The Lord Mayor’s Show has inspired a wide range of artists over its eight centuries. You would expect it to be in Pepys’ diaries – usually to his annoyance – but the Lord Mayor also shows up in Shakespeare, James Bond, a Hitchcock film and the work of some of the world's great painters.
There have been countless paintings and drawings of the Show - more than we can possibly include here - but two very different images stand out, and as it happens they were both created in 1747: one by Canaletto and one by Hogarth. These were two of the finest artists of their day, and represent the apotheosis of eighteenth century English and Italian painting.
Canaletto's painting is one of five he painted of the Show, and depicts the eighteen-oared State Barge , as well as the twelve-oared barges of a number of Livery companies. Three sailing ships fly the Union Jack, and plumes of smoke can be seen trailing across the water indicating that salutes have just been fired.
The canopy of the Lord Mayor's State Barge is covered with blue cloth, which is significant. Two different types of cloth were used for the awnings of ceremonial barges: blue cloth which was called "Plunkett", indicating a civic event; and "Murrey", a red cloth used on Royal occasions.
The painting is an idealisation of London and The Show, taking an imaginary viewpoint high above the Thames. It presents a vista so broad it could not be taken in at one glance, but which was created by the superimposition of two separate views.
Canaletto's brilliant blue sky owes much to his native Venice, and against it is arranged the architecture of London: Lambeth Palace; Westminster Abbey; Westminster Hall, the original destination of the Show; and the four spires of St John's Smith Square, Queen Anne's footstool. But the dominating architectural feature is the new Westminster Bridge, which was not opened until two years after the painting was completed. It is shown with the statues of the river gods, Thames and Isis, over the centre span, but although planned these were never executed.
By contrast, Hogarth objected to what he called "phizmongering", the artificial prettification of people and places. London was his universe, and he showed its high life and low life with a keen and critical eye.
His 'Industry and Idleness' series is a highly moral work, illustrating the rewards which await those who choose to spend their time wisely, or to enjoy the easy virtue of London's dissolute underbelly. Two apprentices start their training together but follow entirely different paths. The Idle Apprentice is eventually hanged at Tyburn, whilst the Industrious Apprentice marries his master's daughter and becomes Lord Mayor of London, the highest position to which a commoner could aspire.
The final engraving in the series sees the Industrious Apprentice in his coach on Lord Mayor's Day, mobbed by an admiring crowd, and watched from a balcony by Frederick, Prince of Wales and Princess Augusta. He rides in a hired coach which was introduced following the incident in 1711 when the Lord Mayor fell from his horse and broke his leg; today's magnificent coach was not built until 1757.
Finally, here is Pepys in October 1660 being dragged to the Show and grumbling about everything but the wine:
29th. I up early, it being my Lord Mayor's day, (Sir Richd. Browne), and neglecting my office I went to the Wardrobe, where I met my Lady Sandwich and all the children; and after drinking of some strange and incomparable good clarett of Mr. Rumball's he and Mr. Townsend did take us, and set the young Lords at one Mr. Nevill's, a draper in Paul's churchyard; and my Lady and my Lady Pickering and I to one Mr. Isaacson's, a linendraper at the Key in Cheapside; where there was a company of fine ladies, and we were very civilly treated, and had a very good place to see the pageants, which were many, and I believe good, for such kind of things, but in themselves but poor and absurd. After the ladies were placed I took Mr. Townsend and Isaacson to the next door, a tavern, and did spend 5s. upon them. The show being done, we got as far as Paul's with much ado, where I left my Lady in the coach, and went on foot with my Lady Pickering to her lodging, which was a poor one in Blackfryars, where she never invited me to go in at all, which methought was very strange for her to do. So home, where I was told how my Lady Davis is now come to our next lodgings, and has locked up the leads door from me, which puts me into so great a disquiet that I went to bed, and could not sleep till morning at it.
The Lord Mayor and his Show appear nine times in Pepys' diaries, almost always as a source of irritation.