.

‘Liberty’ holds the end of a chain which falls across her body. The chain is said to represent freedom and liberty.

The figure representing ‘History’ stands with an open book and pen. These objects are associated with History, and the act of writing facts objectively.

‘Plenty’ is a semi draped figure who stands holding a cornucopia or horn of plenty overflowing with the fruits of the earth.

The Tudor (English) roses, which are the traditional heraldic emblem of England, fill the top panels of the ceiling. There are 15 roses in total.

Eagles are perched on the arches at each end of the Chamber. It is believed that these eagles represent the House of Hanover. Queen Victoria was of Hanoverian heritage and was married to a member of the Legislative Council Information Sheet Number 21 Chamber Architectural Features and Furniture German Royal Family; therefore, the Eagles could be a reference to both the Royal House of Hanover and House of Saxony. 

 

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Sculptural relief of figure symbolising Fame

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Sculptural Relief of figure representing Wisdom

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Legislative Council Chamber Ceiling



BarChamber_Architecture5

The elaborately carved gate located near the entrance to the Chamber facing the President’s chair is referred to as the ‘Bar’. It is the point at which no visitor may cross and enter the Chamber unless invited by the House.

In parliamentary history, the Bar has been the place to which individuals have been brought to allow the President to question or admonish them. In theory, a person may be brought to the Bar of the House to receive thanks or to provide information or documents.

It is also a place at which Legislative Assembly Members stand when the Assembly is summoned to the Legislative Council Chamber to hear the Governor’s Speech at the Opening of Parliament.

Chamber Furniture 

The Vice-Regal Chair is a cedar chair which dates from the late nineteenth century (pre-1886) and is upholstered in maroon buttoned velvet. It is used for the Opening of Parliament when the Governor is in attendance. The Vice-Regal Chair was also used on one occasion when Queen Elizabeth II opened the 39th Parliament in 1954.

The table which sits in the middle of the Chamber was made in 1857 by the Australian manufacturer Nation and Lindsay. Copies of all Victorian Statutes are kept on this table.

 

For further information, see:

Robb, G., The role of sculptural and architectural decoration in Parliament House, Victoria, Master of Arts thesis, Monash University, February 1992.

Allom, Lovell, Sanderson Pty. Ltd. Parliament House, Melbourne : historic survey of historical furniture and fittings Melbourne, Public Works Department, 1985.

Parliament of Victoria, Parliament House, Melbourne, Government Printer.

 

Prepared by: Table Office
Department of the Legislative Council
Parliament of Victoria
Issued June 2008